Nearly three weeks ago, Anderson Classroom 26 was turned into a Philadelphia courtroom. Lawyers, jurors, witnesses and judges conducted a trial on a shooting in the city.
The prosecution team was heated – determined to bring justice to their client. The defense seemed coy, intuitive, nothing short of focused. Every now and again though, there was some laughter and the scenario would restart. At those moments the atmosphere of the courtroom lightened up a bit. It was another day at “Don’t Fall Down in the Hood.”
This program for city youths who have been in trouble with the law, meets on the first floor of Anderson Hall Monday through Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The curriculum for students participating in the program serves as an alternative to their incarceration for gun and narcotics possession, theft and assault.
Greg Thompson, director of Don’t Fall Down in the Hood, explained that the motivation for his program began when he was teaching at Charles Y. Audenried High School in South Philadelphia.
“Kwame Broster was a student of mine,” Thompson said. “On the last day of school, Kwame Broster was murdered in the Tasker projects on Pierce Drive. I was extremely devastated by the loss of Kwame because I worked very closely with [him] at Audenried and it was, of course, the first kid I had lost.”
Students that enter Don’t Fall Down in the Hood are required to stay for a period of four to six months and are led through topics such as conflict resolution, life skills – like the courtroom scenario – and computer literacy. The students also take fields trips to locations such as FBI headquarters and go camping in the Poconos. Depending on the progress students make in following the policies and procedures of the program, they graduate upon completing the requirements laid out by the terms of their probation. If students do not comply with the program’s requirements, it is a violation of probation and the juvenile court then deals with their case.
The importance of Temple’s atmosphere factors prominently in the program’s affect on the participants, Thompson said.
“We chose Temple University strategically because we wanted our boys to see a real university,” Thompson said. “Most of these boys have never even been on a college campus.”
Some education majors volunteer as mentors in the program as part of the service learning class. Others volunteer as work-study and some merely because they want to volunteer their time.
Melvin Hill, a freshman at Temple, mentors two nights a week with “Don’t Fall Down in the Hood” through his work-study position with the program GET SMART (Student Mentors and Reading Tutors).
“An environment [the students] can be comfortable in really benefits the progress of the program,” said Hill, a business major.
Kimmy Foster, an 18-year-old graduate of “Don’t Fall Down in the Hood” was ordered into the program because of a gun charge. Foster said that he’s now looking into applying to trade school because of the opportunities the program has shown him.
“This program shows you stuff that you don’t see often,” Foster said. “It shows you … the stuff that’s hidden from you.”
According to Thompson, the fundamental goal of the program is to reshape the outlook that these students have on life and their opportunity for the future.
“A tactic we use here,” Thompson said, “is ‘tear down, root out, and build up.’ We show them that people care about them and they do have a bright future.”
Temple students that volunteer with the program constantly offer the participants of “Don’t Fall Down in the Hood” a resource that is available to them three hours a day, four days a week.
That student-mentor relationship is really what’s at the core of this program’s entire structure.
“Over all they’re such fun to work with,” said Stephanie Delgado, a junior elementary education major who volunteers her time as a mentor to the program. Delgado said that she is participating with a service learning class at Temple.
“We have discussions everyday that make these boys think about things they may never think about and it’s so interesting to hear what they have to say about life and their feelings on different topics.”
Shirley Farmer, a professor at Temple, teaches a service learning class in which she requires her students to volunteer with the program, but could not be reached for comment for this article.
The close knit relationships that are built between students and mentors are reflected in the positive attitude of the individuals focused on graduating from the program.
“We’re just like a big family,” Antwaine Frazier said, a 15-year-old participant from Germantown who was ordered to the program on account of a gun charge. “[The mentors] make us know that we can actually do something and really get somewhere. The sky is the limit.”
For more information on becoming involved with “Don’t Fall Down in the Hood,” contact director Greg Thompson at (215) 519-7772.
T.C. Mazar can be reached at email@example.com.