Although the School District of Philadelphia is amid a budget crisis, local nonprofits are stepping in to prevent its lack of resources from affecting students to the point where they’re not prepared to enter, or even apply for, college.
12+ is an organization that sees a chance for each of those students to challenge the status quo and go on to achieve a higher level of education.
It started in 2010 when a few University of Pennsylvania graduates grouped together to make a change in Philadelphia high schools. They noticed that it was not only a lack of funding that deterred students from attending college, it was also the confusion of the application process. 12+ was their solution to this problem.
“We are ensuring that there is not a broken pipeline between these high school students and their dreams of attending college, whether that be a two-year, four-year or some other type of schooling,” said Albert Pak, chief operating officer at 12+.
The Kensington Health Sciences Academy opened its doors to 12+ and there, the nonprofit was able to provide workshops emphasizing the importance of study skills and perfect attendance, as well as provide guidance with the college application process.
“At KHSA, we are able to have one staff member devoted to each grade level,” Pak said. “This way we are able to help these students from the beginning of their high school journey to the end.”
Along with these mentors are volunteers from universities across the city. These students provide one-on-one tutoring and help during the school’s Career Week, among other things. Temple student Kevin Chan has been a part of 12+ since last year.
“I saw this opportunity as a means to contribute back to the community even more than past service activities I’ve been involved with,” Chan said. “Also, I’ve always enjoyed working with students.”
Not only does 12+ help struggling high school students, Pak said the organization can make a lasting impact on college students like Chan as well.
“12+ is a really nice way for university students to get engaged and become more invested in the city,” Pak said. “There are students who have no idea about this plight going on in Philadelphia high schools, which are immensely under-resourced and underfunded.”
Pak is referring to the severe budget and staffing cuts the School District of Philadelphia is experiencing. The lack of funding has made school counselors greatly outnumbered and college access programs uncommon in the high schools, according to the 12+ website.
12+ has been able to expand its mission to other schools and positively impact the lives of many more students.
“During my time with 12+, I’ve helped build a stronger foundation for our chapter here at Temple,” Chan said. “Our chapter has grown from last year and started a new partnership with Penn Treaty High School. We’ve been able to send more student volunteers to KHSA and PTHS for every day of the school week and are beginning to even have some volunteers working as teachers’ aids in the classroom.”
With all of the success 12+ is experiencing, Pak said he knows this is only possible with the help of everyone involved.
“What we do is only possible with the help of the teachers, principal, et cetera,” Pak said. “It is a true partnership and a whole school effort.”
Pak said the most important part of 12+ is the real-life successes it facilitates on a daily basis.
“I have seen a student go from not caring about her SATs to becoming an involved student at a respected university because of 12+,” Pak said.
Siobhan Redding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.