When Universal Companies was awarded management of Audenried High School in 2011 under the School District of Philadelphia’s Renaissance initiative it was no secret that the education provider would have a lot of work ahead transforming a chronically low-performing school into a high-quality educational institution. Universal was not only charged with improving academic outcomes, but also with changing the unsafe school climate. A fixture on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s persistently dangerous schools list, the “Old Audenried” was known to locals as “Prison on a Hill.” In the 2010-2011 school year alone, the high school reported over 150 violent incidents – one practically every day of the school year.
One way Universal was going to enact change at the new Universal Audenried was to respond to a major community need - positive and consistent mentorship for young men of color. So Universal Audenried Charter High School partnered with Sankofa Passages Program, an initiative of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC). Sankofa Passages is a rites of passage program that offers a unique experience for male students. Students meet daily with mentors who teach important life skills and offer workshops about social skills, self-esteem, and conflict resolution. At the group sessions, participants also discuss their cultural identity, issues that impact male youth development, strategies for navigating life and daily obstacles to overcome.
In collaboration with the Alternative Education Region of the School District of Philadelphia, this innovative program is intended to meet the academic and socio-emotional needs of young men of color who are experiencing academic problems because of suspension, expulsion, attendance, or social adjustment in a regular school setting.
In conjunction with academic teachers and support personnel, Sankofa mentors work with a cohort of young men to develop their academic, social, and technical skills as well as promote their personal, psychological and physical development for life in the 21st century.
In Room D123, space reserved exclusively for Sankofa Passages, mentor Jaleel Jordan reflects on the most memorable experiences of the 2011-2012 school year. He said the participants took trips to North Carolina and Washington, DC and engaged in very revealing and effective workshops, seminars and one-on-one sessions. Mentors also made home visits and attended court dates and medical appointments with youth.
But according to Jaleel, the most rewarding aspect of the program is knowing that the young men have really taken to the mission and purpose of what it means to be a “Sankofa Brother, a Scholar, and a young man stepping into man/adulthood.”
“As a Sankofa Passages Facilitator, I get to hear and experience the change and development that the young men make daily, on both a large and not easily noticeable scale. But, to hear the young men reflect about how much they have changed from the once written off image that was given to them over the years of their lives; is truly fulfilling. They are self-assured now in a way they were not nine months ago,” he added.