College access is not accessible to many Philadelphia students—an average of 34 percent of students from Philadelphia schools attend college in the first year post-graduation, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse.
Having only 34 percent of students attending college—and many schools across the region with zero percent attendance in college—is an issue many educators across the region are trying to address.
On Nov. 12, educators, counselors and advisers joined together for a symposium called “Inspire. Incite. Innovate.” to promote college access and completion for students in the surrounding Philadelphia area. This symposium met in the Howard Gittis Student Center and attracted hundreds of attendees.
“So often you hear people using the phrase ‘try and if you try you will succeed,’” said Stephanie Sprow, deputy director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Reach Higher’ initiative, said during her keynote speech. “And I think that’s wonderful for children. I don’t think that that’s wonderful for our schools. We can’t fail. We just can’t.”
“We have too much on the line now,” she added. “When we get up every day we have to be ready to do this work.”
Sprow said she experienced a disconnect in her own time working in Philadelphia School District and spoke of a celebration for student attendance at the elementary school level and anti-violence rallies held at the high school level.
Making changes that help students is a process that requires partnerships, keynote speaker and Philadelphia Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown told The Temple News.
“School counselors can’t do it alone, principals can’t do it alone, the individual college access programs can’t do it alone,” she said. “The glue has to be a formal pulling together of all of those resources to form a plan.”
“What are we going to do collectively to raise the bar? Because individually, we are not going to be able to do that,” Councilwoman Reynolds said.
“Since the numbers are not in our favor, since the counselor to student ratio is not in favor of students and families, let’s start sooner. Teaching them, touching them informing them making them aware of how important the process is,” Reynolds added.
Semantics is also a topic of discussion for preparedness of students post-high school graduation.
“I believe that the word needs to be ‘post-secondary education.’ Apprenticeship, college, gap years—there are so many experiences that our students can have after high school,” said JeNell LaRue, School District of Philadelphia program GEAR UP assistant director during one of the breakout sessions about best practices for college access and career readiness. “But oftentimes we send them in one direction, not realizing that they have an option. The more that they understand that they have an option and can operate within those options, the better they’ll be able to persist.”
Every participant discussed the issue of post-secondary education, but it will continue to be a project for educators to get students into college and retained.
“The data is all there: you need a college degree in our country in this day and age to have the most opportunities,” said Alli Carcaverra, director of training and partnerships. “So how can we do it in a way that is not a burden of debt that then counteracts the capacity to actually accumulate wealth and support a fulfilling happy life—and as educational leaders that is what we want.”
Gillian McGoldrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gill_mcgoldrick.