A YouthBuild week in photos

Happy almost-Halloween! We love these photos of our students volunteering at last night’s Haunted House at the Athletic Recreation Center in Brewerytown.  Service comes in many forms, from helping to haunting!

Today marks the end of Session One, which is YB-speak for the first six weeks of vocational training and academic preparation. After a transition week, students currently on the worksite will switch over to academics and vice versa.  We can already see big changes in our students at the end of this first session, and a vibrant school community has formed.  Here are a few highlights from this week.  No more scary masks from this point forward, we promise!

Automotive Day at Community College of Philadelphia

Although school only started last month, students are already exploring career and college options through field trips and college tours. For example, this week our Postsecondary Career Development department took a small group of students to the Community College of Philadelphia’s West Philadelphia campus to learn more about the Automotive Technology programs offered there.

Engaging Academics

From writing autobiographies to isolating strawberry DNA, students who started the year in academic training have shown consistent creativity and curiosity in the classroom. The student who took these pictures in her science class remarked, “science class at YouthBuild is way better than your average high school!”

Hands-on Vocational Training and Service

Students in vocational training this session focused not only on developing their technical skills and professionalism, but also on using those skills in service to the community. For example, our Business Administration Scholars put their customer service and administration skills to good use at SHARE Foods, a community food bank in North Philadelphia, by packing and managing the food inventory.  During the last week of Session One, many Academic teachers visited worksites to see what their students had been up to and to start building relationships with students in anticipation of next session.  Here’s Language Arts teacher Ms. Sandra making a difference at SHARE:

After-school service opportunities

12189004_157508587933954_4867743644017313551_nOur Community Projects Coordinators are working hard to connect YouthBuild students to service opportunities throughout the city.  In September, CPCs organized over 50 hours’ worth of service opportunities for YouthBuild students, and have even more planned through December. Service offers YouthBuild students an opportunity to develop their leadership skills, connect with a broader community, and enjoy the experience of giving back.  We love this photo from a math tutoring session earlier this week!

This is just a small sample of photos representing all that happens in a week at YouthBuild. We’ve had a great first six weeks, and are looking forward to next session!

Alumni Profile: Bria Jenkins, CDA ’14

“I really like what I do,” says Bria Jenkins.  She has just finished a 45-hour week as a preschool instructor at Right Steps education, but is still of energy – especially when it comes to talking about her job.  Thoughtfully and enthusiastically, she describes her roles and responsibilities as a co-teacher at the Center City childcare center.

For example, this week’s classroom theme is Winter, so all the activities – designed by Bria and her colleague to be developmentally appropriate – are centered on Winter topics.  Bria writes the lesson plan every other week, trading off with her co-teacher.  “We started around the same time together, so we built the classroom together. Everything in there is something we created together.”

Bria sent us photos from her classroom. “This is our morning circle area where we usually put the season on the wall. We practice our alphabet, go over the calendar, and pick our jobs every week.”

Bria has seventeen nephews and nieces, so she was already familiar with childcare at a practical and instinctual level before enrolling at YouthBuild.  However, she says, the program taught her important fundamentals in professionalism and child development.  “I’ve learned not to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the children – now I explain the decision to them,” she says.  “It’s amazing to think about how much time we spend with the kids, who spend most of their waking hours with us.  We are responsible for what they do, what they learn, what they eat.  We have a huge impact on them.  It’s a big responsibility.”  Her favorite part of the job, she says, is hearing from parents about what lessons students have brought home – whether it’s math skills or eating new foods.  “They might not show it in the classroom,” she said, “but it’s enough to know they took it home.”

“Another recent theme was ‘New Year.’ The children made stars to represent how colorful their year would be.”

Bria explains that because of the winter, the students aren’t going on their daily morning walk to Rittenhouse Sqaure – but they still go in the afternoon when it’s warmer.  She laughs appreciatively as she describes how diligent her students are about holding on to the walking rope during these excursions.  “Even when they stumble a little,” she says, “you know they’ve still got their hand on the ring.”

Bria knows a thing or two about diligence herself. Before coming to YouthBuild, she worked at Bayada as a home health aide and thought that she would enroll in YouthBuild’s healthcare vocation track. When she heard about the Childhood Development Associate program, though, she realized that was a better fit for her because of her interest in working with children. Once in the program, she set her sights on success and securing employment. Her favorite field trips, she said, were the ones where the group visited actual childcare centers. “I wanted to see professionals doing what I was trying to become,” she explains. “I think my success comes from wanting it so badly.”

“Each student created and named their own snowman.”

