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New grant helps District’s Educational Options Program

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

Thanks to a $236,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, Philadelphia residents who are over age 17 and are working toward their high school diplomas through the School District’s Educational Options Program will soon receive additional support.

The Counseling and Access for Postsecondary Success (CAPS) Initiative grant will expand counseling services for students preparing for higher education and provide professional development opportunities for those planning to enter the workforce. School District officials and program representatives recently announced the grant, which will be awarded each year for the next five years, at South Philadelphia High School to an auditorium filled with about 100 students and their teachers. “EOP is helping the city of Philadelphia’s economy more than anyone knows. Once that individual earns that high school diploma, we prepare them to return to the workforce or higher education,” said Audrey Nock, site director at South Philadelphia High School. The Educational Options Program serves participants who have earned some high school credits, but are not enrolled in a traditional day school. It offers evening classes in three-month cycles three times a year for students to earn their high school diplomas. The program now operates at four sites in Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin High School, South Philadelphia High School, Philadelphia Leadership Academy North at Hunting Park, and Philadelphia Leadership Academy South at Westminster. “This grant will allow the District to continue to assist students who have taken time away from school to plan for their future in a meaningful way,” said Superintendent William Hite. Through the grant, each site will have one full-time and one part-time CAPS counselor to guide students in choosing a college or training program, registering for classes, and accessing financial aid resources. These advisory services will be available to all EOP students. Students participating specifically in the CAPS program will be required to take a CAPS Initiative Advisory course for one trimester. The course will be a graduation requirement and will cover topics pertaining to postsecondary success in higher education or trade school through curriculum materials that were designed by Naviance College and Career Readiness program. Students using the CAPS program must be over 19, meet certain income requirements, and qualify as first-generation-to-college, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Education. “Philadelphia is the only school district receiving this particular grant. It is typically awarded to higher education institutions,” Hite said. At the event, Paul Thach, 23, who is EOP South Philadelphia High class president, shared with his peers that he will be graduating in December. The news was met with a round of applause. “With the help of EOP, I have been accepted into the Year Up Program. The Year Up Program provides an internship and admission to Peirce College. EOP put me on the right track by providing me this opportunity,” said Thach. The Educational Options Program serves close to 1,200 students in Philadelphia. For Shamira Riggs, 27, the new CAPS grant will allow her to explore her career options before graduation. “I want to go to trade school. I’m not sure what I want to do, but I’m taking up something," Riggs said. "I can’t stop right here, right now.”