College junior Jessica King is a community service professional.
King was named Campus Compact 2014 Newman Civic Fellow last week. The annual Newman Civic Fellow Award honors student leaders committed to creating lasting change in communities throughout the country.
Running as a Penn representative nominated by President Amy Gutmann, King was highly recognized for her dedication to promoting equal educational opportunities for disadvantaged children in the West Philadelphia school district.
But King does much more than give inspirational talks. Ira Harkavy , founding director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships , has been working with her since last summer. “Jessica is an idealist, but what’s extraordinarily significant about her is that she puts her idealism into action to bring about practical change,” he said.
King joined Community School Student Partnerships , an outreach program for local schools, in her freshman fall. She later worked for a year as a coordinator that oversaw the scheduling of 35 Penn student mentors. Last spring, King became the student director of CSSP, a position she still holds.
King first wanted to help disadvantaged students after her time spent lifeguarding in high school. On Friday afternoons, teachers always brought a group of children with disabilities to the pool. “It was that one spark — when I saw the little girl who wanted to swim but couldn’t — that I thought I could do something,” King said.
She realized that people cannot necessarily choose how their lives go, and that not all people are on an equal footing. “I came from a very privileged background, and I had always thought people’s lives are results of what their own choices and actions,” she said. Children in special education schools, for example, sometimes suffer from compromised educational quality, she said — a problem that has been especially relevant in West Philadelphia.
“Penn students can do a lot more,” King said. “It’s not just about being a student or a future employee. It’s about being a person.”
King said that she aims to pursue a master’s degree in communication and education before going into teaching. Eventually, she wants to be the principal at West Philadelphia High School .
King said she would consider going into education policy in the future, but not before she finishes her work as principal. “I am kind of like a control freak,” she said, laughing. “I might get frustrated by politics.”
“I hope the people reading this article can think about the person who helped them through difficult times in life, and try to be that kind of person in their own lives,” King said.
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