PHOTOS: Community Night 2014

Is it just us, or is this school year flying by? We are already in our fourth week of academic and vocational training!

Now that students have had a chance to settle into their routines and responsibilities, we held a Community Night at the school last night so that our students could share their YouthBuild experience with family, friends, and supporters. In breakout sessions, students and community members sat together to talk about the changes they’ve witnessed or experienced so far this year, and how community members can support our students as the year continues.

We loved hearing from our community members about the difference they’ve observed in students’ motivation, energy, and passion for learning since arriving at YouthBuild. It was also a joy to meet the parents, grandparents, children and siblings who have inspired our students to embark on this journey towards a more positive future. Thank you for joining us last night to support YouthBuild students! We look forward to seeing you at future community events – and graduation!


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Students Write: “Dear YouthBuild…”

This year, students in Ms. Willa’s Language Arts class spent the academic year working on ethnography projects that studied a place of their choosing. Ethnography, students learned, is a form of social research that observes and analyzes the everyday patterns and practices of a group.  This particular assignment – which Ms. Willa called “Sense of Place, Sense of Self” – highlighted the idea that group and individual identities are often tied to geography and “place.”

At the start of the school year, students selected a place – for example, a youth shelter, or a particular intersection in their neighborhood – to be the focus of their ethnography.  Over the course of the year, students wrote essays studying the rules and symbols of their chosen “place,” drew informational maps, and interviewed members of the community.   Ethnographies often include reflections from the researcher about their own interpretations and biases, so students also wrote letters to the place that they had chosen.

Some students decided to focus their ethnographies on YouthBuild Philly.  Below, we share two letters written to YouthBuild by student ethnographers Angela and Anthony:

Dear YouthBuild,photo2web

I was afraid to open up to you at first as I’m sure you already know, but you did your best to help me.  If I don’t have anyone I know I will always have you by my side through every step I take.  Each day I walk into you and I feel your warm embrace around me making me grow even fonder of you.  If the world had others like you, you could help paint the future of our millennium and future generations to come.

Sometimes you frustrate me, and sometimes I want to let you go but you always give me a reason to hold on.  Many people don’t know you or take time to listen to your story, I know if they took the chance to see who you are you could change the mindset of others.

You sculpted me, you molded me into the woman I need to become.  I may not be perfect but you never judge me; instead you guide me when I fall off track.  We’ve had our differences but you’ve shown me you only want the best for me and my future.  When life knocks me down you always let me know you’re here with a hand to lift me up.

You help me hide from the world around me; you also help me do more productive activities with my life instead of being in the street.  The world could have taken control of me but instead you took me under your wing.  They only fear I have now is letting you down, but I know in my heart that you would never let me do so.

Just seeing you reward my accomplishments and positivity makes me want to make you more proud.  As you watch me grown and as I succeed on my journey, I know that you are smiling upon me.


Angela Shapiro

P.S. See you at graduation – remember, it’s in August.  See you soon.


Dear YouthBuild,photo1web

When I first met you in mental toughness, I was inspired by your positivity and professionalism.  It pushed me to strive for success and make sacrifices in order to reach my goals.  All the people you introduced me to became my family and you became my home.  Failure became my past and success became my future.  You gave me a second chance and showed me what freedom feels like.  Told me that I am just as good as that man carrying his briefcase, walking into a twenty-story building in a suit and tie wearing shoes covered in animals that you only see in the zoo when they’re alive, if not better than him.

You became my voice when nobody else stood up for me.  You’ve proven to the world that I’m not the criminal they expected me to be.  You told my family that I was in good hands and will be working with other young adults to change the community we live in.  You took me under the wing and became my mentor throughout the journey we are taking to success.  You push me every step of the way to force myself not to take a break, slow down or quit marching with this team we all put together.

Thanks to you, I know there’s a brighter future waiting for my arrival.  There is another generation waiting on me to stand in front of them and share my success story, another class of your students are waiting for me to tell them how real this opportunity is.  Without you I don’t know where I’d be.

