The bell rings each day at 3:10 p.m. and Cameron Johnson leaves school for the class she looks forward to the most.
Over the course of her day at the Freire Charter School on Chestnut Street in Center City, the 17-year-old high school junior goes to math, biology, English, Spanish and civics classes. They are good classes. But she leaves school for one more class each day.
“This class is about teaching us to think needfully and to try to make things different on a daily basis,” Cameron says. “It’s about trying to create new ideas instead of thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’”
She takes the trolley to 15th Street, hops on the Broad Street Line, rides the train to the Cecil B. Moore station and walks to the Fox School. It is a 25 to 40 minute journey that ends when she sits down with a handful of other students in the Creativity and Innovation class taught by Michelle Histand, assistant director of strategic management and experiential learning at the Fox School.
Twice a week, she and 14 students from Freire and TECH Freire Charter School, on the 2200 block of North Broad Street, join a dozen students from Temple, where they are tasked with identifying a problem, creating a solution and planning how to implement that solution. The class is a joint venture put together by the Fox School and the Freire Foundation, which runs several charter schools in the Philadelphia region.
The idea for the class started with a conversation between Debbie Campbell, senior vice dean at the Fox School, and Hilda Bacon, director of community partnerships and engagement at Build the Future Education Collaborative. The collaborative is a nonprofit organization aimed at building partnerships to enhance education opportunities at the Freire schools. Campbell and Bacon wanted to create a class that would give the Freire students the tools and confidence to succeed in college, and train the Temple students to be mentors and leaders.
“It is an opportunity at a local, well-known university,” Bacon says. “It is a comfortable situation and Temple is potentially accessible for most kids—a chance to give them the experience of what it is to be in school, to be in a college.”
Histand’s classes are hands-on and very team oriented. “This class is a chance for Temple students to put themselves in a leadership position, share their experience and guide and give feedback to their mentees,” Histand says. For the Freire students, it is a chance to get started in higher education. “When you put someone in that next level up, they have to perform at that next level up.”
The students are divided into pairs of mentors and mentees. Each team is working on a project together. One team is attempting to find a solution for the dearth of affordable, healthy food choices in North Philadelphia. Another team is designing an app that serves as an impartial local elections guide.
“If I had a class like this before I came to Temple, I would have been a lot more informed and not so unsure at the beginning,” Temple junior Jack Oatts, BBA ’20, says.
To get into the class, the Temple students had to write a letter to Histand, explaining why they wanted to be a mentor. The Freire students wrote an application and went through an interview process before being admitted to the program.
To enhance the course further, Campbell and Bacon are looking at adding several events, including a trip to a Philadelphia Phillies game and possibly visiting the rail park or a corporate partner. In April, Temple alumni and noted entrepreneur Adam Lyons, BBA ’09, was the first of what has evolved into a series of engaging guest speakers.
Campbell and Bacon envision growing the program. For Campbell, that means making the class, and possibly other general education classes, available to more high schools and more students. Bacon would also like to see similar programs across other schools in Philadelphia.
“This is about doing something for the community, for the city, for these kids,” Campbell says. “It is like Russell Conwell said, you have acres of diamonds in your backyard, you just have to find them. And we have all these schools in our backyard like Freire.”