On November 8, Princeton AlumniCorps and the Princeton Club of Philadelphia collaborated to organize a panel discussion on education reform in Philadelphia. Katie Thaeder ’09 introduced the panel. The panel featured Dr. Leroy Nunery, the acting CEO and Superintendent of the Philadelphia school district; Marc Mannella, CEO of KIPP Philadelphia; Edward Mensah, Director of Steppingstone Scholars; Alyson Goodner ’00, founder of The School Collective; and Matt Troha, Principal of Mastery Turnaround School Thomas Campus. The panel was moderated by Rosalind Echols ’05, a high school teacher at the Science Leadership Academy.
Speaking from their experience as leaders and educators within the Philadelphia school system, the panelists identified key challenges and opportunities for reform within this historically under-achieving school district. Questions and topics addressed included: how can Philadelphia attract the best teachers and keep them? How can teachers from charter, public, and private schools collaborate to ensure that they are using the most innovative and effective learning techniques? How does the School District work most effectively with the Teachers Union? How do we provide a quality public education with limited funding that continues to be cut?
The overall message of the evening was that while the challenges facing the Philadelphia’s educational system are difficult, they are not insurmountable. As demonstrated by the panel, there are many dedicated educators and reformers who are committed to improving classrooms and making sure Philadelphia’s students are college-ready and are prepared for life in our new global system.
By Joseph Sengoba ’10, 2011-2012 Project 55 Fellow and Katherine Chatelaine, Project 55 Fellowship Program Assistant
I was a PP55 fellow in NYC many years ago and worked at an organization called the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship. I was there for four years(!) and it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. The Watson Fellowship (www.jkwatson.org) is a program for undergraduate students here in the city that was – in large part – modeled after PP55. One of the big differences was that the colleges that were invited to participate are many of the institutions that educate low-income, first generation college students. For many students, it helped to clarify a steady, productive, meaningful career path. It’s made an enormous difference. Chet Safian played an important role in helping us develop materials, selection processes, internship sites for our students – anything and everything. That program is now more than ten years old, and has its own really wonderful and diverse alumni.
I left the Watson Fellowship and went to work at a research institute at NYU for six years. As I was leaving, I came across an open position at the Colin Powell Center which involved directing several scholarship programs for students interested in public service. During my interview, the director of the Center acknowledged that the Powell fellowships had, themselves, been modeled after the Watson fellowship. So in roundabout way, I’ve come full circle. I’m sure you all have a sense of how wide your impact has been on individual fellows like myself, and on colleges involved in TAN – but here’s yet another example of PP55’s wide-reaching influence. It’s a model that travels well, and that works. I know I’m now three times grateful for the leadership PP55 has taken in this field – and I know I’m not the only one.
It goes without saying (I hope) that if I can be helpful in ANY way, please feel free to let me know. I have a lot to be grateful for.
To ensure more PP55 experiences like Kamilah’s, visit www.alumnicorps.org and click the Donate button. Every little bit counts!
Thanks to those who have donated, we are just 26 gifts away from reaching an alumni participation rate of 15% by June 30! Calling all PP55 alums: if you haven’t already, please donate now! Whether $5, $55, or $555, every gift raises participation and helps AlumniCorps to grow our programs.
Jessica Brondo ’04 founded The Edge in New York in 2005, just over a year after graduating from the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. While at Princeton, she tutored for the SAT for four years and took a position at a well-known SAT preparation company based in New York after graduating, until she founded The Edge. The Edge is an elite international educational consulting company that specializes in test preparation and admissions counseling for students applying to US universities, grad schools, and private high schools.
What is your previous involvement in volunteering and college preparation, and what first motivated you to found The Edge?
I have been volunteering all my life and have been tutoring since I was a sophomore in high school. I’ve always loved teaching and continued tutoring and teaching SAT classes throughout my time at Princeton. After I graduated, I worked for a different SAT prep company for a year as a Site Director. That company only focused on the SAT and only offered classes and its methods and business practices were a little shadier than I would have preferred, so I ended up leaving to start The Edge with an honest approach to test prep and a motto that we can make students’ college dreams come true. It was important to me to incorporate the values I learned from volunteering with V-Day and from my time with Princeton Against Cancer Together (PACT), which I founded at Princeton.