Anthony Cunningham



April Volunteer of the Month & Volunteer Appreciation Week 2014

Brionna Pendleton is April’s Volunteer of the Month!  Brionna is an undergraduate studying biology and psychology at Temple University, and has been volunteering at YouthBuild Philly since November.  All of us at YouthBuild thank her for the 30 hours of tutoring and valuable service she’s provided at our school this year!  Below, Brionna reflects on her time at YouthBuild so far:

ImageI am genuinely happy that YouthBuild exists, not only for the students but for all of the teachers, tutors, and support staff. Tutoring at YouthBuild has been an amazing experience for me. YouthBuild is a place where so many of these students can escape other struggles and truly focus on bettering themselves. It is inspirational to hear some of their stories and how they have turned away from things that were once dragging them down. These students are trying to better themselves after so much that they have encountered in their short lives and it makes me want to become a better person in my own life.

I remember coming up the elevator and being greeted by Mr. Ricky and other teachers yelling, “IT’S SHOUT OUT DAY!” I was completely confused and just stood there dumbfounded. Shout outs were being handed out all over the place and I felt that it was a great way for the students to encourage each other and for them to be noticed for the great that they do. Later, I was helping at student with a science project. After we had been working for a while, he said “Thanks! You really helped me a lot. You definitely deserve a shout out,” and there he wrote me one and on it reads “for helping me :)”. I still have it hanging next to my desk.

I was working with an alumni student one day and she told me that she doesn’t usually like to be tutored because it is difficult for her to connect with others, but she told me that it was different with me. We talked and not just about strictly math and science, but about what’s hard for her, why she has difficulty, and what she thinks will help her do better. I think it was so meaningful to me because when I first sat down, she explained to me that usually she doesn’t like getting help, and by the time I was leaving, she wanted to schedule to be tutored by me again. I felt that I had not only helped her understand a concept in math, but also realize that it is okay to ask for help.”

Earlier this month, YouthBuild Philly celebrated National Volunteer Appreciation Week with a special breakfast for our volunteers, and an afterschool pizza party for tutors and students.  We are grateful every week of the year for the generous gifts of time and caring that our volunteers bring to YouthBuild, but we enjoyed having a special occasion to celebrate during Volunteer Appreciation Week!

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Interested in volunteering at YouthBuild Philly?  Learn more here. 

PHOTOS: REP Day, Session 1

Regular readers of the blog know that  students accomplish many things in the course of a year at YouthBuild.  In addition to earning their high school diploma and preparing for college-level academics, YouthBuild Philly students also earn vocational certifications through hands-on learning while serving their community.

School, vocational training and service would be difficult to do all at once, so at YouthBuild Philly students alternate between academic and vocational training every five weeks.  The student body is split into two groups: A-Side and B-Side.  A-Side begins the year in the classroom, and B-Side begins the year with their vocational squads at a work site.

(We’re using a bold font to highlight some YouthBuild Philly lingo, for anyone interested in learning).

The Class of 2014 just completed their first five-week period – or “Session” – on Friday, so this week we’ve switched sides.  This morning, B-Side students had their first day in the classroom, and A-Side students headed to their respective work sites to start earning their certification.

To celebrate the completion of the first session – and bring both Sides together to swap advice and knowledge about what to expect in the next session – we held what we call “REP Day” on Friday.  (REP stands for YouthBuild’s core values of Respect, Excellence and Perseverance.)  In addition to sharing advice and delivering presentations on what they’d learned, students participated in awards ceremonies where they were recognized for good attendance and for demonstrating core values and professional traits.

Here are a few photos from the day.  Please join us in congratulating our students on completing one session, and wishing them luck in the next!

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MLK III to Deliver Keynote Address at YouthBuild’s Class of 2013 Commencement

Community activist and son of Dr. Martin Luther King will address former high school dropouts who earned their diploma through the transformational education and community service program.

Philadelphia, Pa – August 20, 2013 – Over 100 former high school dropouts ages 18-21 will receive their diplomas from YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School at a commencement ceremony on Friday, August 23rd at 10 a.m. Martin Luther King III will attend the ceremony and deliver the keynote address.

The commencement ceremony will celebrate students’ growth and achievements over the past year. All YouthBuild Philadelphia graduates have transformed their lives by earning a diploma as well one or more industry recognized job certifications through rigorous academics, hands-on vocational training, and community service. Most students in the Class of 2013 plan to continue their education at a college or trade school after graduating from YouthBuild Philadelphia.

Human rights advocate and community activist Martin Luther King III will deliver a speech to the graduates and their families at the ceremony. Mr. King is currently planning a march on Saturday August 24th in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and his father Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Mr. King will travel to Philadelphia for the day on Friday to attend the YouthBuild graduation.

