In the minds of many adults — particularly policy makers in Pennsylvania — the mere mention of students from Philadelphia public high schools triggers negative images of academically challenged, emotionally deficit and chronically troublesome.
But many who hold such images about Philly students have very little contact with students relying largely on accounts incessantly seen in the news media — the same media that students across Philadelphia feel is filled with stereotypes about them specifically and young adults generally.
“Adults just see us as thugged-out kids, selling drugs and causing trouble. They don’t see or care about all the good we do,” said Philadelphia Military Academy at Elverson student Carolos Alicea said.
“Adults and older people just see the bad and not the good we do. A lot of us volunteer at the community centers where I live in Juniata Park,” Alicea said.
Students attending the Military Academy at Elverson must maintain good academic and attendance standing plus adhere to the U.S. Army Junior ROTC Cadet Creed.
The nine elements of that Creed include a prohibition against lying, cheating and stealing that mandates being personably accountable for one’s “actions and deeds.”
Lack of personable accountability is a core component in numerous adult scandals from the sinking of so much at Penn State University due to child molesting Jerry Sandusky and his ‘Old Boy Network’ enablers to the fiscal skullduggery on Wall Street that has sunk the American economy.
So many of the adults that demand strict accountability from young adults persistently foist situational excuses for transgressions among their generational peers.
Today, thousands of students from Philadelphia public schools are participating in summer programs that incidentally show student talents and potentials so often obscured by stereotypes.
One program through the School District of Philadelphia, staged at Villanova University on the Main Line, includes unique exposures to non-traditional sports like fencing and lacrosse.
This non-traditional sports component for the summer program at Villanova is provided by the Black Women in Sports Foundation, an organization founded nearly over thirty years ago with a mission to increase opportunities for non-white females in the athletic, coaching and administrative sides of sports.
“What fascinates me is our Philadelphia kids are so bright. They have what many from suburban schools do not — a drive and savvy developed in the urban environment. So often it’s not the kids but the system. They need exposure to excellence,” BWSF President and Executive Director Tina Sloan Green said.
Green, now a retired Temple University professor, piloted that school’s female lacrosse team to three national championships and 11 consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances. Green has the historic distinction of being the first Black coach in intercollegiate female lacrosse.
“When young folks realize their own abilities, that helps and competition brings that out. Kids want structure and discipline. Sports provide that, and also they have fun,” Green said.
And this non-traditional sports exposure helps with academics, Green said.
“On standardized tests there are often terms from fencing like foil or terms from field hockey or lacrosse. Normally urban students would not be exposed to this information. Our programing helps level the playing field.”
Carolos Alicea participates in a summer program, the Temple University High School Journalism Workshop. This program, which operates out of the PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com newsroom at Temple’s Center City campus, provides journalism instruction to students who produce their own newspaper.
The director of Temple’s high school workshop is TU Journalism professor Maida Odom. (*Full disclosure — I work with Prof. Odom in the workshop.)
“This workshop emphasizes self-expression and seeks to instill civic engagement in the students. How often do we listen to what young adults are saying?” Professor Odom said.
There are twenty students in this workshop, now in its third year, including one student who grew up in the South American country of Brazil and another who grew up in the West African country of Liberia.
“These students are so smart, and people often sell them short because they are not from the ‘best’ schools,” Odom said.
“There is so much focus on the elite student and the students that are troublesome that there is a tendency to ignore the large swath in the middle who are so talented. Their point of view is so sophisticated.”
Commentaries on a wide range of topics written by these students could be enlightening to policy makers who often act as if ‘they don’t have a clue.’
Funding for arts classes are often the first eliminated when educational budgets are cut. One student examined what she considered a crippling approach not its impact not just on students but on job losses for teachers. “The arts improve academic achievement and helps with critical and creative thinking.”
Another student explored the economic benefits of same-sex marriages laying out the added boosts to the nation’s economy from monies spent on same-sex weddings (cakes, cards, gifts, etc.) to expenditures from same-sex couples for marriage counseling and in some instances divorces.
Carolos Alicea wrote a commentary debunking the connection between violence and playing video games citing scholarly studies. He also noted the fifty percent reduction in teen pregnancy in the months following release of one popular video game.
While adults deserve fault for failing journalism workshop participant Netera Brickle feels young folks need to do more.
“So many seem proud of the stereotypes against youth,” Brickle said.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship program.