A new prep service run by Penn students is delivering high-quality college advising to the fringes of Philadelphia.
One Little Did, a nonprofit organization founded by third-year Law and Government graduate student Abraham Kwon, is amping up the urban volunteer scene in its pilot year at the Kensington Culinary Arts High School.
On the Friday of Spring Fling weekend, Kwon boarded the Market-Frankford SEPTA line to meet 11th grader Danford Nanjero outside the wooden doors of the Culinary Arts library.
As the two walked past metal detectors and X-ray scanners, they found empty desks below a cautionary sign for students against violence: “One-Way is Harassment, Two-Way is Playing.”
Nanjero, a quiet student who emigrated from Kenya in 2006, is one year from applying to college. After a Teach for America core member at his school introduced him to One Little Did, Nanjero became hopeful that sessions with Kwon would bring him closer to his hopes of working as a translator or physician.
“They’re really nice,” Nanjero said of the weekly sessions. “Since the SAT is important for college, I’m getting ready. I’d like to do well.”
At Kensington Culinary Arts High, which was annexed in 2005 from Kensington High School, Nanjero is one of 10 students who opted this year to sign on with Kwon’s pilot program.
A team of 20 One Little Did volunteers — including five Penn affiliates — come down each school day to meet one-on-one and prep for the college process. They face an environment where half the students did not graduate last year and only seven went to college.
“I think just because a student is struggling in school does not mean they’re not going to college,” 2008 College graduate and One Little Did volunteer Raymond John said. “We don’t guarantee college acceptance, but we guarantee we won’t give up on them.”
So far, One Little Did has helped seven Culinary Arts students gain entrance at four-year college programs, including Temple University, Penn State University, Lock Haven University and East Stroudsburg University in Northern Michigan.
“One Little Did has made a great commitment to my school,” Kensington Culinary Arts High School Principal James Williams said, adding that the group has helped “expand the personal borders of students.”
Citing a recent survey which found that Kensington ranks as the nation’s number one district for food poverty and number two district for reported sexual abuse of kids, Williams said the school has benefited from the work of “energetic” college professionals.
“These kids bring so much baggage with them. I get kids here who return from incarceration and are assigned to this school by a judge. It goes against my personal beliefs, but we try to give students a protective covering.”
Since September 2010, Kwon has worked with Williams and several Culinary Arts teachers to tailor the program to the specific needs of the school’s students.
One Little Did — which takes its name from a Shel Silverstein nursery rhyme — has faced multiple attendance concerns, including a student who dropped out, another losing interest and one going “MIA” after deciding he didn’t want to go to college anymore, Kwon said.
Kwon, who graduates in May from Penn Law and the Fels Institute of Government, hopes to devote more time to One Little Did, while finding supplementary work at a nonprofit or political campaign.
Next year, the team will organize workshops catered to more students and focused on topics such as writing personal statements and applying for financial aid. In March, the nonprofit renewed its partnership with Culinary Arts to expand to different grade levels, and include mentorship and after-school homework support.
“Everyone has the opportunity to attend workshops, so it’s not exclusive. If students want help and are motivated, they can come,” John said.
After winning a grant from letter27 — a contest from a marketing agency that will donate $10,000 worth of services for a brand makeover — One Little Did is in the process of redesigning its logo.
Kwon has partnered this month with two campus food trucks — Sugar Philly at 38th and Walnut streets and Tyson Bees which serves Korean fusion food at 33rd and Spruce streets. During a fundraiser that starts Saturday, one dollar of every dessert purchased at Sugar Philly will be donated to One Little Did, while 15 percent of profits for Tyson Bees will go to the nonprofit.
In the meantime, Penn volunteers will continue mentoring students like Nanjero until June, when the school year ends at Kensington Culinary Arts.
Last month, Williams arranged for Nanjero to visit ESU for a college tour, a rare excursion among students at Kensington Culinary Arts.
“He has a great work ethic,” Kwon said of the 17-year-old Kenyan, who is the only junior of the One Little Did mentees.
Before heading home from school to his siblings and mother, Nanjero said he plans to continue on with Kwon’s workshops.
“America is a good country,” Nanjero said. “There are a lot of opportunities. I see myself staying here for a little longer.”Comments powered by Disqus
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