Successful Adults Help Middle School Students Set Goals at Empowerment Day
It’s never too early to start setting goals and thinking about a career. That’s the belief behind the annual Empowerment Day at Excel Middle Years (EMY) Academy, part of the School District of Philadelphia’s Opportunity Network. The school, which serves students in 6th, 7th and 8th grades, devotes an entire day to exposing students to career paths and experiences of successful adults who come from similar backgrounds.
“We think it’s important, especially in middle school, to give students some type of direction and goals to set,” said Excel Middle Years Executive Director Sadiqa Lucas. “Because we spend so much time with our students, sometimes if they hear advice from someone else, it can make an extra impression. But we definitely believe that starting to think about the future at a younger age is important. That’s what makes Camelot kids successful, starting with the basics.”
Warren Upchurch, Director of Mentoring from NoMo (New Options More Opportunities) opened the program addressing all students. He spoke of how his life experiences have allowed him to give back to his community and provide opportunities for young people. The opening session also allowed the visitors to be introduced to the students they were going to interact with. Then students broke up into smaller groups and spent close to an hour with each speaker – asking them questions about their life, their career, and their experiences. They continued their conversations over lunch, giving students an opportunity to have deeper conversations with presenters that moved them in some way.
“We invite many people from different professions such as nurses, teachers, entrepreneurs, etc.,” Lucas said. “They discuss their experience in choosing their profession and what it takes to be in that line of work, and this gives our students insight into the steps they will need to think about as they get closer to high school, graduation, college, and beyond.”
One of Camelot’s 2017 graduates, Jasmine Tillery, who now attends Grand Canyon University online and works part-time at Hahnemann University Hospital, was among the presenters.
“I left feeling really good,” she said. “If I was only able to reach one student through my presentation, then I did my job. I wanted to come back to Camelot, because I wanted to share my success story with someone in a similar same situation as myself. I want to be the change and make a difference in their lives. A team taught me, and I believe it takes a village to raise our young.”
Danaya Lewis, operator of Little People Big Dreams Early Learning Center, came out to talk about her business. Lewis partners with EMY in a program in which EMY students volunteer to read to the children in daycare, so she already knows many of the students.
Lee and Gayland Ridley, owners of Professional Academy of Cosmetology, presented and offered a full scholarship to one Camelot student upon graduation from high school. The winning student was selected by the school’s staff based on the student’s character and interest in the field.
In addition to the annual Empowerment Day, guest speakers routinely visit EMY.
“Everyone on our team networks with local organizations, entrepreneurs, and professionals to come in and speak with our students for Empowerment Day,” Lucas said. “We split the visitors up with students for circle groups, and they discuss current topics, professions, and answer any questions from our students.”
This is the second year EMY has hosted Empowerment Day. For Lucas, the idea dates back to when she directed a Camelot high school before moving to direct EMY in the 2017-18 school year. She believes this event is more empowering than a college or career fair in that students are interacting with working professionals who have relevant, relatable experiences.
Even before the assembly begins, the visiting presenters line up outside and join school leaders in their important morning ritual of greeting the students at the door. The morning greeting gives students a sense of family and sets a positive tone for the day. For the visitors, it was a chance to greet each student individually before going inside to present to them as a group.
One interesting observation from Lucas is that middle school students typically have more questions than the high school students she used to teach.
“Our middle school kids are engaged in this event and anxious about their future. We know this event presents them with goals to set. With all the distractions of social media and the latest music, we look for every way possible to break through and give them a direction as they prepare for high school.”
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