Mastery charter graduates revel in college choices

    Cheering fans, cheerleaders and mascots filled Temple University’s Liacouras Center Monday afternoon.

    None of them were there for a game.

    Instead, thousands of students, staff members and parents traveled to the North Philadelphia arena for Mastery Charter School’s first-ever College Signing Day, an event patterned after National Signing Day.

    The unbridled excitement during Monday’s ceremony, however, had nothing to do with athletics. It was all about academics.

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    As underclassmen roared in the stands, more than 450 seniors from across the nonprofit’s 12-school network were honored for their post-secondary commitments.

    O’Shea Knox, who attends Mastery’s Pickett Campus in Germantown, was among those who took a seat beneath the center’s scoreboard.

    It was a big moment.

    “I didn’t expect to get this far,” said Knox, who plans to study accounting at Bloomsburg University.

    Knox’s grandparents raised her from an early age.

    Her mother was in and out of her life. Her father spent time in prison and was killed during a robbery at a neighborhood corner store.

    “To me, I don’t have anything else but this education,” said Knox.

    During an hour-long ceremony, Mastery Charter Schools CEO Scott Gordon couldn’t say enough about the students sitting before him, a number of whom, like Knox, come from rough neighborhoods.

    “They have big celebrations when athletes sign up to go on and pick their college. There’s big celebrations when a rapper comes to town or a rock star. You are the real rock stars,” said Gordon, to applause, after waiving a Mastery blue rally towel.

    Mayor Michael Nutter followed with his own words of praise.

    “You are shining examples of why we need to invest the dollars that are necessary, so you get a quality education, so you can go on and be successful,” he said.

    Nutter also took a moment to talk a bit of politics.

    Apparently rallying support for his plan to help fund the Philadelphia School District with new alcohol and cigarette taxes, Nutter argued that traditional public schools and charters need to be on the same team.

    “We need to stop this false debate about, ‘Well, is it a district-managed school or a charter school?'” said Nutter. “They’re all public schools. And we need as many quality options as possible. Because then you’ll be successful, this city will be successful.”

    Some in the city oppose charters, believing they divert funding away from the city’s district-run schools.

    Staring down a $304 million budget hole next year, the School District of Philadelphia has asked the city for $60 million. The rest would come from the state, and labor concessions.

    Inside the Liacouras Center Monday, parents couldn’t stop smiling.

    Sherri McCallum’s reason for grinning couldn’t have been simpler.

    “My son is going to college,” she said matter-of-factly at the end of the ceremony. “It’s a blessing.”

    Vena Brown said she nearly cried during the ceremony. Her daughter, a senior at Mastery’s Shoemaker Campus in West Philadelphia, is heading to Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

    “I had to suck it up, but I’m very proud of her,” said Brown.

    Mastery seniors committed to attend more than 90 post-secondary schools, including two- and four-year colleges and universities, and earned more than $13 million in scholarships. They also pledged to complete their post-secondary degrees by 2017.

    While the day certainly centered on those efforts, it was also a chance to keep underclassman motivated — especially juniors.

    “It’s kind of like a wake-up call to kind of get your act together and get to college,” said Emmanuel Olanrewaja, a junior at Shoemaker.

    The West Philadelphia resident is eyeing an economics degree. First, he’s going to retake the SATs, as many juniors do.

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