Now that she is employed as an early childhood educator, Bria wants to use her limited free time (she works 2 evenings and 2 weekend mornings at another job) to enroll in college online.  Her plan is to continue studying early childhood education, so that she can eventually advance in the field.  “I see what our school director does and it interests me,” she explains. “She started as a kindergarten teacher, so why not me?”

Online learning works best for self-directed learners, and Bria is confident that this option is a good fit for her.  “I know I’m a dedicated person, so when I say I’m going to do something I know I’m going to do it.”

Bria Jenkins
Bria’s student photo from the Class of 2014 acceptance ceremony

Bria came to YouthBuild after her mother fell ill and she dropped out for over a year due to emotional distress.   “Then it took me a while to go back, because you don’t want to go back to school and face the fact that you dropped out,”  she explains. She reached a turning point after her birthday, however, when she realized that she was running the risk of becoming too old to earn a diploma. “I started evaluating myself and my situation, and asking myself ‘where can I go from here without completing my education?'” she recalls.  A friend told her about YouthBuild and they applied together to the program. (Bria’s mother is now recovered and well.)

At YouthBuild, Bria found supports and challenges that helped her fulfill her potential. “The close-knit family was inspiring to me,” she said, “and learning about leadership at YouthBuild made me step up and want to be more and be better.” She developed a close and positive relationship with Justine Philyaw, the CDA program coordinator, and engaged in friendly competition with one of her close friends and classmates to keep each other motivated.  In August, she graduated from YouthBuild. After interning with two other childcare facilities, Bria found a position at Right Steps – thanks to the friend with whom she was “competing.”

“This was our winter/Christmas classroom door. Each child had an ornament hanging from the door.”

As a recent graduate of YouthBuild Philly, Bria still receives postsecondary counseling and support from the school.  She is in regular contact with a postsecondary coordinator. “The followups make me feel good,” she says.  “Even though I have a supportive family, it’s good to know that someone’s still looking out for me and I know I can contact them.”  Just this week she contacted her postsecondary coordinator for advice on applying to online college programs.

“I really love YouthBuild,” she says. “If I could, I would go back and continue my education there.”

Spotlight On: Child Development Associate Training

“Becoming an early childhood professional is something I always wanted.  Working with children is more than a job to me. Once I leave the center every child is still in my heart.  There are so many children not in safe environments, and I want to provide a safe environment for any children that may not have that at home.”

– Daionna, YouthBuild Philly Class of 2014.

Daionna, quoted above, was a member of YouthBuild Philly’s inaugural Child Development Associate (CDA) vocational training program in the 2013-2014 year.  Now in its second year, the CDA track is one of four vocational training options for YouthBuild students, along with Building Trades, Healthcare and Business Administration.

Students in the CDA program divide their time between classroom learning and internships at child care facilities around the city.  Classroom time covers the research and theory of childhood development and early learning as well as professional skills relating to safety, parent communication, and reporting.  Additionally, students participate in service learning projects with organizations like WePAC and PlayWorks.  Over the course of the year, students develop a portfolio of work that includes lesson and activity plans, healthy meal plans, and a professional philosophy statement.

YouthBuild Philly launched the CDA track to build a strong pipeline to employment.  Demand is high in the childcare field, and the CDA certification is a critical asset for students seeking employment in the field.  Several students from the first Class of 2014 are now employed at childcare facilities or as full-time nannies.

CDA Coordinator Justine Philyaw sees additional, personal advantages in the training program for students. “I’m interested in how this program is affecting our students as parents,” she said.  Half of the students in this year’s program have one or more children, and what they learn in the classroom is useful to them as parents and educators.  For example, students often bring activities home to try out with their children.

Along with stable employment, Philyaw added, the field of early childhood education offers flexible schedules, which students can leverage to advance their careers or balance their work with other responsibilities.  Amber – another 2014 alum – has plans to start taking college classes online, which will fit in well with her downtime (read: naptime) as a nanny and allows her to further her education and career without compromising her availability to clients.  More and more childcare facilities are now open at night or even overnight, too, and childcare professionals can work night shifts to have more flexibility during the day.

In addition to the career advantages listed above, CDA students choose the training program because of their interest in working with children.  Many CDA students have witnessed or personally experienced dangerous and unsupportive childcare conditions, and feel called to create safe and educational spaces where young learners can thrive.  In Diaonna’s words, “it’s more than a job.”

This month, we’ll be posting more student and alumni stories with a focus on the CDA track, as well as updates from the CDA classroom.  To follow along, please bookmark or subscribe to our blog – or sign up for our new monthly “Spotlight” newsletter, which will feature a new YouthBuild Philly topic (starting in January with childcare) each month.

