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The Weitzman School of Design on Oct. 23, 2019. Credit: Katharine Cocherl

Penn’s Weitzman School of Design and Netter Center for Community Partnerships partnered with West Philadelphia High School to permanently continue the Design to Thrive initiative, a summer program designed to provide underrepresented students with a background in design and architecture. 

Under the direction of Penn graduate students, West Philadelphia High School students constructed an open leisure area for their school, complete with several benches and picnic tables. Participants were also provided with drawing and modeling lessons as well as exposure to related career paths, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.  

The six-week program supported 22 high school participants, who each made up to $1,500 for their contributions. 

At the end of the program, a presentation of the finished work was made to the community. The project is set to continue into the school year, with plans to grow a garden and employ students to nurture it.

Design to Thrive was first launched in 2020 in order to combat the lack of field learning opportunities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was initially launched for a two-year trial run. 

Following a $7.5 million gift announced in June to fund the program from Penn alumni Lori Kanter Tritsch and William P. Lauder, it will be run permanently by PennPraxis of the Weitzman School.

“This gift will enable PennPraxis to have an even greater impact in communities that design does not typically serve. We are all so excited that we can deepen and diversify the learning opportunities we offer through Design to Thrive, adding major design/build projects to improve public schools and The Fresh Air Fund’s camp facilities for young people with modest resources and limited access to arts education,” Ellen Neises, executive director of PennPraxis, told Penn Today.

The partnership is one of many between Penn and the surrounding West Philadelphia community. In January, a $4.1 million investment in Henry C. Lea Elementary School was approved, sparking concerns about gentrification. In 2020, Penn also committed $10 million to the School District of Philadelphia.

“We’re giving people a place where they feel welcome and they feel represented,” P.J. Davis, a College senior and architecture major, told the Inquirer. “We are making high school students feel like this is a place that they belong at.”