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Launchpad Philly, a workforce development program targeting older School District of Philadelphia high school students interested in tech fields, kicked off its first cohort with a community night last week.
“The purpose of tonight is really just to celebrate our young people,” said Dannyelle Austin, executive director at Launchpad. “This is National Computer Science Week, so we’re really excited to be able to make that connection for young people that want to go into tech and to celebrate [those who] have been accepted.”
The room at Harrisburg University-Philadelphia was filled with local educators, parents and most importantly, the 45 students who will make up Launchpad’s first class.
Ahmed Shamsid-Deen, an 11th grader at Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School, said at the event that he used to take a computer science course, but dropped it to take other requirements. He applied for Launchpad because of the opportunities it can provide to prepare for to college, where he wants to major in computer science.
“They [Launchpad] just give me a lot of opportunities I look forward to, and plus they teach me a lot of things like coding, and being a better me,” he said. “I’m most excited about meeting new people and getting to learn all these good things that could help me build a better future for myself and my family.”
This program is designed to be three years, during which students spend 18 months finishing high school. For the first six months, students are expected to attend a business technology fundamentals class one day per week after school and one Saturday per month. Austin said this first phase is “designed to be exposure, helping them get connected, helping them to say, ‘Is this a pathway I actually really want to do?'”
The next phase is one-on-one programming every day after school. According to Austin, students who are on track to graduate have an “early release option,” meaning they have a half day of school senior year and then go to Launchpad after school. Per Launchpad, this programming includes “coaching, college courses, corporate challenges and exposure opportunities” to help students pick their career path.
After graduating from high school, they will complete 30 hours per week of a tech career bootcamp. The final phase of the program is paid employment experience at Launchpad or with a partner company.
For this first cohort, Launchpad received almost 100 applications from 11th and 12th graders from 15 schools across the district. The 45 students who were selected will start the program in January.
Austin said the organization was looking applicants with genuine interest and curiosity about tech fields. She said this is true both for students who already have exposure to coding and computer science and what to learn more, but also for students who don’t know what they want to do with their futures and are interested in figuring that out.
“We often say this is about helping young people break into tech, break into the sector, be successful in the sector,” she said. “Launchpad is all about helping young people have choices because young people in our community deserve those choices.”
Recruitment and applications for the next cohort will start up again next year.
Launchpad is an initiative of Building 21, an education nonprofit that also has a lab-based high school in Philly. The program also won a grant from 1Philadelphia this year. Going into this first year of programming, Austin said she was looking forward to learning from the students and seeing if the programming they’ve planned, such as studio experiences and corporate immersion experiences, actually helps students develop skills and make connections.
Candance Eaton, the real world learning director from the Workshop School in West Philly, said Launchpad has highlighted a new pathway for students at her school.
“To be able to see students get excited and really see themselves years in the future in a place that’s successful, and see them thriving and living their best life,” she said, “it’s just truly exciting.”Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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