Joseph’s Mom said he’d probably be home playing Xbox if it weren’t for the after school program at JEVS Human Services. She’s thankful for this and also appreciates the new skills her 18-year-old son learned; he painted the inside of his parents’ Feltonville, North Philadelphia home with no drips or streaks and wants to tackle fixing the toilet next, she added.
Joseph is one of eight seniors from Mastery Charter Schools-Simon Gratz Campus who completed a Career Exploration Program in building trades this week at JEVS’s career training school, Orleans Technical College. In just 4 short months, the motivated students spent their late afternoons learning the basics of carpentry, plumbing, electrical and a host of other skills related to construction, repair and maintenance. It didn’t matter that the Orleans facility was a half-hour bus ride from Gratz. These young guys were happy to put down their phones and pick up their hammers and nails.
“I’m the oldest child, and this is setting a good example for my siblings,” said Demire, from North Philadelphia. “I’m highly appreciative of our instructor!”
Now in its third year, JEVS’s Career Exploration Program is a voluntary, extracurricular activity designed to promote not only meaningful trades’ skills, but also experience and confidence in Philadelphia’s youth. Many Gratz students, like Joseph, learned about the program when they were juniors (from last year’s seniors) and couldn’t wait to sign up this school year.
“What’s great about this opportunity is that the students come in uncertain about the field,” notes Anna Bogdanov, academic affairs director at JEVS’ Orleans Technical College. “They’re able to learn hands-on about the different trades, but also about themselves—their likes, their dislikes, what they’re good at—and they start to see opportunities for the future.”
Those opportunities aren’t lost on students.
“My family supports me 100 percent, and they’re excited that I have goals for what I want to do in life,” said Amir, a student from the Olney, Philadelphia neighborhood. Amir was a basketball player but when he had to leave the team, he figured he’d put his energies into learning a trade. “I always wanted to be an electrician.” Amir already has his sights set for making his dream a reality. He is enrolling in the more intensive electrical training program at Orleans Tech that starts in August, right after his high school graduation.
Joseph, Demire, Amir and their classmates did put away their equipment and got their phones out for plenty of photos and selfies on February 28, 2018, when they showed off their projects to family and friends who attended the Career Exploration Program completion ceremony. Some proud parents couldn’t wait to take home the wooden benches their sons each crafted by hand.
“It really is a win-win,” said Bogdanov. “Trades learning in high schools has been on the decline nationwide, and coupled with a better economy, this has created a demand for construction and building tradespeople. Many of these students may not be college bound. This is one way to demonstrate a potential path to a successful, lucrative and long-term career.”