Funds allow continued support for more students

The Urban Youth Leadership Academy reflects on a semester of including girls in the program.

The Urban Youth Leadership Academy is a high school and college-prep program. In Fall 2019, the program received funding to allow young girls into the program for the first time. | JUWAN BENNETT/ COURTESY

“Why can’t we be doing the same thing with the young women,” Alexus Moran, an urban education master’s student and program coordinator of the Urban Youth Leadership Academy, asked herself. 

UYLA, a high school and college-prep program run by Temple’s College of Education, had been only for middle school boys since it began in 2016. That changed when the program opened to include girls last fall.

Juwan Bennett, a doctoral student in the College of Liberal Arts and former coordinator of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement, founded UYLA to help young, Black male students get into college, he said.   

The program was able to include girls after receiving a $30,000 grant from the Lasko Family Foundation and $10,000 of in-kind support from the College of Education, according to a university release.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students from Paul L. Dunbar School on 12th Street near Montgomery Avenue and Dr. Tanner G. Duckrey Public School on Diamond Street near 15th are selected by their principals to participate in UYLA, Moran said.

Program facilitators meet with the students twice a week from September to June. The program is focused on improving career readiness and college access for students, Moran said.  

Students also take weekly music lessons with Beyond the Bars, Bennett said, a nonprofit that helps Philadelphia youth to express their emotions through music, working to break the cycle of incarceration and violence that some face, according to its website.     

The UYLA cohort of girls and the cohort of boys have helped each other become better students and showed each other how to be more assertive, Bennett said.

“Having the girls present and there in the joint sessions was really able to help us with the boys by helping them get serious about their work because a lot of times they like to joke and play around,” Bennett said.

Likewise, when the girls are hesitant to share their thoughts, the boys encourage them to speak, Bennett said. 

Moran has also seen the benefits of opening up the program to girls.

“Being a Black woman, it’s a hard world to navigate with higher education, especially being a first-generation college student,” Moran said. “Being able to be what you needed when you were younger is the way that I like to look at it.”

UYLA students value their time in the program.

“I think it’s is a great program that could teach me a lot about leadership, and I am very lucky to be apart of the first set of girls they added to this program,” said Najiah Wilson, an eighth-grade student in UYLA.

Chloe Starks, an eighth-grade student enrolled at UYLA, said she is appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the program.

“I love all the things they are doing and how they take advantage of our time to help us,” Starks added.

UYLA helped Dymir Evans, an eighth-grade student at Duckrey, become more of a leader, he said.

“And because they expanded to girls, that means the girls can get the same opportunities that I’m getting,” Evans added.

This semester, UYLA plans to work with student-athletes in Temple’s FLIGHT Academy of Leadership, a leadership training program for student-athletes. Bennett said. Student-athletes of FLIGHT would mentor UYLA students, becoming pen-pals to their mentees and attending Temple sports games and community service events together, Bennett added.

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