Driven and ambitious: Kensington Health Sciences Academy students ready themselves for the future - Generocity Philly

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Jul. 9, 2020 12:30 pm

Driven and ambitious: Kensington Health Sciences Academy students ready themselves for the future

As a part of a new dual enrollment program in eastern North Philadelphia, two students learned what it takes to make it to college.

A mural inside Kensington Health Sciences Academy.

(Photo by Erin Blewett)

Arlene Montesino, a senior at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, is in the minority. She is one of the few upcoming graduates who knows exactly what they want to do after high school. She wants to be a gynecologist.

“Well I’ve had my whole life planned for the last eight years basically,” she said. “College was always in the plan. Now, even more so.”

Arlene and 13 other students are in the final stages of a new dual enrollment program for high school students at Congreso de Latinos Unidos in partnership with Penn State Abington. Those students will be the first to finish the program in its entirety.

The program is an effort to prepare high school students in Congreso’s service area for the rigors of college. Or if they choose to not attend college after high school, make them more employable. Students who finish the program in its entirety walk away with college credits and a Penn State certificate in rehabilitation and human services at no cost to the students or their families.

When she began the program as a junior, she didn’t know what her path forward would be, despite knowing her end goal. Now she sees where she needs to go and the fields she has to study to reach her long-held career plans.

“Actually, in one of the sociology classes we took, the professor explained that there aren’t enough women in women health fields,” said Arlene. “And that’s why I want to help. That’s why I want to contribute to the study of women’s bodies and women’s health.”

Students take introductory-level college courses in sociology and psychology. The required courses also delve into more advanced topics such as adolescent development and disability culture. Though not required for the certificate, a college-level English course is also part of the program, in an effort to acclimate them to college-level writing and research.

Yamilet Alvarez is halfway through her junior year at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, but she’s already comfortable taking college-level courses.

“The first day went alright, but once we got to our first quiz, it became a lot,” said Alvarez. “You know these are readings and tests that we’re not used to seeing or taking. At the beginning, I had to do a lot of research just to understand what we were getting into. But eventually, we got there, and I’m really glad we had a chance to learn how to study like a college student.”

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Yamilet is in the second full cohort of students to go through the program. She and Arlene are both the first generation in the family to go to college.

“My parents are excited about all this,” said Yamilet. “I feel like I’m more prepared. I always knew I wanted to go to college. I don’t know what I want to do or anything, but at least now I know what to expect.”

Arlene said she believes programs like this offer students at smaller or poorer schools the opportunity to pull themselves out of difficult community issues.

“Around this area, there are a lot of things going on,” said Arlene. “In Kensington, there’s the opioid epidemic. There’s violence in the city of Philadelphia. Programs like this offer people a way out. Of course, sometimes people have to stop and take a pause because life gets in the way. But no matter what, education always opens a bigger door for people and that’s what can be the way out for many.”

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