Thanks to 12+ Program, Penn Treaty School Seniors Set to Graduate With Perspective and Future Plans
Many students in the Philadelphia School District don’t go to college, let alone graduate high school. Only 65 percent of students who began high school in 2008 and 2009 graduated and only 10 percent of high school graduates went on to earn a degree.
Penn Treaty School’s Class of 2017 plans break the mold and not become just another set of statistics. All but one senior — who will begin an apprenticeship — have applied to Community College of Philadelphia (CCP). With the aid of 12+, Penn Treaty seniors have been approaching graduation plans in place — whether it’s college, a trade or the military — to have a bright and successful future.
Started by University of Pennsylvania graduates, 12+ is a nonprofit organization that aims to assist students in underserved communities pursue postsecondary pathways after high school. From fetching juniors to register for the SAT to holding College Week and Career Day for students, the 12+ staff at Penn Treaty works directly with all of the school’s students, with special attention to juniors and seniors, to give them the resources for their career goals.
For 12+ to meet their mission, that staff functions through a “Plus Center,” which is an in-school space. The center’s computers are where staff members help students with their college and FAFSA applications, according to Penn Treaty’s 12+ Site Director Sophie Montgomery. 12+ also has active Plus Center in Kensington Health Sciences Academy and Hill Freedman High School.
The walls of Penn Treaty’s Plus Center are bright blue, decorated with words of positivity. During lunch time, the center was bustling — students were playing chess and hanging out beneath the banners from postsecondary schools draped across the across the center’s ceiling.
With origins in Venezuela, valedictorian Estefany Aycardi’s first language is not English. Aycardi knew she wanted to go to college, so 12+ fellow Gabriella Nicholas helped her find a program to pursue.
Nicholas contacted La Salle about their Bilingual Undergraduate Studies for Collegiate Advancement (BUSCA) Program, an Associate’s program that offers courses in English and specific resources for Hispanic-speaking students. A BUSCA representative came to 12+ at Penn Treaty to hold an information session, which helped form Aycardi’s decision for her after high school plans.
“[12+] gave me options,” Aycardi said.
The Senior Wall in Penn Treaty’s Plus Center is a big attraction. The wall has each senior’s name and picture, which are adorned with stickers that mark that particular senior’s postsecondary moves. Every time a senior is accepted to a college or receives a scholarship, the 12+ staff blast the song “Celebration,” sending good vibes out into the hallway, Montgomery told Spirit News. While the decorated wall is a physical site for seniors to commemorate, it’s not just for seniors.
“When these underclassmen come in and see seniors with these stickers — ‘Applied’, ‘Accepted’, ‘Scholarship Recipient’ — they really realize more than they did before that. They think, ‘Wow, Penn Treaty kids can go to college. Penn Treaty kids can get scholarships. Wow, this is possible for me.’”
Sean Sipes’ paper plaque on the Senior Wall says “applied”; he’s sent applications to more than 10 schools with the help of Nicholas. Sipes was accepted to Cheyney University and now has his sights towards his college. However, the cost of college has Sipes leaning toward CCP.
Snipes isn’t alone: More than 75 percent of children who attend Philadelphia public schools qualify for free or reduced price lunch, which means their families income exists around or below the poverty line.
“There are so many challenges our students face, and they’re really resilient,” Montgomery said.
Sipes’ hasn’t made his final college decision yet, but he knows exactly what he wants to do. After watching the horrific injury of basketball player Paul George and his recovery, Sipes made decided to he wanted to be a physical therapist.
“I’m excited about college. Period,” Sipes said.
Some seniors aren’t excited about college; instead they’re thrilled about joining the United States Armed Forces. Crisitian Cueto is one of three Penn Treaty students to enlist. He spoke to Spirit News in a U.S. Army shirt and will ship off to basic training for the U.S. Army this summer. Cueto and Montgomery agree that this path is a good fit for Cueto.
“Penn Treaty students have really personal and really inspiring visions of what success means for them individually. We totally embrace and encourage the fact that is different for different kids and will help them with whatever that vision of success is,” Montgomery said.
Cueto has teamed up with army recruiters to talk to students in younger grades about enlisting. Cueto likes to act as an older brother figure to others students. When speaking to his peers, he doesn’t only talk about their future but also about where they are now.
“You have these kids that run around the hallways and not want to go to class. I sit there and talk to them — not actually skip class with them — and have conversations with them about it. I find out why they don’t want to be in class, what’s the problem, how can we make it better and give them advice. [I try to] give them motivation to actually want to go to class and do what they want to do,” Cueto said.
As mandated by the School District of Philadelphia, high school seniors have to complete a senior project. The year-long project includes a research paper and ends with final presentation on their thesis, presented to a panel at Penn Treaty during this time of the year. Cueto’s project was on false advertising and he received a grade of 94. Aycardi presented her entire project on teen pregnancy in English and got a 100. Sipes hasn’t presented yet, but his project argues that profits made from the prison system should be allocated to schools. Regardless of the projects’ subject matter, it’s easy to see these kids are on their way to make a difference.
Graduation for Penn Treaty’s Class of 2017 is set for June 16th. Cueto has called his school a “paradise” and believes that Penn Treaty is the reason that he’s graduating, and moving in the right direction. “Coming to this school they actually helped me out they stayed with me and actually worked with me and now I’m right where I want to be,” Cueto said. •