District programs for college readiness

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District of Philadelphia uses a number of state and federal grants to support programs at its middle and comprehensive high schools around college access and readiness. These grants include:

  • State GEAR UP
    A cohort grant (meaning that it follows a group of students), this program services nearly 2,000 students by providing wraparound supports such as creation of learning plans, tutoring, and parent seminars and workshops with information aimed at engaging students in the college-going process. It also provides summer leadership activities and development sessions for students who are at risk of certain behaviors because of middle school performance.
  • Federal GEAR UP
    Also a cohort grant, it services 23 District middle schools. The program will transition to four to six high schools next school year. Provides all the supports of the state, but additionally offers three courses designed to prepare students for post-secondary experiences: College Ed, Career Choices, and Avid. Avid teaches strategies around studying, organization, homework, and time management.
  • Small Learning Communities grant
    A whole-school transformation model that develops career academy structures to help students focus on potential vocational education opportunities along with a four-year postsecondary option. “Let’s say I want to go into auto mechanics, that’s the program of study I’ve selected, and I’m attending a career and technical education school: With this small learning communities slant, my options aren’t just limited to that trade. I could potentially go to a four-year university and major in mechanical engineering,” said Ted Thompson, deputy chief of secondary school reform.
  • This model engages students across all of the District’s CTE sites, and includes professional development for staff, and seminars for parents.
  • Department of Labor (DOL) grant
    The grant supports programs in 11 comprehensive high schools, and has several components: education, climate, community involvement, mentoring, student success centers, and parents. Some of the resources and services made possible with the DOL grants include college tours and counseling on career options and how to select a career. Students are also given access to scholarship opportunities, guidance on how to complete financial aid forms, and tips for writing a college essay.