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Celebrating Our Graduating CCAs!

On May 30, we held graduation for the 2017-2018 CCA cohort at the Penn Museum.

The day began with a speech by two of our graduating members, Kaitlin and Richard.

Our members elected them to speak on behalf of the group. Kaitlin and Richard shared many sentiments, but their message to the crowd was centered on three topics: the strength and necessity of their team connections, that change will be constant throughout life, and that you CAN make a difference! They emphasized these themes by detailing the personal and professional transformations they experienced this year. Through this, Kaitlin and Richard highlighted that they learned how to be vulnerable and ask for help, which allowed them to be better teammates to one another.

They shared stories of both hardships and successes, personally and with their students. Most poignant were the stories about trust built with students, enabling the students to feel confident in themselves and their abilities.

After an impactful speech, awards were presented to members who gained the most hours throughout the year, supported the most students through completion of the Promise Corps Program, and those who embodied the values of the Promise Corps Program in their service.

We then had one of our members from the 2016-2017 cohort, Francesca, lead our members in the AmeriCorps pledge. Following this pledge, we presented each of our CCAs with a graduation certificate.

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We left some time for photos, and then headed out to the courtyard to enjoy each other’s company while snacking on refreshments. It was a beautiful time for families, friends, and staff from partner organizations to relish in the success of the CCAs, as they celebrated not only the completion of their 1700 hours of service, but the lasting impact they’ve left on their students.

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– Kerry DiNardo, Senior Site Supervisor

Supporting FAFSA & a Chance to See Michelle Obama!

This past year, Promise Corps served as the lead on the School District of Philadelphia’s FAFSA Completion challenge for each of our four schools. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and opens in October. Students need to enter both their information and their guardian’s information. This provides them with what financial aid they qualify for. The sooner a student does it, the more funds are available, and the better informed they can be when it’s time to make choices about their postsecondary steps.

The FAFSA challenge was born out of the need to increase FAFSA completion rates in schools across the district. Due to our full-time presence in schools, and the fact that we support every single senior in our schools, this is something Promise Corps can really support our schools with!

Our Site Supervisors attended meetings at the school district throughout the year with The Office of College and Career Readiness and Office of Strategic Partnerships. We had conversations with coaches from other schools to share best practices and discuss how to implement them in our respective schools. At the heart of these conversations, we all talked about not just how we were supporting students in completing the FAFSA, but how we were helping students understand why they were doing it as well.

It was our CCAs who really led the charge. They educated students on what completing FAFSA really means. That this can help you not only with going to college, but technical school too. They planned evening events to bring parents in, calling them beforehand to make sure they knew what documents to bring. They pushed into senior classes for full days throughout the year to check in with students, who were all at different points in the process. They held office hours in the Promise Corps room. They held one on one sessions with parents and students at all different times.

After a lot of work on the CCAs’ part, it was time for all Philadelphia schools to celebrate the successes of seniors at the 2018 College Signing Day held at Temple University. It was a star-studded event with appearances by the 2018 Super Bowl Eagles, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Zendaya, and of course, Former First Lady Michelle Obama. Students, staff, and CCAs were all excited for a chance to get to see the former First Lady! Michelle Obama imparted some words of wisdom on the huge crowd, urging students to believe in themselves and ask for help when they need it.

At the close of the event, the schools who showed the most growth in FAFSA completion were honored with scholarships from the Wilt Chamberlain Memorial Fund. The Overbrook team came in third, showing growth of nearly 16% in FAFSA completion from last year!

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This is an endeavor we are proud to be a part of, and can’t wait to continue supporting this school year! signingday2

– Kerry DiNardo, Senior Site Supervisor

Think Tank 2018

Every year, Promise Corps holds an event called “Think Tank,” where teams of students from each of our schools present an issue in their communities and a solution that addresses it. This year, Think Tank was held at a former bank turned community space on Lancaster Ave. in West Philadelphia on April 13.

CCAs supported each of the four teams for months prior to the event, supporting students with topics such as increasing accessible community spaces in the neighborhood, increasing technical education for high school students, creating a peer-to-peer mentorship program, and increasing extracurricular clubs and activities for students.

Panelists were invited from various industries throughout Philadelphia, including representatives from Philadelphia Bike Works, The Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, Lutheran Settlement House, The William Penn Foundation, the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance, and a member of State Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown’s staff. Each student team had five minutes to present their problem and solution to the panelists, who then had five minutes to ask questions of the teams.

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West Philadelphia High School’s team presented on their plan to create a peer-to-peer mentorship program, which would connect the special and general education students at their schools. Sayre High School addressed the need for more extracurricular activities physically held at their school, and even surveyed their fellow students to see what type of activities would be most attended, with music production being the most popular answer. School of the Future addressed their peers increased interest in technical education and the practicality it provides with the increasing costs of college. Overbrook provided a detailed plan for upgrades to Tustin Community Center, which sits right across the street from their school.

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Feedback for the teams focused not only on their proposals and the plausibility of their plans, but on the students’ presentation skills as well. CCAs spent a great deal of time with students prior to the event, ensuring they felt comfortable presenting, and it showed. The students knew their presentations front to back, answered on-the-spot-questions with poise, and handled themselves with great confidence.

