Philadelphia Futures helps teens prepare

    Students from Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods face even greater obstacles. Some rely on a little extra help from the non-profit group Philadelphia Futures.

    Teenagers are heading from high school graduation to a new set of challenges at work or college. Students from Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods face even greater obstacles. Some are relying on a little extra help from the non-profit group Philadelphia Futures.
    Caption: Eric Watkins and mom Olinda McIntyre.

    Listen:
    [audio: 090629lfmentor.mp3]

    Eric Watkins says the Sponsor-A-Scholar program changed his life. He says Roxborough High School is a good school, but it was hard to learn there.

    Watkins: People say it’s the teacher’s fault – teacher’s not teaching, but it’s really the students are not willing to learn. If you have 200 kids not willing to learn, how can the rest of the students learn? So you don’t feel as though you are prepared enough.

    Watkins says the tutoring and mentoring helped improve his writing and math…and something else.

    Watkins: Many traits of my personality have changed. I mean I’m more outgoing towards different type of people. I’m getting along more with my peers. I’m not afraid to speak my mind, or say what’s right.”

    The Philadelphia Futures program also helped Tyra Johnson and her son Michael.

    Mentor Larry Perelman
    Mentor Larry Perelman

    Johnson: He’s had a lot of challenges with me being a single parent raising two boys and a girl he’s been around me his whole – the whole time that he’s been growing up so Futures sort of incorporated that male figure to build him up as a man — that backbone that strength that he needed to look further into the future.”

    Johnson says at the core of her son’s success is his mentor, Karl Janowicz. He’s like part of the family.

    Sitting in the hallway just before a graduation ceremony, Janowicz smiles when he talks about the time he’s spent with Michael over the last 4 years. They’ve been camping, and rock climbing, but at the center of their connection is the theater,

    Janowicz: We see movies that Michael might not see with his friends that he would want to see. And we have lunch first, we go to the movie and on the drive home and afterwards we talk about it. And the older Michael gets, we talk about it on different levels.

    Janowicz’ concern about Michael, and the state of public education in the city, are clear. And he has plenty of experience with the system: by day Janowicz coordinates mentally gifted and advanced placement programs at Michael’s high school.

    Janowicz: With what is going on in the Philadelphia comprehensive high schools today, standards have become so lax, things have become so haphazard that I don’t think many students who are bright are getting very good direction.

    Gettysburg representative and graduate William Green
    Gettysburg representative and graduate William Green

    Yanoff: It is very clear especially going into next year that we don’t have enough funds to really make good on what should be our promise to kids.”

    Shelley Yanoff is the executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

    Yanoff: Up through this year our average ratio was 500 kids to 1 counselor. So things have to be pretty, pretty dire to get yourself to the top of that list. Kids need vocational counseling, they need ideas about what the work world is like, they need to be able to talk with someone about their problems.

    There are signs of change at the School District. School superintendant Arlene Ackerman has vowed to improve the performance of neighborhood high schools.

    Her five-year strategic plan includes millions to double the number of high school guidance counselors, set up alternative programs for struggling high school students, and open re-engagement centers across the city.

    Ackerman says the plan is not full of experimentation.

    Graduate Ralph Alexis
    Graduate Ralph Alexis

    Ackerman: This plan is just putting in place what I got and what most people got in a high school experience or in an elementary experience some 40 years ago. And it’s a shame that we’re back to the basics but that’s what I believe will sort of take us out of this spiral, downward spiral that we see in terms of high dropout rates, high truancy rates.

    It’s still up in the air how much of Ackerman’s plan will be implemented. Ackerman wants to use federal stimulus money for new programs but some state lawmakers want to use the stimulus money to help reduce their contribution to the state education budget.

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