Sure, the phrase “community service” doesn’t sound like fun for most teens. However, at Germantown High School, about 65 high school students choose to stay after school to work together in groups on creative projects. These service-learning projects are hands-on experiences where students learn and solve problems reflected in everyday life.
This year, at the EducationWorks Out-of-School-Time program called High Steps, the students put together several original video productions, researching, writing, music, acting, cameras and more. They cleverly tackled difficult subjects that impact their lives. One movie was on tobacco use prevention, another on how music affects teens, and another on teen relationships, abuse and violence.
Not only are these students affecting their community, they gain academically and personally from their experience. Crystal Smith, a 10th grader, describes her success in the program. “It’s helped me because I can be more focused on what I’m doing. It’s giving me more work ethic,” Smith says. “It helps you take more pride in your work.”
The program was formerly the EducationWorks Germantown Beacon Center, but Mayor Nutter recently reorganized all of the city’s Out-Of-School-Time, or OST, programs. Beginning in July 2009, all programs were required to use new learning models and the Beacon Center model ended.
Jason Weems, the OST high school director, describes the new program. “EducationWorks Germantown Project Based Learning program is meant to provide middle and high school youth with a hands-on, community based service learning experience,” said Weems, about the program at the school located at Germantown Avenue and High Street.
“EducationWorks continues to service its youth in the Germantown community and provide a safe and fun place for youth and families to grow and learn,” said Weems.
The program is free for students and has other benefits. Weems said that many students are able to complete their senior project and receive service-learning credit for graduation.
All of Philadelphia’s after school programs are managed by the non-profit organization, Public Health Management Corp. (PHMC). The PHMC Web site states that there are 207 OST sites in Philadelphia and over 20,000 children in Philadelphia benefit from the OST programs.
Wendy-Anne Roberts-Johnson, the OST operations manager for PHMC, explains that PHMC became the city’s coordinator in July 2008 after being successful in a competitive bid process. The choice of program models was based on nationally recognized best practices. Under the new models, the times of operation between 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., the program approach and project= based learning were standardized.
Some of the OST staff are members of AmeriCorps, a federally funded community service program.
Justin Hebert joined AmeriCorps after graduating from University of Maine in education. He knows that the students impact the community, but he also hopes the program will change the community’s view of the students.
“I would just like to have people be aware of the projects that our students are completing,” said Hebert. “Too often students are portrayed in every negative light possible…. Maybe if people were to take a look for a second and realize that our students are producing quality work on important big topics…they might start to think about the teenagers around them a little differently.”
The director of the High Steps (High School) program at EducationWorks in Germantown, Terry Ward-Filmore said, “We have a lot of ambitious students that are really trying to get more information, trying to learn more so they can get ready for the real world.”
Anthony Oliver, who is in 12th grade, has come to the Germantown EducationWorks program for about four months and said it has helped him with social skills and group work. He appreciated that the program helped students with getting ready to do their federal and Pennsylvania State student financial aid forms.
Oliver thinks the program is really good. but it could use some assistance, particularly laptop computers and technology.
“They did cut the budget as far as funding for this program,” said Oliver. “Even still, we continue to rise, get more people to come in, and we’re just gonna keep going.”
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