District sets up a hotline for high school seniors, announces virtual graduation

The event, which promises a surprise keynote speaker, will take place June 9.

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

In order to provide further support for high school seniors in the age of COVID-19, the School District of Philadelphia has created a hotline specifically for them.

The hotline will be available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, starting May 12. During those times, District experts in applying to colleges, jobs, and technical education facilities will provide advice to seniors who call in. Seniors can access the hotline by calling 215-400-4130 or by emailing collegeandcareer@philasd.org. A language line will also be provided for non-English speakers.

Superintendent William Hite also announced that the District is planning a virtual high school graduation at 11 a.m. June 9.

In his weekly Facebook Live appearance Wednesday, Hite said the event would include a surprise keynote speaker, as well as student contributions. Students are helping to plan the event, he said. It will be available on PSTV, the District’s public access TV channel, as well as on social media and other platforms.

The event will include participation from Mayor Kenney and others, and the keynote speaker will be “very special,” he added.

In a statement about the hotline, Chief Academic Supports Officer Malika Savoy-Brooks said it would provide an additional layer of support for students, who should already be receiving advice virtually from counselors and teachers.

The hotline provides live support for high school seniors and their families and then refers callers to someone else for continued support. In many cases, that referral will be made to a counselor or official in the student’s school. Hotline staffers have experience in handling questions related to obtaining work papers, finalizing paperwork for college, and pursuing financial aid.

“We understand that school closure dramatically impacts students’ access to resources that may have been readily available to them in their school buildings,” said District spokesperson Monica Lewis.

“Our goal is to connect students with resources in the District, at their school, and in the community,” Savoy-Brooks said.

Staffers will be able to advise seniors on college applications and enrollment, financial aid documents like FAFSA, and job opportunities in the Philadelphia area.

Jamir Babb, a senior at the Workshop School, said he wouldn’t use the hotline himself because he has his college plans figured out, but a lot of his senior classmates aren’t sure what to do about college. He said some of them would attend Community College of Philadelphia due to concerns about money and COVID-19, and others have considered taking a gap year or deferring for a semester.

“I think a service like that would be helpful, especially for a lot of my classmates who don’t know what they’re doing [about college] yet,” he said.

The District isn’t sure yet how long the hotline will continue. Lewis said District officials would monitor demand among seniors and make adjustments accordingly.

This new hotline comes less than a week after the District launched a mental health hotline, called Philly Hopeline, for students and families that aims to assist callers with the stress and grief related to continued isolation, loss of resources, and the death of loved ones. Families can reach Philly Hopeline at 1-833-PHLHOPE (1-833-745-4673) every Monday-Friday from noon to 9 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.