In an effort to promote higher education among West Philadelphia high schoolers, Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships matched adolescents with advisors Tuesday as part of Shadowing Day.
Although many of the organizations that host students for the national program — which always occurs annually on Feb. 2 — typically emphasize work-related skills, Penn’s approach uniquely highlights the importance of continued education, according to Isabel Mapp, associate director for volunteer services at the Netter Center.
Shadowing Day began in Philadelphia, but has now spread across the country with help from United Way, a the volunteer organization Mapp added.
This year, the center hosted ten ninth graders — four from West Philadelphia High School and six from Thomas Fitz Simons High School.
This event was part of a series run by WorkReady Philadelphia, in which organizations across the city helped expose ninth graders to new work environments as part of “Career Exposure Day,” one of three Shadowing Days to be held in coming months.
In the morning, presenters discussed academic and employment issues, after which students were taken for a campus tour.
Penn has been involved with Shadowing Day for at least 10 years, Mapp said. The Philadelphia Youth Network coordinates which West Philadelphia high schools attend each year.
This year, Penn changed the format of its shadowing program by having students interact one-on-one with mentors from the University community.
“Mentors are quite diverse in the work that they do and who they are,” Mapp said. Some students were paired with school administrators, such as Katrina Clark, associate director of Wharton Executive Education, while others were taken to campus radio station WXPN with Y-Rock host Josh Landow.
“I wasn’t expecting to get on the radio,” said Fitz Simons freshman Mikal Dennis, who enjoyed seeing how everything operates. “It was fun.”
African American Resource Center Director Valerie Allen, one of the event’s organizers, pointed out that several presenters grew up in West Philadelphia, which enabled them to connect with the students.
One presenter began with the introduction, “Hey Speedboys!” — referring to the West Philadelphia High mascot.
Students also had the opportunity to hear from a panel of administrators about the importance of education and were taught concrete skills such as resume writing.
Lauren McLaughlin, who led the resume workshop, said students learn practical skills, such as how to professionally list standard teen jobs like babysitting and lawnmowing.
Felicia Gray, a West Philadelphia High freshman, said she now wants to explore more opportunities. She was originally planning on becoming a social worker, but now would like to keep her options open to include positions that might better employ her skills.
The presenters find the impact they have is significant. Mapp said many return year after year.
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