Giving Students Voice

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Mckayla Warwick, COL ’20

As the focus of my classes slowly turned into exam prep and the leaves began to block the shining sun along Locust Walk, my mind returned more and more to a conversation I had with Dr. Brian Peterson of Makuu: The Black Cultural Center earlier in the semester. He presented an idea about creating a five-week summer program for black high school students in Philadelphia curated around the foundational approaches of College Preparation, College Access and Completion, and Urban Education. Within these overall topics, students would also develop their research and writing, as well as increase their academic and personal confidence.

I immediately felt attached to the program’s vision but financing a summer alone in Philadelphia seemed unattainable.

While my status in the program made me feel uneasy due to financial reasons, I applied for a grant from Career Services with the hope that they would see the value in funding a local idea starting from the ground up. Upon receiving notification of their financial support, I could breathe and fully commit myself to what I now consider to be the greatest thing I have ever been a part of.

When we began to meet in late May to create the program, the question of “what impact do we want to have?” started us off, but we finished our planning with a revised question: “What impact do we want the students to have on friends, schools, and communities after they are empowered with the actualization that they can be organizers?” After a month and a half of complete creative control in drafting lesson plans centered around students coming to terms with their identities, unpacking societal barriers, and planning for success #fortheculture, it was time to execute.

I find it difficult to articulate the growth we witnessed in our students from the first day of the program to the last week. A lot of it was allowing them to warm up to us, but a separate challenge was encouraging students to believe us when we stated their contribution to conversations had value and their dreams for their future were never stupid. Once we had those critical conversations, the students rose to the occasion of tackling the prompts around problem-solving issues related to K-12 education in Philadelphia and college completion for black and brown students nationally. Examples of this include three major successes:

In our post-evaluation survey, every student stated they found this program to be transformational, and as a result, wanted to continue their involvement throughout their academic pathways.

A group of three students created a plan inspired by our conversations about enrollment of Black and Latinx students in AP and advanced classes to organize and facilitate a peer guidance program back at their high school.

Six of the students stayed involved with us for an extra week to make the materials needed for the continuation of this program. Three students took on marketing and three took on planning future activities, such as trips, guest speakers, and projects to use again.

I am forever grateful to Career Services for helping me be in this space to make this program happen. This summer laid the foundation for how I want to approach education (through project-based learning, representation, and community focus). As I witnessed, outlooks and outcomes change when students hold the voice. I will continue to work with Dr. Brian Peterson to ensure the students see that their plans for next summer come to fruition.

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