Special University City High School students find success at Penn

Anthony Archie at 19 is a success story. He has a job at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, delivering packages of paper for the vendor that handles the hospital’s printing.

How Archie got the job with AELitho is partially due to the success of a program many Penn staffers participate in, the Philadelphia Start on Success (SOS) Internship Program—a cooperative venture between Penn’s Center for Community Partnerships, the School District of Philadelphia, the National Organization on Disability and the Cigna Corporation.

Since 1996, the program has been bringing students from University City High School who have learning disabilities, mental retardation and emotional or social disturbances to the campus for job experience and training.

SOS students, matched to positions that fit their abilities, intern at places like Franklin Field, the bookstore, and the hospital’s mail room and media services.

And like Archie, most of the students—14 out of 15, or 93 percent in each of the last two years of the program—found jobs in the year after graduation, as compared to the national average of only 23 percent of students with disabilities, said Tom Mooney, School District of Philadelphia school-to-career transition coordinator.

SOSers have graduated to jobs at places like Hill House dining, the ice rink, and at the hospital. And once they have those jobs and hold them down, it no longer makes any sense to call them disabled, Mooney said.

Cory Bowman, associate director of the Center for Community Partnerships ,said the hiring was done “not out of charity. These are students [Penn employers have] worked with and trained and they are the best people for this job.”

A typical SOS day includes four hours of work and two of classes taught by high school teachers and by Penn students supervised by Isabel Sampson-Mapp, associate director for Faculty, Staff and Volunteer Services, who also finds work sites for the students.

At the hospital Freda Peeples, who described herself as the “lead worker” in the mail department, keeps track of the hospital SOS kids. “I know everybody’s name and where they work,” Peeples said. “If they have a problem and the teacher’s not around, the next person they’re going to ask for is me.”

Peeples was Archie’s supervisor, too. “They loved him so much they wanted to give him a shot over at receiving,” Peeples said. “From that he got a job at the paper company here.”

She’s one of the people Mooney credits with the program’s success.

“The mentors at Penn make this program,” said Mooney. “They know they have to train these kids for the real world.”

Originally published on November 8, 2001