Philadelphia Daily News: Students connect with jobs, colleges in summer program

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

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by Regina Medina

SOCIAL INTERACTIONS didn't come easy for Daijon Gibbs when he was younger. When he started high school, he mostly kept to himself.

But then in 2011, Gibbs' social fortune changed. He was accepted to a summer-jobs program run by the University City District through its West Philadelphia Skills Initiative. Over the past three summers, Gibbs, now 18, has worked in three positions, including a facilities-maintenance job with the National Board of Medical Examiners.

"Working there, I learned to improve my social skills," said Gibbs, a student at Mastery Charter Shoemaker Campus who plans to apply for the program for a fourth time this year.

His supervisor once noted his shyness in an evaluation, he said, but as the summer progressed, "I began to learn to open up and talk more - even if it's about sports or what I did after I left work the day before."

The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, which also runs an adult jobs-training program, exposes students to an array of career options while offering job-readiness and college-access workshops.

Best of all, it offers jobs.

The program begins July 1 with a job-readiness boot camp and interviews with West Philadelphia employers. Participants include the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Mercy Hospital, among others.

The 25 students selected work 12 hours a week, Tuesday through Thursday, from July 8 to Aug. 7. On Mondays and Fridays, they are taught the art of the job interview, how to build a resume, how to manage time in college and other skills. They also take tours of West Philly's university campuses.

This year, the program will accept only high-school seniors, because organizers want to focus on supporting them in the first phase of their careers, whether it's a job or college, said the initiative's director, Sheila Ireland.

The program is "about confidence, more self-awareness and understanding you do have talents in the marketplace and how you go about it," Ireland said.

For students, she said, "It's about expanding horizons and understanding new possibilities for yourself. We all live in a box for a certain time. You need somebody to help you see outside of it."

That was the case for program alum Tamar Jackson, 19, now a student at West Chester University who started in 2012 and also participated last year.

Jackson, who attended the Girard Academy Music Program, said after enjoying two CHOP internships through the program, she opted to pursue a career in nursing.

"I got confident in knowing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," said Jackson, who hopes to be a pediatric nurse. "One of the speakers really helped me pick out schools to apply to."

For high-school seniors living in West Philly, a program application can be found online at The deadline to apply is March 28.