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How Project HOME’s college access program provides a head start

October 16, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This guest post was written by Edel Howlin, the media and external affairs officer for Project HOME.
Latanya Buckner and Chante Smith were standing on the same stage this past summer receiving their graduation certificates during Project HOME’s College Access Program (CAP) ceremony.

Both young women found their way to the Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs (HLCCTL) afterschool program that helped them get to, and through college.

Their reasons for coming to the program, though, couldn’t have been more different.

Buckner had been part of the Project HOME community since her family left the city’s shelter system and moved into their own home at Project HOME. She grew up going to the HLCCTL, and it felt safe to her. “They did things to help put us in the right direction,” Buckner said.

As she started high school, CAP also provided an afterschool escape from an intimidatingly large high school. Each day Buckner could learn, take part in different programs like film club and culinary arts, make friends, and feel welcome in a more intimate environment.

She has gone on, after graduating from college, to become a member of the AmeriCorps City Year program at William McKinley Elementary School in North Philadelphia. Buckner’s family moved out of Project HOME housing some years ago into a home of their own. Her brother and sister both graduated from the CAP program and received college degrees.

Smith was in high school just down the street from the HLCCTL and heard about CAP through her school. She already considered herself studious but appreciated the afterschool classes for helping her let loose. “I took an appreciation for creativity and being able to express myself,” Smith said.

CAP helped Smith graduate this past year with a master’s in health sciences, and she is working for a local clinical trial company in Bluebell.

CAP provides academic, social, and financial support to help students graduate from high school and reach their college goals. Ninth through 12th grade student’s sign up for at least two days of afterschool classes per week at the HLCCTL. While they’re there, instructors like CAP coordinator and robotics teacher Kris Robinson advise and guide them along that college path.

Fall is a particularly busy time for Robinson. He’s checking on the 35 CAP college students to make sure they’ve received their scholarship checks; he’s coordinating college visits for a new group of ninth and 10th graders; he’s planning internships for students next summer; and he’s doing lesson plans for his robotics class.

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“CAP is intended to take high school students and give them supplemental college coaching and advice,” Robinson said, “so that when they get to the decision-making process of going to college, they’re well prepared.” It also provides support throughout college and paid summer internships for high school students and college students.

The program has been around since 2004 when the HLCCTL first opened its doors. The Center is named after philanthropists and community leaders, Lynne and Harold Honickman, and Philadelphia’s technology innovators, the Comcast Corporation, through the leadership of Aileen and Brian Roberts.

In 2019, CAP served 87 students from ninth to 12th grade during the school year at no financial cost to the student or family. All the 12th graders who completed the program graduated from high school with 90 percent being accepted to college. More than 60 students participated in the Connors Youth Employment Program for high school and college students during the summer.

CAP has been providing college scholarships for 13 years. This past year CAP students were awarded over $111,000 in Project HOME scholarships from more than 15 donors. Since its inception, 38 students earned a total of 45 post-secondary credentials including five master’s, 29 bachelor’s and six associate’s degrees.

Robinson said that a lot of their students feel college isn’t accessible for them because of the high price tag, so a lot of what he does is show them that the money is out there and that there are scholarships.

“Because it seems so inaccessible, it’s important for somebody to be able to guide them through it,” he said.

The other challenges he says these students have is being a caregiver in their family, whether it be to a sibling, a parent or grandparent and often being the first in their family to go to college. “As an instructor, a lot of what I’m doing is making sure that they have what’s necessary for them to be successful, and that often means teaching them how to balance family requirements.”

Smith felt it was a huge financial help getting her through her undergraduate degree and master’s.

For Buckner, the attention and help her family received from the College Access Program is almost immeasurable.

“My mom is really proud,” Buckner said, “because she always says that we got to do the things that she never did … and I’m just glad that it was a part of my life story.”

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