Designing a Green Home

Today YouthBuild Philly’s Advanced Construction and Green Build squads met with project partners at a design charrette for this year’s LEED-targeted renovations on Wingohocking St. in Nicetown.  The Advanced Construction and Green Build students will be the primary groups working to renovate two adjoining and abandoned properties into comfortable, sustainable and affordable homes.  (You can view photos of the properties in their current state here and here.)

Some of you may be wondering what a “charrette” is (we certainly were!).  Its contemporary usage in the world of architecture and design means a collaborative design process.  But why is it called a charrette?  Lucas Hamilton from CertainTeed filled us in this morning with an interesting history of the word: In the early days of modern architectural education, students in France used to submit their 3-D models to their professors by way of a cart (or charrette, in French!) that traveled through the streets of Paris.  Students would work together up until the cart’s arrival – and sometimes travel with the cart if they weren’t done yet! – to put the finishing touches on their design.


The focus of today’s charrette was on creating a LEED-eligible home, built responsibly to support the natural environment and sustain a healthy indoor environment as well.  Students learned about sustainable building practices and products through presentations from Sustainable Solutions and CertainTeed.


In the afternoon, students and staff broke up into groups to discuss design elements that would qualify the building for LEED certification based on the six-category rating system.  For example, students researched water-efficient plants, fixtures and appliances to consider when finishing the property.  The last home that we renovated in conjunction with Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed received LEED Platinum Certification, and we are optimistic that the Wingohocking homes will receive certification as well!

It was exciting for our students to learn about and participate in the process of sustainable design. We are grateful to everyone who joined us for making this a meaningful and invigorating learning opportunity.

Our timeline for the project is such that the same YouthBuild students who are planning this renovation will see it through to completion and the ribbon-cutting ceremony – i.e., from idea to reality. Keep checking back for updates on Wingohocking St. as we move into the renovation stages this year!

Staff Q&A: Candace Carmon, Director of Vocational Programming

What is your background and why did you choose to come to Candace CarmonYouthBuild Philadelphia?
After finishing undergraduate at Cornell, I worked as a high school English teacher in Newark Public Schools, and decided to move into school leadership. I began pursuing a master’s degree while managing vocational training at an adult education school. YouthBuild appealed to me because it combined two things that I really love — working with underprivileged youth who have great potential, and integrated academics and vocational training. It has given me the opportunity to bring my experience and research in instructional practices and curriculum design into the classrooms and worksites. This is also why I’m pursuing a PHD in Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

What did you envision for this newly created position at YouthBuild?
What attracted me most was the teacher development piece, working with the instructors on best practices. Following a curriculum that is driven by students leaving with the knowledge they should have. I was interested in seeing if our students were leaving vocational training with the knowledge they need to get straight into their field. What is instruction and what are we getting from our instruction? Are we maximizing our time with our students?

What are your plans for the future of the vocational training program at YouthBuild?
My focus is shifting toward programming: How do we respond to industry shifts? How do we map curriculum so it fits with other post-secondary training institutes, so students can pick-up right after they graduate? Are we being realistic about what our students can do after they leave YouthBuild? I spend a lot of my time talking with the instructors about best practices, but I also think about how to grow the programs with unrealized potential, and how to start new programs.

What is your favorite aspect of working at YouthBuild Philadelphia?
What I love about YouthBuild is the students. Everyday it’s a surprise and you learn something you don’t know. I could do the research work in a thinktank, but seeing the ideas and research implemented is very rewarding. It’s incredible gratifying when you see who your work in impacting. When you know that a young person is the first in their family to go to college, you know you’re making a difference by helping them get there.

Congratuations Nurse Aides!

Sixteen students in our Health Care Training program earned their state nurse aide certifications from 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund at a special ceremony held today.  Philadelphia First Lady Lisa Nutter highlighted the event at the Kimmel Center.

The students passed a state certification exam, and are now qualified to work in long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania.  The CNA certification is also a valuable step toward other careers in the health care industry.

Click photo to play our Flickr slideshow:2009 Nurse Aide Ceremony

Leading the National Health Care Initiative

When we launched our Health Care Training program for the 2005-06 school year, we were one of the first of over 200 YouthBuild programs across the country to address the demand for career opportunities outside the construction field.  Over the last three years, the program has become a huge success, allowing dozens of our students to earn Nurse Aide certification and provide hundreds of hours of nursing care.

We recently partnered with YouthBuild USA to publish a manual for YouthBuild programs wishing to launch or refine their health-care training and exploration tracks. The manual can be downloaded as a PDF at YouthBuild USA’s new health-care training resources page.