Once a week, a group of William D. Kelley students gather in a small instruction room at the close of their school day.
Though they are familiar with one another because of the classroom setting, some do not interact personally. Once a week, however, they engage in an intimate discussion facilitated by the Northwest Community Coalition Youth organization about topics of their choice.
The topics include cyber-bullying, media and their influence on society, peer interactions and higher education. At the end of each session, they submit a response paper that is then edited for grammar and spelling, and published in the NCCY Newsletter print copy and online at www.nccy.org.
For the students, this weekly meeting serves as more than an opportunity to have their thoughts and feelings published via their responses, poetry, articles and art submissions.
“It’s a really good experience…to know that your writing is being published in a newspaper because not everybody’s writing is published,” one student said.
For the chair of NCCY, Isabella Fitzgerald, the project is a testament to the fulfillment of the organization’s mission and to her commitment to the youth of Philadelphia. NCCY was created in response to what they saw as “the deterioration of a generation of young people,” due to the violence plaguing many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. She said the group was committed to “keeping our young people safe.”
“In 2007 we got started and its been an uphill journey,” Fitzgerald said, “you see how impactful it is on them [the youth] and their self-esteem.”
Funded through donations and ad sales, the organization currently works with youth ages 14- to 19-years-old and is based out of the Northwest section of Philadelphia at State Rep. Dwight Evans’ office.
The W.D. Kelley School is the first school that the group has expanded to outside of the Northwest. The expansion came at the organization’s decision to take a new approach with the newsletter and focus it around the raw voice of the youth. The newsletter normally focuses on students covering events and issues in the community; this cycle serves solely as raw filter for a generation whom the students described as being ignored.
The W.D. Kelley School administration was extremely receptive and Principal Amelia Coleman-Brown said the students have benefited greatly from it.
“We’re always looking for ways to introduce our students to new experiences; we want them to see and to know that there’s a world outside waiting for them…people say the eyes are a window to the soul, I think writing is,” Principal Coleman-Brown said.
One eighth-grader said those students who attend the program do so mainly because they enjoy writing or look to improve academically.
The students also cited the opportunity to have their work published, gain community service hours and connect with their peers through topics of their choice as some of the primary benefits of the newsletter.
Nykia Davis-Bradley, a recent Holy Family University graduate and former NCCY Newsletter participant, said the newsletter exposes students to photography, editing, marketing and advertising—all valuable skills in today’s technological society. During her second summer with the newsletter, she went from a writer to assistant editor and designer.
“The second summer was intense for me. I had advanced to a higher position of leadership that required great communication skills and strong editing skills,” Davis-Bradley said. “The editing wasn’t an issue for me, but the communication forced me to have to give instruction, provide assistance and be able to effectively relay our vision to others.”
Markese Williams, a sophomore at Lock Haven University and former participant of the NCCY Newsletter, said he was also pushed outside his comfort zone.
“I was a very shy person and it helped me get a lot more social and it built confidence. That led into college, giving the confidence there as well. Academically, my writing enhanced and I saw a change in my level of my art. I’m so thankful,” Williams said.
He was quite enthused to learn of the newsletter expanding into other parts of Philadelphia.
“The W.D. Kelley students can [definitely] benefit from it. It gives you not only great help in what you love to do, whether that’s write, draw, take photos or anything else…you come to realize that your opinion does in fact matter,” Williams said.
The experiences described by Davis-Bradley and Williams are similar to what Principal Coleman-Brown and Fitzgerald’s hope for the W.D.Kelley students who are experiencing the newsletter project for the first time.
“I think that they don’t value the fact that their words have power so once they get to see that, it’ll start to become contagious and they can start to share those experiences with other members of the community,” Coleman–Brown said.