“We are deeply honored that Mr. King is joining us for this joyous occasion,” said Simran Sidhu, Executive Director of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. “The national YouthBuild movement of young people reclaiming their education while rebuilding their communities has its roots in the twentieth century civil rights movement. As our country reflects on the past 50 years of change and progress and continues to push towards equality, committing ourselves to the education, training, and unique promise of each young person must be a priority.”

The ceremony will additionally feature remarks by selected Class of 2013 graduates and a YouthBuild Class of 2007 alumna, as well as musical performances by two students. YouthBuild Philadelphia will present its annual Legacy Award to Scott Emerick, Vice President of Education for YouthBuild USA, and the Meaningful Impact Award to Dennis McDonough of the Finishing Trades Institute.

Please note that due to very limited space, this is is an invite-only event.  Only press, invited guests of YouthBuild Philly, and ticket-holding friends and family of graduates may attend.  

Thaddeus Stevens College Summer Bridge Closing Celebration

A unique feature of YouthBuild we like to advertise to prospective students is that dropouts who apply to YouthBuild could be enrolled in college courses – or even living on a college campus – less than a year after applying.   Students who apply (in July, let’s say), are accepted, and complete their academic requirements on time  could be enrolled in a college course by the next June, if not sooner!  This seeming time warp is created by the multiple summer bridge programs we have built with our wonderful postsecondary partners.

For several summers, eligible students who have completed their academic YouthBuild requirements by the end of Sixth Session have participated in dual-enrollment programs at partner postsecondary institutions over the summer.  Students who “bridge” into partner institutions after receiving their YouthBuild diploma have the advantage of knowing what to expect, and can hit the ground running.  The summer bridge programs – which are free to students – expose students to college life and postsecondary academics while they continue to receive YouthBuild supports.  The programs enable students to start earning college credits as soon as possible, a jump-start that helps them manage the consts of continuing their education.

2013 bridge students with their certificates of completion!

Last week, a cohort of ten students finished their summer bridge program at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, one of our original postsecondary partners.  As in years past, the college hosted a small, heartfelt ceremony to celebrate the bridge students’ perseverance through the program.


Thaddeus Stevens is a small college in Lancaster, PA and about a 90-minute drive from YouthBuild – so our students stayed in the dorms this summer.  They were regularly visited by YouthBuild staff, helped each other with homework, and also received support from YouthBuild alumni already enrolled at Thaddeus Stevens.  Regular readers may remember Ciera Russum from the Greene St. ribbon-cutting – she just finished her first year at Thaddeus Stevens and was out there this summer helping bridge students acclimate to college life and postsecondary academics!

2013 bridge students with Cierra Russum ’12 (right) and Emada Williams ’12 (left)

At the moment, seven YouthBuild students are confirmed to enroll at Thaddeus Stevens College in the fall.  We are waiting to confirm that three more meet all the requirements.  Congratulations to all our Thaddeus Stevens Bridge students on completing the program – a considerable milestone – and many thanks to the administrators and educators at Thaddeus Stevens who have supported and taught our students this summer.  You’ve help our students reach new heights, and we couldn’t do it without you.

Watch out for more posts as we celebrate the completion of several other summer bridge programs this week!

Thanksgiving for a Family of 300!

Every year, the YouthBuild Philadelphia staff hosts a Thanksgiving Luncheon for students and their children on the day before Thanksgiving.  Community Project Coordinator Aaron Kim shares his first experience with the annual tradition:

I have to begin talking about it with the food! The staff cooks for the lunch the night before, and in the morning, one of the language arts rooms is transformed into feasting central.  There’s turkey, of course.  Several turkeys.  And ham.  Glistening, pineapple-basted hams.  Then there are the casseroles, the breads, the stuffings, the mashed potatoes and gravies, the cranberry sauces, the chicken plates.  Yes, everything’s in plural because that’s the only way to describe the varieties and the quantity involved.  Oh, and the desserts.  You can’t forget about the desserts.  A couple tables are devoted just for them, set up outside in the hall.  They’re there to be seen, admired, and eaten.

Now I turn to the fun. Football kicks off the fun, and it lasts a couple hours.  The teams seesaw the lead back and forth, each trying to win by two touchdowns.  Hence the game is intense.   A dance party takes over the Science classroom, while games dominate the Social Studies classroom and AmeriC orps office.  The staff conference room acts as a daycare room full of children playing, and a few napping. A dining hall with tables, feasting, and conversation transforms the Community Celebration Room.  This is Thanksgiving at YouthBuild!

View more photos here!