The Urban League of Philadelphia – the local wing of the national civil rights nonprofit organization – is all too familiar with the plagues facing African-American education, including the abhorrent dropout rate. To confront the problem, the organization recently unveiled its “Project Ready” program at South Philadelphia High School, an after-school initiative in which students can receive homework help and other mentorship.
The National Urban League calls Project Ready one of its signature programs that helps students in grades 8-12 make academic progress, benefit from cultural enrichment opportunities and develop important skills, attitudes and aptitudes that will aid in their transition from high school, and position them for post-secondary success. Participants receive academic, social and cultural support and opportunities designed to develop readiness, such as having the information and perspective necessary for success without needing remediation in college or career.
Urban League of Philadelphia Youth Services Manager Terry Pittman is charged with configuring the after-school program, which students attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Pittman is also in charge of arranging for motivational speakers, who have included former NFL linebacker Lee Woodall.
“Our goal is to support the youth at this school with academic assistance,” Pittman said. “Our focus is math and reading, but we work on social skills too. We are helping students develop age-appropriate life skills and are creating a college-awareness culture.”
Project Ready is a national program funded by the Project Ready STEM Act, legislation that allows nonprofits like the National Urban League to replicate STEM programs that have proven to be a success. The Project Ready program has been installed by 26 National urban League affiliates in 18 states.
Ohio Democratic state Rep. Marcia Fudge introduced H.R. 4366 (Project Ready STEM Act) during the 2011-2012 session, which amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to direct the secretary of education to award grants for science, technology, engineering and math education programs.
Getting students in the middle grades to be interested in STEM classwork is essential, as only 20 percent of all African-American college-bound students select a STEM-related major, and only 10 percent of those students graduate with a degree in that field of study.
That has a direct correlation to the workforce numbers, as 72 percent of STEM-related jobs are held by whites, with only 6 percent of those jobs held by African Americans and Hispanics.
The good news is that of the 8.4 million children enrolled in after-school programs, 24 percent are African American, a figure that is nine percentage points higher than the national average.
We are very excited to be able to bring Project Ready to Philadelphia, where so many young Black men are at risk of dropping out of school, “said Urban League of Philadelphia President and CEO Patricia A. Coulter. “This is an outstanding program, enrolling about 2,000 nationally, with proven results.”