Life at Mastery : In the News : Mastery students celebrate 'College Signing Day'

Mastery students celebrate 'College Signing Day'

Wednesday, June 4 2014. By Casey Fabris, Inquirer Staff Writer

Students roared for the Pickett Campus. They shouted for the Shoemaker Campus, cheered for Simon Gratz High School, and yelled for the Thomas Campus.


But at the end of "College Signing Day," they united to create one booming cry for what they had in common: They all attend Mastery Charter Schools.


Tuesday's ceremony at Temple University's Liacouras Center was Mastery's second annual College Signing Day, recognizing 460 high school seniors who have pledged to attend and graduate from college. The event is a play on the signings held when star athletes, often heavily recruited, announce which universities they will attend.


The stands Tuesday were full of friends, family, teachers, and Mastery classmates. The younger students showed pride for their schools, cheering loudly whenever one of their own took to the stage.


Liacouras Center seemed as if it was hosting a pep rally. Audience members cheered as they saw names of loved ones flash across electronic screens. Some students sported shirts reading "Keep calm I'm going to college." Others waved small blue towels with "College Signing Day" printed on them.


When the seniors marched out to take their seats, they were not greeted as the Class of 2014, but the college graduating Class of 2018.


The din eased for the national anthem but rose anew when Mastery CEO Scott Gordon took the stage. "We need you. We need your leadership, we need your smarts, we need your creativity," Gordon said.


Plus, Mastery asks its grads to come back. Gordon announced that when the students are juniors in college, they will get a shot at teaching internships at Mastery.


This year's seniors won $21 million in scholarships - $7 million more than last year's total - and had three students named Gates Millennium Scholars.


Tiffany Mitchell, an alumna of Mastery's Lenfest Campus (Class of 2010) and recent graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, shared advice with the soon-to-be college students: The work isn't the hard part. The new environment is.


In one of her first college classes, Mitchell said, the subject of charter schools came up. Mitchell said some of her classmates offered disparaging views of charters that did not square with her experience. She stood up for charters - but she also bought a bus ticket home, believing this could not be the place for her.


Then she heard the dean wanted to meet her. Mitchell figured she was in trouble. It turned out her professor was impressed by her and thought the dean would be, too. That meeting opened other doors - one to an internship at the Department of Education in Washington.


"A bus ticket can be returned," she said.


Mastery is a nonprofit organization with 15 schools in the Philadelphia area, with more than 9,600 students in grades K-12. On Tuesday, each senior stood and was recognized when the college he or she will attend was announced. Then came pledges by students, parents, and faculty.


Though he has had three children graduate from Mastery schools, Tuesday was Frank Adams' first College Signing Day, as the event had not been created when his two sons graduated. Adams' daughter, Delina, delivered one of the pledges.


"It's something positive," Frank Adams said of the ceremony. He said his daughter, who attended the Lenfest Campus, was the starting shooting guard on the basketball team and has a 3.75 GPA. Delina will attend Albright College this fall, and plans to study communications and marketing.


After the ceremony, Lauren Muir waited in line with her granddaughter Daizah Johnson to get photos taken.


Muir, too, said the ceremony showcased something positive. With her experience running a day-care center, Muir said, she sees what learning does for young people.


"Education is very important to me," she said.


Johnson will graduate from the Pickett Campus and plans to study psychology at Bloomsburg University.


Becoming a Gates Millennium Scholar did not just give Lypheng Kim the opportunity to attend the University of Southern California - it gave him the opportunity to reflect on himself.


"I feel like writing those essays helped me discover myself even more," Kim said. It made him think about the reasons behind the bullying he has suffered.


Kim, who is graduating from Mastery's Thomas Campus, said he chose USC because it has a very inclusive LGBT community, which matters to him given the activism work he has done in high school and hopes to continue - but also because of the Southern California climate.


He'll be the first Mastery student to attend USC. He stood by himself at College Signing Day when his school was called. But Kim said he didn't mind: "It's like being a trailblazer."

215-854-5607 @CaseyFabris