Need another reason to support the Wharton Charity Fashion Show beyond seeing your most attractive classmates strut down the catwalk? If you do, the proceeds from the show will be donated to The YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School, an inspiring local organization that helps underprivileged high school dropouts rebuild their lives.
The WCFS Board Visit To YouthBuild
The WCFS Board visited The YouthBuild Charter School one Friday morning in January, and we were blown away by the students and staff. During our visit, we attended a community meeting, a town hall-style gathering. It was led by the Director of Student Life, the dynamic Ameen Akbar, who pumped up the room and provided ample encouragement to the students. The students were asked to pick an inspirational quote from a sheet of paper and describe how that quote reminded them of something they had faced in the past week. One student selected a quote about returning to a place that has stayed the same when you, yourself, have changed. He talked about a street corner where his friends hang out and run drugs. Once, he may have participated. Now, he said that he didn’t want to risk getting arrested, and he walked away. The meeting was also studded with other victories small (including a student sweetly thanking a teacher for extra math help) and large (several college acceptances!). Each time, the room erupted in cheers and encouragements.
The WCFS board also had lunch with the students, and what struck us most was the obstacles that these students had overcome. Several have been incarcerated. Many have friends and family had been killed. Half of them are parents and need to find childcare while they are in school. A number are intermittently homeless. Many are ridiculed by their non-YouthBuild friends for going back to school. The students must handle all these pressures, keep up their attendance, master a vocation, and apply to college. This is also a struggle for the staff, who care deeply about the success of these students and who must coach the kids through situations that they might not have experienced themselves.
Despite these struggles, these kids are committed and excited to change their lives, and the dedicated staff at YouthBuild help them during school and beyond. I encourage the Wharton community to engage with YouthBuild not only through the WCFS, but also through tutoring and mentoring opportunities at the school. I know that we, as a board, felt like it was a Friday morning well-spent, which I can’t say about most of my Friday mornings here at Wharton.
YouthBuild: A Platform For Change
For 21 years, The Youthbuild Philadelphia Charter School has been offering its students a mix of academic and vocational training opportunities to set the students up for long-term education and career success. Through the one year diploma program, students learn vital job skills and the opportunity complete their diploma. For example, students can pursue training in nursing or in cutting-edge green building methods (to build affordable housing with low environmental impact). Mostly, the students are taught that they can build a better life with hard work, regardless of their background. According to their site, “YouthBuild Philadelphia currently employs more than 50 dedicated teachers, instructors, case managers, and administrators to help students navigate their way through the program and transition to full-time jobs and post-secondary educational programs.”
Students are selected based on a rigorous admissions process. The program receives around 1,000 applications for only 215 spots. After submitting a paper application, if successful, prospective students are invited to a group information session. If they attend, they move on to an individual interview. If accepted, they do a week-long Mental Toughness Training before school starts. One of the students joked that it was “boot camp.” All of these steps are designed to measure an applicant’s commitment to the program, and students are accepted based on motivation alone. The result is a core group that is deeply committed to seizing this opportunity and changing their futures.