The North Philadelphia Youth Advisory Council, a program of Temple Contemporary, is comprised of five students from the North Philadelphia community surrounding Temple University.
“The students are selected by the recommendations of counselors, teachers and principals at schools around Philadelphia and North Philadelphia that particularly look as though they have some potential or capacity for leadership in their own communities,” said Robert Blackson, director of Temple Contemporary.
Recently, the North Philadelphia Youth Advisory Council received a $40,000 grant from The Philadelphia Foundation‘s Fund for Children’s Strategic Investment in Youth fund. According to Sarah Stearns, the director of the council, the grant will help her hire an assistant to help run the program.
“For me, one thing that’s really helpful is it’s going to make me be able to hire an assistant teacher. So that’s great for me because I have one more person helping organize the kids,” Stearns said.
“I get to hire an alumni of the council, somebody who was on the council in a previous year,” she added. “It’s really awesome to be able to offer her that job.”
The program, which gives a $500 stipend to each of its students, will be also able to expand the program from five to eight students in the future because of the grant, according to Stearns.
Youth Advisory Council Explores Issues Through Art
In total, Temple Contemporary has a total of four advisory councils and 35 members that guide its programming: High School Students, Temple Students, Temple Faculty/Staff and Philadelphia Civic Leaders.
The three adult sections meet and vote on topics to pursue and Temple Contemporary creates the programming. However, the youth council meets weekly and is invested in the process of developing their own programming. The youth council students choose topics that are relevant to their communities.
“We explore [the topics] through art–so we develop different programming based around that topic,” Stearns said. “Every year is something different because it’s always chosen by the students, and then, the programming is completely developed by the students.”
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During the first year of the project, the students hosted a poetry slam on the steps of the school district. The purpose of the slam was to provide an artistic and creative outlet for anger and other emotions around the closing of many schools in Philadelphia.
Another project the students have worked on surrounded violence in media.
“They were interested in how really violent video games, TV shows and movies affects people’s perceptions of real life violence,” Stearns said. “So they wandered around North Philly and interviewed all different people.”
This year’s Council: Fairhill Elementary and Middle School
Participants in the past include students from Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts, Simon Gratz Mastery Charter, and El Centro de Estudiantes. In this year’s youth advisory council, all the members are former students of Fairhill Elementary and Middle School.
“That was a decision that we made because that school was closed down two years ago, and by inviting those students to come back together for the advisory council, it’s giving them a chance to basically recreate the community that they once had back in their old school,” Blackson said.
The council is also part of Pepon Osorio’s reFORM project this year.
“reFORM is a project under the direction of the artist Pepon Osorio. He is trying to create art that starts a conversation around schools closing in Philadelphia,” Stearns said. She added that the reFORM Project is doing several projects around Fairhill School — including building a model of the Fairhill School and holding a reunion dinner with former students from school.
However, the students have yet to pick their topic for the upcoming year, and Stearns said that it won’t necessarily be focused around school closings like reFORM is.
“They haven’t decided on the topic that they’re focusing on yet, but they’ve been doing a lot of research on police brutality and police violence [as well as] on bullying and teenage suicide.”
Overall, the goal of the North Philadelphia Youth Advisory Council is to provide programming to Temple as well as the communities where the students live.
“The Youth Council I think is extremely vital because… it offers quality programs to not only people at Temple University but to the community that they themselves live in,” Blackson said.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Stearns-30-
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