The Adopt-A-School Initiative (AASI) is an empowerment program co-sponsored by Temple’s Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and Assistant District Attorney Ebony Wortham, of the Juvenile Division in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. The program was created by 2016-17 1L BLSA representatives, including myself, Faith Deredge, Precious Edem, Kaylan Kerr, Carlos Tirado, Rafaela Uribe, and Yuhanna Whye.
The purpose of Adopt-A-School Initiative (AASI) is to bridge the gap between Philadelphia area school children and members of Temple BLSA. The program empowers the youth, fosters leadership and teamwork amongst the law students, and promotes self-awareness and positive citizenship for all the participants.
“As aspiring legal professionals in the Philadelphia area, our success transcends the law school curriculum and depends on our service to others.”
The program launched on Friday, March 24, 2016 for 50, sixth grade students at the Mitchell Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia. The program is generally four weeks long but due to logistics it was shortened to a three-week long program. AASI focused on four core areas of holistic development for the sixth graders. Temple BLSA 1L representatives and volunteers visited the students on Fridays from 1:15pm-2:30pm. Our approach to empowerment begins and ends with the individual student. Our objective was to challenge and develop the youth in four core focus areas: personal reflection, interpersonal interaction, community engagement, and goal planning.
We began by fostering self-awareness through introspective activities that emphasized each student’s personal identity. School officials informed us that generally sixth grade students suffer from low self-esteem and are also in a transitional phase in which they are discovering their identities. During the icebreaker for this session, each student drew a picture that described their personality or identity. The students then turned in their drawings and a facilitator showed them to the class one by one. Students had to raise their hands and guess whom they thought each picture belonged to and explain why. After three wrong guesses, the person who drew the picture would identify himself or herself. The students were very engaged in this activity and almost everyone in the class raised their hand to participate.
The second session, titled “Your Philadelphia,” prompted students to think about their neighborhood and the various amenities it had to offer like historical parks, structures, recreation centers, and more. At the same time, students were asked to think about society at large and how Southwest Philadelphia fits into the bigger picture. Session two also incorporated concepts like diversity and stereotypes . We emphasized acceptance of others, embracing differences, and the importance of respect for their fellow classmates and citizens. During the icebreaker, a trivia game, students were tasked with differentiating between truths and myths regarding education, professions, and institutions. For example, some trivia questions included “Who was the first African-American President of the United States?” and “What racial group has the largest percentage enrolled in college?” The sixth graders also learned the functions of our institutions and how they can impact us on both a micro and macro level. We tried to demonstrate to them that what they hear and see is not always fact and how important it is to research topics before formulating opinions and making assumptions.
In the final session, “My Future, My Goals,” the students participated in goal-planning activities which focused on high school achievement, benefits of higher education, and long-term career options. The most memorable activity was Family Feud- Education Edition. When asked “what are some reasons students should go to college?” the Mitchell students came up with an extensive list of intelligent answers to the question, including “to take care of their family,” “to make money,” “to gain more knowledge.” This activity was received well by the sixth graders who often huddled to come up with team answers and would look over their shoulders to make sure the other team was not eavesdropping.
As aspiring legal professionals in the Philadelphia area, our success transcends the law school curriculum and depends on our service to others. Community engagement is crucial to our ability to understand the needs and interests of members in the community and advocate for change. Adopt-A-School is also important because we plan on making the program a long-standing tradition for Temple BLSA. This year’s AASI initiative is the first of a continuing partnership with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and Philadelphia area schools.