Excel Middle Years Academy’s Entrepreneur Day: An Opportunity for Students to Learn from Minority Businesspeople what it takes to Succeed
As part of the celebration and continuing education surrounding Black History Month, students of Camelot Education’s Excel Middle Years Academy in West Philadelphia participated in Entrepreneur Day.
Jaleeca Jacobs, the schools’ director of student services, stated that it’s crucial that young black students see people who look like them and come from similar backgrounds in successful careers. The guest entrepreneurs didn’t let their backgrounds or environments dictate whether they would succeed in life, and that’s a very powerful thing for students to witness. Participants included musicians, barbers, artists, event planners, financial planners, and others.
“When I first decided to do this event, I invited three or four people I knew and asked them to come talk with the students. They told their friends, who told their friends, and we received a lot of interest from community entrepreneurs. We ended up having so many speakers that we had to break the students up into groups for sessions,” Jacobs said. “We wanted the students to have a chance to interact with each of them- to ask questions about how they started and some of the trials and obstacles they faced.”
One of the speakers was Clayton Wolfe, a young financial planner who is employed by Northwestern Mutual, a financial services and insurance company. Wolfe said his mission is to inform African Americans about the importance of financial planning in order to have a secure future. He said he’s able to relate to the students at Excel Middle Years Academy, having come from a similar background.
“I was raised in North Philly, so I know the hardships these kids face every day,” Wolfe said. “A short time ago, my grandfather who served in the Vietnam War, passed away, and I had to come out of my own pocket to help the family pay for the funeral. Another family member was forced to sell his house in order to move into a nursing facility. When people don’t plan financially, they have to give up assets. I feel it is my duty to educate people in my community about how to avoid that. I wanted to let the students know that anything is possible for them to accomplish. There aren’t that many people who look like me working as financial planners. It’s never too young to learn about financial literacy either.”
Camelot Education alternative education programs are most often located in largely underserved communities, where business investment, resources, and opportunities are often limited. According to a 2019 Pew Research report on poverty in Philadelphia, the highest concentrations are found in parts of North and West Philadelphia. In zip code 19104, where Excel Middle Years is located, the poverty rate is 45 percent, and the average yearly household income is less than $30,000.
It’s an environment that Entrepreneur Day participant Isaiah Thomas (not the Philadelphia City Councilman of the same name) understands. He is a local clothing designer under the brand. His story is one that really resonated with the students.
“I founded my business 2017,” he said “I had a troubled childhood and was engaging in a lot of bad things that resulted in my being incarcerated at age 14 for a minor gun charge. I decided to turn my life around at age 17. I started selling candy in high school to raise money to start my own clothing business. I’m also a motivational speaker. Stay Humble – Stay Hungry is a clothing line and a positive movement for our youth. We have to give them a meaning to live behind. Our mission is to impact their lives and motivate them to strive to be great. As it says on my website, ‘service is the rent we pay for inhabiting this Earth.’ As a business owner, involvement in my community is not only my passion, it is my obligation.”
Excel Middle Years Academy, in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia’s Opportunity Network, is the first of its kind continuation program; a school-of-choice that serves students, grades 6-8, who benefit from a smaller classroom setting and wrap-around supports. Instead of acting as an intervention for students, Excel Middle Years Academy serves to prevent vulnerable students from disengaging from school.
The school provides the explicit behavioral and therapeutic supports students need to engage in their education and achieve their personal aspirations. These supports help to positively influence students’ academic and behavioral trajectories earlier in their education and provide a solid foundation for continued academic and social success.
Camelot Education teachers and staff take care to build strong relationships and connections, students feel safe, welcomed, supported, and eager to learn, and they can begin to actualize their potential, academically, socially, and emotionally. Brittney Alexander, age 14, said she knows the teachers and staff care about her and her fellow students.
“I participated in the sessions because it is Black History Month, and the guest speakers were very informative,” she said. “I learned how black people sacrificed to get where they are, to never give up on your dreams, and to follow your path. Excel Middle Years is a good school, and they always try to increase our exposure to things we might not know about by having a lot of events with experts on campus. Our staff and teachers really care about us.”
K’den Keene, age 13, said he wanted to learn about becoming an entrepreneur. “I learned how entrepreneurs work for themselves. They never gave up, and that’s what I really learned – to never give up on myself.”