School District of Philadelphia administrators announced Thursday the expansion of Leaders Encouraging Achievement and Development (LEAD) program, an effort designed to help support the needs of young Black men through positive engagement with Black adult men.
“We are excited about the work that has already been done and look forward to great things that lie ahead for students who are participating in the LEAD program,” said school district Superintendent William Hite during a news conference at the district’s administrative building.
Originally launched at E. Washington Rhodes Middle School and Hamilton Disston Elementary School, the pilot program partners district school safety officers with students at each school.
Starting this month, the program will expand, adding nine volunteer mentors to serve students at the Benjamin B. Comegys and Rudolph Blankenburg elementary schools.
The program will also include its first pilot with female students, providing mentoring opportunities for female officers to work with students.
“We work with a variety of different offices to get recommendations,” said Anjela Alvarado, partnerships manager of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the school district.
“We have schools apply and then we work with the schools to determine readiness. We also work closely with the Office of School Safety to get the linguistics down.”
As of this year, all of the district’s 325 school safety officers received mandatory mentor training as part of the Office of School Safety’s work to re-envision its role within school buildings.
LEAD mentors are recruited by the Office of School Safety, which will be leading the initiative moving forward with the support of The Office of Strategic Partnerships.
Mentors will conduct hour-long sessions each week with a small group of middle school aged students and engage the students on a variety of topics using nationally recognized best practice standards based on research, experience, and evidence of positive outcomes.
There are currently 15 officers and 40 students participating in the program.
“Many of our officers were already doing this in some capacity, but now it’s part of a formalized program that can reach more students,” said Kevin Bethel, chief of school safety for the school district. “Our officers who are engaged now are really enjoying it and truly believe in the work that they are doing.”
Established in spring 2020 by the Office of Strategic Partnerships, LEAD started as a way to meet the need for mentoring schools, which was identified in the district’s 2018-2019 School Supports Census.
The district’s census found that 62 schools expressed a need for mentoring, specifically requesting mentors for their Black students.
District officials said the LEAD program will continue to develop mentoring partnerships to implement at additional schools in the future.