(Photo via twitter.com/TeenSHARP)
TeenSHARP, a nonprofit college prep program for disadvantaged students founded by a husband-and-wife team in Camden back in 2009, recently opened its regional headquarters in Wilmington.
Cofounders Atnre Alleyne and Tatiana Poladko had plans to relocate its main office to Wilmington’s Community Education Building since 2015. Now that they’ve done it, TeenSHARP isn’t slowing down: The organization now has its eyes set on expanding its operations to Philadelphia by launching a fixed location here sometime within the next year.
The move is “long overdue,” Poladko said, especially since TeenSHARP — that stands for Successful, High-Achieving and Reaching Potential — has essentially been serving Philadelphia students at its Rutgers-Camden University location since the organization’s inception.
Currently, Poladko said the program has around 23 Philly-based students out of the 55 total at their Rutgers-Camden site but several of those students hadn’t been able to maintain their time at the program because of the drive across the bridge.
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Combine that need with the high demand she said is present throughout the city and it couldn’t be a better time for TeenSHARP to have a physical presence in Philly. The School District of Philadelphia’s recent shakeup may offer an in for the nonprofit, too, as it looks for organizational partners.
“I think policy-wise, it’s a good time for us to lend our expertise through this extension,” Poladko said.
So what does TeenSHARP do, exactly? The basic premise is that it aims to propel middle and high school students, primarily African American and Latino youth starting from ninth grade, to attend the nation’s top colleges. But as Poladko will tell you, the mission is a bit more in-depth.
She lays it out in four major components:
- Instilling a mindset of encouraging students — So they can meet the academic rigor required to attend top schools
- Actually getting in to those schools — TeenSHARP alumni have gone on to attend schools, often with full scholarships, like Wesleyan University, Smith College and Bowdoin College — by working with a hands-on academic adviser early on
- Fostering leadership — Or what Poladko calls “authentic leadership” in students to teach them that they have agency and can affect change through social entrepreneurship
- Empowering students’ parents — To offer the same kind of support at home
The academic advising portion to the program is an especially impactful facet, as advisers are working with students 20-plus hours a year to discuss the steps and preparations they’ll need to take to achieve success. The senior year of high school alone includes 75 hours between students and advisers talking about college.
It’s an approach that Poladko said is lacking when it comes to typical school districts, especially in one like Philly, where a single guidance counselor can be responsible for hundreds of students at a time.
“This is the kind of advising that I would imagine one would get at an elite private school” — all for free, she said.
Nothing is set in stone yet but just like with its other locations, the ideal location Poladko has in mind for TeenSHARP’s Philly location is on a university campus. Poladko and her team will be talking with the school district, individual schools, private schools and other local organizations working in the education ecosystem. (Steppingstone Scholars would be an example of an organization to partner with, Poladko said.)
In the meantime, Poladko is banking on word-of-mouth to make the expansion a successful one. That method also happens to align with the peer-to-peer model TeenSHARP stresses: Empower a set group of students to believe they can succeed at a college, and those students will pass that experience onto their peers.