The event went off without a hitch, and allowed for students to practice research and presentation skills, and network with local professionals who can help see these plans into action.

– Kerry DiNardo, Site Supervisor

A Bittersweet Ending: Panthers Forever

On June 4th, 2018 Promise Corps held our end of the year party to celebrate students who completed the program. In the morning we set up the room with games, balloons, and food that was kindly donated from Papp’s Pizza and Giant. We let students in at noon and had them enjoy an array of food, games, and music.

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This year, room 321 (the Promise Corps room), was a room that was filled with love, (so much) laughter, and support. We couldn’t have ended the year any other way, and this celebration embodied what our room stood for at Overbrook. This year we spent our days assisting teachers in classrooms, creating modules and workshops for the students, resume building, cover letter writing, SAT prepping, going on college trips, helping students through college applications and financial aid, supporting senior projects, and doing countless other things. We really tried to help wherever we were needed at the school.

As the assistant principal, Ms. McClenton, said, we “truly engrossed ourselves in the culture of Overbrook High School.”  The PC party was a good reminder to us all that the difficulties and obstacles we faced at the beginning of the year all had a purpose and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Ending the year is very bittersweet. Although our time at OHS is nearing the end, the relationships we’ve made with school staff, the strides we made with students, the love that was poured into all the work and time with our students, the amount of laughter we had as a team (even in the hard times), and the support we tirelessly worked to give our students and each other, are things that will always be a part of us.  Wherever we go next in our life Overbrook will forever have a piece of our heart.

– Yaczin Hernandez, College & Career Ambassador at Overbrook High School

The End is Near

The end is near for Promise Corps and this has been an experience that I will never forget. Coming into Promise Corps I had no idea what to expect, although I did read the description on Indeed, I still had no idea what I was in store for. However, Promise Corps has exceeded any expectation I had. The students I have come across, the teachers, the staff, the other Promise Corps members, and Bethany, Kerry, and Leya have made this journey memorable.

Working with the 10th and 11th graders this past school year has taught me a lot. If I were to go into teaching I know for a fact that I would want to teach 11th grade because it is such a critical grade in high school. I have learned so much from my students and I can only hope they have learned from me as well. Whenever I think about my students, I think about an 11th grader who I developed a close relationship with throughout the year. In the beginning this student’s anxiety prevented us from having any kind of communication to develop any kind of relationship. However, as the year went on, this student slowly but surely came out of his shell, especially after learning that I too have anxiety. Now, we communicate with one another better, he is more open to participating in class, his grades have even gotten better, and I finally got him to come into the Promise Corps room.

Getting him to come into the Promise Corps was a big deal because there are days when I am not able to come to his classes, so the fact that he came to me spoke volumes, especially considering his anxiety and how shy he is. It’s memories like that will have a lasting effect and will stay with me forever. Seeing this student’s progress from October until now has been one of my biggest accomplishments as a CCA, and I know whoever his CCA is next year will be lucky to work with him.

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– Shaquana Gantt, College & Career Ambassador at School of the Future

A Day in the Life at West Philly High

7:30AM – On a typical day, we arrive in the Promise Corps room at 7:30.  School at West Philadelphia High School starts at 8:00, so for the first 30 minutes or so, we unwind, organize our things for the day, and usually talk briefly as a team to lay out the plan for the day.  Around 8, a group of students, the “usuals,” come in to say hi and brighten up our day.

8:00AM – 1st block. We have built relationships with a few teachers who allow us to come into their classes and help the students with their work.  So for a few periods during the day, Drew and I like to stop in in classes to help out.  There is also a constant stream of students coming in to our room to ask for help on school work, resumes, college applications, scholarship applications, and just to talk about life.

9:30AM – 2nd block. Camila and Kaitlin usually take the lead on trip planning.  We have trips pretty regularly, so they are always busy reaching out to the schools/museums that we visit, working everything out with the school’s administration, and doing all the administrative work that goes into planning a trip.  We are super grateful for the work they do. They’re also

11:15AM – During the lunch periods, there is always an influx of students to the Promise Corps room. It’s always nice to have the room full of students, and we usually just make sure they’re staying focused and doing something productive (i.e. not playing fortnite or watching basketball videos), help them with their work, and talk to them about school, life, and their plans for when they graduate.

1:30PM – 5th block. At the end of the day, we have a regular group of students who come to our room a before school ends to do work and prepare for their after school activities.  The end of the day is usually pretty hectic as students like to leave their classes early and wander. We always have to be diligent about who we’re letting in and making sure they’re actually doing work, and not just wandering.  However, the last hour or so of the day is usually devoted to helping students with their work.

3:00PM – It’s a Tuesday, so after school, the West Philadelphia High School team goes to Paul Robeson High School for an after school program.  We offer the same support for students at Paul Robeson as we do at West. Today, I help a student apply to two colleges.  We also tutor students and help them with their senior projects.  It’s fun to change it up during the week and meet with more students.  There’s a different atmosphere at both schools so it’s also a learning experience for us, and it’s good to see the way different schools run.

If there’s time, we’ll spend the rest of the afternoon meeting and planning out our events after all the students leave. At 4:30, our day ends, but sometimes we stay late to work on things like data, or this blog!

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– Patrick Ambrosio, College & Career Ambassador at West Philadelphia High School