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After 13 years of service learning, buildOn is leaving Philly schools

Photo: Laura Benshoff | NewsWorks WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Football. Debate team. Theater. High school students flock to extracurricular projects that mold their identities. For the last 13 years, hundreds of Philadelphia high school students have had another option: buildOn.

BuildOn is an international nonprofit "working to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations." It started as a project to build schools in low-income countries like Malawi and Nicaragua, but founder and CEO Jim Ziolkowski expanded the work to the United States when he saw an opportunity to implement service-learning projects in high-poverty urban areas like those in Philadelphia, Detroit, New York and Oakland.

In Philadelphia, the organization has full-time offices in West Philadelphia High School and Horace Furness High School, as well as satellite programs drawing students from Delaware Valley Charter School and Bodine High School for International Affairs.

But on March 18, buildOn is closing down its Philadelphia school programs after 13 years of service learning.

Among the schools, more than 400 students participate in weekly service events like trash cleanups and visits to nursing homes for a total of about 2,500 service hours each month.

According to a release from the group, BuildOn is leaving the area due to "insufficient direct funding." On a call with students last week, the group’s leadership explained that it has long had trouble bringing in donors and grants locally.

Although it called its Philadelphia programs some of its most successful in terms of participation, the organization’s leadership stressed in a conference call to students that it’s been "supplementing its budget [in Philadelphia] from the organization’s general operating funds" for years.

"It’s not your fault," said managers on the call.

Still, many students expressed wishes that they could have been notified of the group’s decision earlier in the year so that they could have been more involved in fundraising.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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