High-quality education and effective youth development give kids a clearer path to success in adulthood, but often, Philadelphia’s public schools come up short on these fronts.
Low-income families have trouble compensating to make up for the difference. Educational opportunities usually cost money, and for some families, providing more is just not feasible. So what can be done to make sure that kids from low-income families get their shot at quality education?
Sunrise of Philadelphia offers one solution for parts of South Philly.
The Face of Opportunity
Beginning in 1999, Sunrise started taking on the educational development of youngsters in the community, and has since made a name for itself as a premier education nonprofit in Philadelphia. Since its start, Sunrise has grown to support 700 young people each year.
The organization targets South Philadelphia, and in doing so is able to tailor its approach to fit region-specific needs and circumstances. Emphasis is placed on key tasks and transitions, as well as proper support.
“We focus on having a continuum of care – many of them stay with us through middle school into high school,” explained Laura Johnson, Director of Programs and Evaluation at Sunrise.
K-12 Accomodations at Sunrise of Philadelphia
- Southwark School Programs (K-8)
- Key Elementary School Programs (K-5)
- South Philadelphia High School Programs (9-12)
- Edwin M. Stanton and Chester A. Arthur Schools (K-8)
- Summer Programs
Getting off on the right foot early is an important part of student development, and Sunrise knows that well. South Philly is an ethnically diverse area, boasting heritages from over 32 countries. This can make language barriers an obstacle for young students.
In Southwark and Key, for example, over 20 different languages are spoken at students’ homes.
“A lot of students go home to households where very little English is spoken. In high poverty areas with low testing scores in general,” Johnson said, “These are the things we work to support.”
Sunrise caters to the needs of these youth in the form of literacy and homework programs. In addition, creativity and self-expression is given room to grow, which means a lot as public schools continue to face budget cuts in the arts and humanities.
Attendance in grades 6 to 9 is statistically significant in outcomes for academic achievement and employment after high school.
Research also shows that exposure to concepts of a viable future early on can be of great benefit for sustaining long-term success. Sunrise plants seeds for this growth by giving students opportunities to explore career possibilities with guided support.
Part of this is done through a six-week work program in the summer funded through the Philadelphia Youth Network. Students are placed in jobs in restaurants, daycare centers, and other places to give them an opportunity to learn career skills. Many of these jobs are outside of the South Philly area.
“A lot of kids in South Philly are very parochial,” Johnson said, noting that students’ families, lives, and experiences, for the most part, exist in their own neighborhoods. “We focus on exposure and foundational soft skills.”
In the fall, about 30 students are placed in internships and given monthly stipends, and many of these internship are actually at Sunrise.
Proof in Numbers
In the 2015-2016 school year, 63 percent of Sunrise participants attended at least 30 days of programming. External evaluation showed that 94 percent of participants made academic progress of at least a one-letter grade improvement from fall to spring or maintained a C or better in reading.
PSSA scores for students third grade and above also showed improvement with Sunrise programs – 42 percent of attendees scored advanced or proficient in reading, while amongst non-participating students, that number was at 23 percent.
Literacy rates also showed marked improvements – 75 percent of Sunrise participants upheld reading levels, while non-participants dropped approximately two reading levels on average in the summer.
Sunrise also assisted getting a large number of students through credit recovery programs, which allows students to make up for credits missed.
And the success doesn’t end there – many of the students who went through the program emerged with enough affinity for Sunrise that they went on to work with the organization.
“We currently have 11 people who work for us who participated in our work programming,” says Laura proudly.
“We think that, in and of itself, is a success story.”