With Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel and community members in the audience, students presented their findings from the Leaders of Change summer research program through The Enterprise Center (TEC) on August 19.
As part of the Student Success Center at University City High School (UCHS), The Leaders of Change Program is a summer program allowing rising juniors and seniors to explore a neighborhood in West Philadelphia, identify resources in the community, and research an issue within the community. Students also learn leadership public speaking skills. This past summer is the second cohort of high school students to participate in the program.
Aleea Slappy, the Education Programs Manager at TEC, explains that she, along with Janice Parker from the University City High School Student Success Center “wanted to create a program for students to own their roles as change agents” in the community.
Each team, named Team A to Team E, consisted of about 10 students assigned to a two by two block area. Students interviewed about 50 members of the community within the area. The survey, designed by the students with the input of TEC staff, consisted of questions on a five point scale about teen safety, general safety and police in the neighborhood. Jameese, a member of Team E, found that teamwork was a valuable skill she learned during the summer. “We all worked as a team. We relied on each other and couldn’t move the project forward without each other.”
Team E found that safety problems were the most important issues among community members in their area. Also, the lack of supermarkets, multiple abandoned buildings, and no fire station were issues residents stated were important. The students reported that only 27% of people strongly agreed that they felt safe walking the streets, and only 7% strongly agreed that teens were safe in the neighborhood. Also, only 15% said that strongly agreed that they have a good relationship with police.
Due to the recent news of the flashmobs, the students said that many adults have negative attitudes about teens in Philadelphia. Wanting to show the positive contribution that teens can make to the community, the students emphasized their role in changing the perception of teens. “I want to be that person who changes adults’ negative perception of teens. I want to be that change and help my friends to understand that also,” said Jameese.
The students recommended community improvements such as recreation centers, town watches, volunteer days, and shelters and group homes. Dondre of Team E learned to “keep an open mind, everything is not set in stone” when it comes to the community. He proposed the idea of a conflict resolution program to decrease the violence in the neighborhood.
Hesitant at first to get involved in the program, Makaya of Team E said that “stepping outside of my comfort zone was the most difficult part…once I stepped outside, though, I found that this was really fun. I even started teaching little sister about stuff we learned.”
Jameese, Dondre, and Makaya agreed that the best part about the program was being around people their age, meeting and talking to people, and the encouragement from team leaders and other students.
Not only did the study provide the student’s with valuable research experience, but it also helped them discover businesses, resources, and other attractions in the neighborhood they may not have known about. Jameese said that “through Leaders of Change, now I feel like I have a voice in the community.” Wanting to attend University of Pennsylvania after graduating, she said that the Leaders of Change program has helped her prepare for applying to college this fall.
This fall, a small group of students that participated in the Leaders of Change summer program will be part of Leaders of Change 2.0. In this phase, the students will take their research from over the summer and figure out ways to implement projects to alleviate some issues in their community. They will also take a business class at UCHS to give them a background in entrepreneurship, marketing, and business leadership.
A related program in the works at TEC is the Leaders of Change—Parent Edition. This program will actively engage parents of students at UCHS to lead change in their community along with their children. Stay tuned for more information about this program.
For more information on the Leaders for Change program, please contact Aleea Slappy at email@example.com or 215.895.4000.