Bridget Warlea was taught very early by her parents to look out for others and to always look out for her little brother.
Her parents instilled these values in her as her family immigrated from Liberia in 2000 after winning the Diversity Visa lottery to escape the civil war. This led her to raise money in high school to return to Liberia and volunteer to teach.
“I kind of took that concept with helping my little brother, or just helping anybody, with me,” said Warlea, a senior legal studies major.
Warlea brings that sense of compassion to her advocacy work helping middle and high school students in North Philadelphia learn about their constitutional rights and apply to college. She also helps represent kids in court who have been in residential placement, like correctional or treatment facilities.
Warlea graduated from Steppingstone Scholars, Inc., an education nonprofit that helps underserved students in the Philadelphia region. She started with the program in fourth grade and now gives back to current participants.
Warlea volunteered with the program throughout high school and now teaches an after-school club through Steppingstone on Mondays and Fridays at Dr. Tanner G. Duckrey Public School on Diamond Street near 15th. The program is called the Constitution Club and is funded by a grant from the National Constitution Center.
Warlea pinpointed an advocacy project where students find issues in their communities and propose solutions as one of her favorite teaching moments. The students, who are in grades 4-8, explore topics like gun violence, sexual assault and the effect of school cleanliness on education.
“It was really fun and exciting to see that they’re grasping the knowledge we’re giving them, but also running with it and applying it to their own school and neighborhood community,” Warlea said.
Warlea also teaches a Saturday morning course to students in grades 6-9 at the Tuttleman Learning Center. The course is about applying to colleges and is based on a course from Coursera, an online educational platform. Warlea helped create the course with the University of Pennsylvania Office of Admissions and Steppingstone during her freshman year.
Warlea enjoys teaching it because many of her students are the first in their families to go to college, just like herself, she said.
“I’ve learned that it’s hard to start things about college at any age because any part of your life can count,” said Briana Wilson, a sixth grader who attends Warlea’s Saturday program, which also covers the processes of applying to high school.
Wilson looks up to Warlea because she encourages her and does many things to better herself and others, she added.
“She helps us, she gives us a chance and she doesn’t sugarcoat it,” Wilson said.
Toni Graves Williamson, who has mentored Warlea since working with her as the former director of diversity and inclusion at Abington Friends School, said Warlea is an inspirational teacher because of the obstacles she has overcome.
“Because she’s determined and won’t accept ‘no’ as an answer…she’s only going to spread that kind of attitude to the kids she works with,” Williamson said.
In January, Warlea started as a youth justice intern at Defender Association of Philadelphia, where she helps kids who have been in residential placement reenter their communities and schools. This often requires special processes, like advocating for them to get individual education plans completed by their schools, Warlea said.
One of Warlea’s goals as an advocate and part of the Defender Association of Philadelphia is elevating the voices of the young people she works with, she said.
Jacob Kurtz, a senior community development major who met Warlea when they worked on TSG Parliament its freshman year, said Warlea will continue to advocate for others after graduating.
“She’ll always stay grounded in her core beliefs on justice, equity and equality and her beliefs on giving people voices who are told that they don’t have any,” Kurtz said. “Those are things that can translate anywhere.”
Warlea wants to spend a few years working in the legal and nonprofit sectors of education after graduation, then attend law school so she can work on policies that will improve the educational system for young people.
“I just love helping people because I know that my experience, my dollars, can make it easier and create a better outcome for somebody else,” Warlea said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Warlea’s role with kids’s individual education plans. Warlea advocates for her clients to get individual education plans completed by their schools.
Editor’s note: Jacob Kurtz is a freelance reporter for The Temple News. He had no role in the reporting or editing of this story.