What tools and strategies do you use to improve students’ testing scores?
We start off with a StratEDGEy Session that pinpoints students starting scores and dream schools, and helps form a plan of the amount of points needed to improve, the best way to improve the scores (tutoring or classes or a combination), which test is more suitable (SAT v. ACT), and whether any modifications need to be made to a students transcript or extra-curricular activities. Then during the test prep, we utilize wrong question journals, shorter study sessions to maximize retention, the making of notecards, and a gradual approach to score improvement through different levels of materials.
How have you seen your work impact students worldwide?
We really have had tremendous success with the program. Our average score improvement for the SAT is 260 points and our average score improvement for the ACT is 4.5 points, which more than doubles those of most of our competitors. Also, 100% of our students are accepted to one of their top 3 schools and getting those calls from excited students when acceptance letters come out is incomparable to anything else.
What motivated you to expand your work internationally?
A friend of mine from Princeton was working at the American School in London (ASL) and told me that the school was not renewing its contract with its existing test prep provider and were inviting other companies to come make presentations. I flew over from New York, made the presentation, and 3 months later was invited to come to London to launch a new SAT prep course at ASL.
What do you enjoy most about this work?
I love that fact that I get to work with students at such a transitional point in their lives and hopefully help them find outlets to showcase their passions and assist them in placing them at a school that is ideal for them.
What are your hopes for the future work and impact of The Edge?
We have been expanding our reach globally and I hope to launch a fellowship program for recent graduates to work abroad for a year teaching test prep and admissions counseling to students living abroad looking to apply to US universities. We would combine this with volunteer opportunities in each city as well.
As a young, successful entrepreneur and founder of your own company, what career advice do you have for other Princeton alumni dedicated to public service work?
I would say never give yourself the option of failing. I’ve made a lot of business decisions that wouldn’t necessarily be safe bets, but I knew in my gut that I could make it happen and took a chance on myself. A lot of business success comes from the confidence of the person launching a particular program or company. I would also say, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Starting the business just over a year after graduating from college, I definitely had a lot of business skills I needed to learn and spent that first year asking people who had done it before an enormous amount of questions. People genuinely like to help people and I think if you reach out, you’d be surprised at how forthcoming alumni are.
Last week’s AlumniCorps seminar was a very engaging conversation about many aspects of the problems that exist in our food system—from nutrition, to health, to factory farming, the discussion was far-ranging.
The topic was “Sustainable Food and Public Health”, and the panelists attacked the topic from different points of view. Dr. R. Gordon Douglas ‘55, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Cornell and former President of Merck Vaccine Division, moderated the panel. Douglas began by asking the two panelists to explain the problem of food and sustainability sat they saw it.
David Benzaquen, a former animal rights activist, provided a well-researched presentation replete with statistics about the interlocking problems of public health, nutrition, environmental degradation, climate change, and animal welfare. He emphasized the interconnectedness of the issue.
Nancy Easton ’88, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Wellness in the Schools, told a number of stories recounting anecdotes of the challenges she’d faced in her efforts to bring healthy food and nutritional education into inner city schools in New York City. She shared her frustration with a school where the cafeteria offerings included healthy gourmet bean burritos, but children were still smuggling in Pringles and Oreo cookies while school staff sat by.
Douglas then encouraged the panelists to talk about potential solutions to this complex and far-reaching problem. The discussion ranged from entreaties to reduce (and ideally cease) meat consumption to policy recommendations about corn and soy subsidies to an analysis of the role that class, tradition, and culture play in our food choices.
Though the panelists agreed that the problem can be daunting, the ultimate tone of the evening was one of guarded optimism. Easton stressed the fact that there seems to be a groundswell of interest in this topic reflected everywhere from Michelle Obama’s initiatives to the popularity of farmers markets; Benzaquen talked about the fact that unlike other social justice issues, food and nutrition issues can be tackled through individual and incremental actions.