Each One Teach One: Gearing Up Our Youth for the Future

Andrea L. Custis
President & Chief Executive Officer, Urban League of Philadelphia

Twitter: @ULPhilly

This is the story of a 17-year-old young man named Deonte and the life-altering potential of early mediation and mentorship to transform lives.

Deonte is a sophomore at the School of the Future. The high school was a model of innovation and modern design when it was constructed 12 years ago in a developing West Philadelphia neighborhood.  Since opening its doors, this “paperless” school has struggled to boost its graduation rate while meeting the immediate needs of its students, many of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged.  The four-year graduation rate—a key measure of success—is 73 percent. 

Despite these obstacles, Deonte has an advantage over many of his peers.  Over the last three years, he has participated in GEAR UP, the Urban League of Philadelphia’s college and career exploration program. The program matches 12 neighborhood-based high schools, typically among the lowest performing, with local companies as a tangible way to connect students to careers, mentors, and in the case of Deonte — the tech industry.  These benefits extend to nearly 4,000 9th and 10th grade students across the city and connects them with leading regional employers engaged in creating pathways to job opportunities.

The School of the Future is paired with Comcast, a media and telecommunications conglomerate. During a recent workshop presented by Comcast representatives on team dynamics,  personality types, and how they fit together in the workplace, Deonte was encouraged and empowered to self-identify his personality traits. He described himself as “bold, encouraging and brave.”

Amid our ongoing, national conversation around the importance of representation, and its positive impact on groups that struggle to see themselves and their contributions in mainstream contexts, Deonte and his fellow sophomores, perhaps for the first time, were able to recognize themselves in those Comcast representatives, whose own lives and struggles were not so different from the experiences of these students. The encounter sent a message that was not lost on Deonte: the tech industry is open and accessible. He felt confident that he could work at a tech company one day, or as he declared, “be the CEO of Comcast.”

This summer, Deonte hopes to win a paid internship at Comcast. It would allow him to shadow employees and gain hands-on work experience. Deonte is also looking ahead to college, perhaps even attending a four-year university. He credits GEAR UP with helping him shape a vision for his career by exposing him to a new future of opportunities and  possibilities for success.