The lunch bell just rang at Germantown High School in Philadelphia. As many of the more than 750 ninth- through twelfth-grade students make a beeline to the cafeteria, the school’s Student Success Center (SSC) readies itself for its busiest time of the day. Before you can say “Tater Tots,” 20 students enter the center, and then another 20 come in and ask to use the computer labs. By the end of the hour, it’s not unusual for the center to have had 60 students stop by.
“It’s like a monsoon is coming,” says Felix Carrasquillo, the SSC manager and a site coordinator for Communities In Schools of Philadelphia.
Carrasquillo has been running the SSC since it started in 2009 through a grant from the Philadelphia Youth Network. The goal of the SSC is to provide students with as many resources as possible in one space to maximize their time. The center offers a multitude of resources, including mentoring programs run by the Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia; integrated service coordinators who provide students with opportunities such as trips to the nation’s capital; career coordinators who help students build strong resumes and connect them with internships; and post-secondary coordinators who foster a college-going culture by helping students register for the SATs and complete their college applications.
For Carrasquillo, the SSC is a literal representation of the Communities In Schools model – connecting students with critical resources so they can achieve their best. This past year, the SSC provided 14,000 services to students, serving more than 90 percent of Germantown High School’s population. Their goal is to serve 100 percent.
To make sure they are reaching as many students as possible, Carrasquillo and the SSC staff keep detailed spreadsheets of the services they have provided and the students who have taken advantage of them. If a senior has not accessed any of these services, SSC staff will track him or her down.
“At the end of the day, no one can tell us we didn’t do everything humanly possible to serve students and get them what they need,” said Carrasquillo.
With dozens of students coming and going, Carrasquillo said he makes sure the time he does get with students is as impactful as possible.
“When we have conversations with students, in a lot of cases we are convincing them of their potential,” he said. “We are convincing them they could go to college. But when they are outside of the center for the other 13 hours of the day, they may be hearing the opposite. It’s a constant hurdle.”
This school year, Germantown’s graduating class will be the first group of students to receive services from the SSC for their full four years at the school. Being able to see the results of four years of workshops, meetings and one-on-one conversations makes the long hours and hard work worth it for Carrasquillo.
“I have yet to reach the end of the school year and not have the privilege of seeing at least one student succeed because of the support of the SSC,” said Carrasquillo. “And that one student gives me the energy to come back the next school year and do it all over again.”