Archive for August, 2011

Aquaponics as a Gateway: The Partnership’s Urban Food Lab

August 30, 2011

Over the past year, The Partnership CDC has worked diligently to create an aquaponics lab in West Philadelphia. Located in a small area in the back of The Partnership’s building on 4020 Market Street, the Urban Food Lab it is an intricate system that connects plants and fish through various tubes and pumps.

The lab is a self-sustaining food source: the system uses nutrient-rich water from fish (Tilapia) to feed the plants. The plants then filter the water for the fish.

A large-scale version of the project is in the works on 60th Street, with an estimated completion date of 2013 or 2014. At this location, the indoor farm is estimated to produce the equivalent of a 2.5 acre farm per year. Also, the project will create numerous jobs, stimulating the economy in the area.

Not only does this create jobs and food for the community. Wanting to create more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) opportunities for students in West Philadelphia, The Partnership and Cheyney University are working together to create after school and Saturday programs with area schools. Previously working with Drew, Lea, and Locke Elementary schools for the Healthy Homes Initiative, The Partnership hopes to extend this work by including aquaponics education. The curriculum will include observation, measurement, and robotics skills with a focus on aquaponics application.

A week long pilot program this summer gave some students from the area an opportunity to use the Cheyney Lab and Urban Food Lab for measuring and observation. Steven Williams, Executive Director of The Partnership, says that “aquaponics is like a gateway. It touches a lot of science, like math, chemistry, and robotics. It opens kids up to possibilities other than just numbers in a book.”

For more information about the Urban Food Lab at The Partnership, go to

UCD’s Skills Initiative Celebrates the Summer Jobs Program

August 30, 2011

On Friday, August 12, University of Pennsylvania  Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, UCD Executive Director Matthew Bergheiser, Director Sheila Ireland and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell celebrated the accomplishments of 55 West Philadelphians enrolled in the 2011 Summer Jobs Program, a component of UCD’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI). WPSI’s Summer Jobs Program complements UCD’s year-round efforts to connect residents of West Philadelphia with career opportunities at University City’s largest employers. The summer program allows students to understand and develop foundational work skills, which can eventually translate into the basis for a successful long-term career.

WPSI’s Summer Jobs Program has two branches geared toward students at different skill levels. The 30 students who participated in the Service Learning Program for 9th and 10th graders worked in teams to research and address issues in their communities.  They surveyed neighbors about vacant lots, delved into the history of the Lancaster Avenue Business Corridor, and developed marketing tools to educate other teens about sexual health issues like HIV and teen pregnancy.

Twenty-five 11th and 12th graders participated in the Professional Internship Program. Each student was placed in an internship with an area employer, including the Law School at the University of Pennsylvania, Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, Drexel University, University Laboratory Animal Resources, and the National Board of Medical Examiners, where they worked three days a week doing everything from updating files to assisting hospital patients to feeding animals to setting up computers.  Additionally, they attended weekly professional development seminars, where they learned basic work skills.

Zamir Dade, who worked as the Technology Associate at the National Board of Medical Examiners, spoke briefly about his summer. “Working at NBME has been a really good experience, and my coworkers have also been great. Most of the time it doesn’t even feel like I’m working since I’m doing something I love.”

In addition to working as interns, many of the students also participated in a weekly College Access Program facilitated by Andrea Barnes. Here they put together the Common Application and FAFSA paperwork, toured college campuses, learned how to access financial aid opportunities, and started to reflect on the pathways to chosen careers. At the ceremony, these students were acknowledged for their participation in the program by receiving a t-shirt from their first college of choice as a way of encouraging them to complete the necessary steps to attaining college admission.

The internship program is an important way for the students to develop the skills necessary to succeed even in a highly-competitive job market, and the closing ceremony was a joyous celebration of the whole process.

For more information about the Skills Initiative, contact Sheila Ireland at

“I Want to Own the Change”: TEC Leaders of Change Program

August 30, 2011

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 or 215.895.4000.

Any School Can Be a Great School

August 30, 2011

Growing out of just a few emails in the summer of 2010, the West Philadelphia Coalition of Neighborhood Schools (WPCNS) is a diverse group of community members in West Philadelphia. Only one year later, they have around 300 community members on the email list—from parents with school age children, to parents with younger or older children not in the public school system, to community members without children who want to help their area school.

 According to Amara Rockar, chair of WPCNS, the organization was “created to provide additional attention and support to the community’s neighborhood public elementary schools and to encourage parents to send their children to their catchment school.”

Erin McCleary, a founding member of WPCNS, says that when researching area schools, it “seemed like an enormous displacement of resources…when there are enough elementary schools in the city of Philadelphia so that everyone can walk to school.”

She was concerned because only a few parents in the community were sending their children to their community school.  “If I am going to spend a lot of time on my kid’s education, why not have it be in my neighborhood school down the street? If we all volunteered in our own school, than any school can be a great school.”

Currently, the main focus of WPCNS is Lea Elementary  School (4700 Locust Street). Once efforts at Lea Elementary are sustained, Rockar says that WPCNS may be branching out to other schools in the area.

 Through school supply drives, in-school volunteers, and a visual arts team, WPCNS members are committed to making Lea “not only a premier neighborhood school but a true meeting place for the surrounding community.”

 WPCNS helped in the planning and publicizing of Lea’s Kindergarten Open House, which included a tour of the school and kindergarten classes. Also, WPCNS, along with The Enterprise Center, hosted the How to Walk to School event at Lea this past May. Co-author Jacqueline Edelberg (How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renassiance) spoke about her book and held a panel discussion. About 125 community members attended the event.

 A book drive for Lea’s libraries is currently being held, with drop off locations at Bindlestiff Books and at 4317 Larchwood Ave. University Dollar Plus and St. Mary’s Nursery School are collecting school supplies for students of Lea.

 McCleary says that all community members are welcome to volunteer at school as well as attend other WPCNS events, such as their Saturday playgroup. “People in this group are interested in the vitality of the community as a whole. They are willing to make a long term commitment.” Not only does the playgroup give their children a chance to play with one another, it also serves as an information exchange about school happenings, events, and general community information for the parents.

To get involved with WPCNS, join the Google Group email list and Facebook group. Also, visit their website at