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Promise Zone grant to help West Philly students with college and career

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

Philadelphia and Los Angeles, two cities with designated federal Promise Zones, will share a $650,000 grant to train AmeriCorps members to boost the college and career readiness of disadvantaged youth.

Philadelphia’s portion, to be applied to the Mantua section of West Philadelphia, is $290,000 over three years, the Mayor’s Office reported Monday in announcing the grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency.

Students at four high schools — Overbrook, West Philadelphia, Paul Robeson, and Parkway West — will gain access to 25 new AmeriCorps members trained to help students suss out their post-high-school goals and support them in taking the necessary steps to get there.

Having all students college- and career-ready is the overarching goal of the School District, said Superintendent William Hite in a statement.

Currently, about half of the District’s graduating students enroll in a postsecondary institution after high school, according to its 2013-14 school progress reports. The rates at Parkway West, a special admission school, and Robeson, a citywide admission school, were slightly above the District average; at Overbrook and West Philadelphia, the rates were just above 40 percent.

Most of the 2,500 students at these four schools are Black and come from families living in deep poverty.

"Mantua faces persistent, high poverty – nearly double the poverty rate of the entire city – low educational attainment, high crime, low rates of employment and high rates of long-term housing vacancy,” said Mayor Nutter in the statement.

“But, Mantua also has strong neighborhood assets, like transit, new developments, a strong anchor in Drexel University, high-quality early learning opportunities, access to skills development and employment opportunities, and more, supporting its transformation. This grant will further help Mantua create lasting change by preparing young adults to enter the economy as educated, productive citizens.”

In 2014, President Obama named Mantua among the first five Promise Zones, economically blighted communities targeted for revitalization through increased federal attention and assistance.

Thus far, the Mayor’s Office estimates that $30 million has been invested in the West Philadelphia region as a result of the Promise Zone designation.