Support for the college-bound

Funding from telecommunications giant AT&T will allow Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships to help more high school students stay in school and prepare for college.

AT&T Aspire, a $100 million initiative to address high school success and college and workforce readiness, has given the Netter Center a three-year, $300,000 grant to expand its College Access and Career Readiness Programs, which currently offer internships, academic support and mentoring to 120 sophomores, juniors and seniors at Sayre, University City and West Philadelphia high schools.

Jessica Brown, the director of College Access and Career Readiness Programs at the Netter Center, says the grant will enable the Center to operate a pilot program for freshmen at Sayre.

The School District of Philadelphia recently estimated that almost half of its students dropped out last year, and Brown says a large number of them did so in ninth grade. The new program, she notes, will recruit ninth graders for professional development and academic enrichment to help decrease the dropout rate. Thirty-eight Sayre freshmen are already enrolled.

“We thought it would be better to channel and focus our support to the ninth-grade students so we can build a successful cohort to go on to their 10th grade year and be even more prepared to tackle their internships and begin early college planning,” she says.

Students in the program intern at Penn, the Health System and their high schools. They learn job etiquette, conflict resolution, how to dress and speak professionally, and for those at the Health System, how to handle confidential information. The bulk of those who intern at their high school work on service learning projects. “Those projects are designed around a community issue,” Brown says. “Our service learning projects are peer nutrition as well as urban gardening and carpentry/construction.”

Students also partner with a Penn undergrad and discuss college life, how to conduct online college searches and how to request information.
Brown says many of the students didn’t think they were college material before entering the program and many lacked information about college admission requirements and financial aid. This year, though, 94 percent of the seniors in the program have applied to at least three colleges and as of April 28, 74 percent had been accepted.

“This is really great,” says Brown. “This is the highest number that we have seen yet, and just the overall confidence of our students to feel as though that they could actually obtain a certain type of job, especially like working in the Health System, seems more realistic to our students.”

Originally published on May 7, 2009