“Do something that helps the community.”
This was the English class assignment that inspired Daya, Aaliyah, Serma, and Anastasiia – high school juniors at George Washington High School – to support their peers at a nearby school.
“We had a bunch of ideas,” said Daya. “But they didn’t feel big enough, like they would do enough for our neighborhood or for our community.”
The students turned to Caitlyn Boyle, the school’s Community School coordinator. George Washington High School is one of 17 Community Schools supported by the Mayor’s Office of Education.
Community School coordinators work with service providers and City agencies to bring resources to students, parents, and community members. In this role, Caitlyn also listens to the community about pressing needs and concerns.
“When George Washington became a Community School, so many people listed the substance abuse epidemic as a major concern in the neighborhood,” said Caitlyn. “So that’s been a huge focus of my work. Not just supporting those who are suffering with it, but the families and students that have loved ones who also need support as well.”
Since 2017, Caitlyn has been working with Daybreak Treatment Solutions to host “Family to Family” support nights at George Washington and other nearby community centers. These events allow community members to seek help and learn about supporting family and community members with substance use disorders.
Caitlyn told the students about her work and recommended that they raise money for The Bridge Way School, located close by in the Torresdale section of the city. The Bridge Way School is the only high school in Philadelphia that serves students who are actively trying to overcome substance abuse issues. Students are eligible to enroll at The Bridge Way School once they have completed more than 30 days of sobriety and are actively part of a recovery program. Students can also be referred to the school through school counselors, sponsors, and outpatient programs.
Learning about The Bridge Way School inspired the George Washington students to focus their project on fundraising for the school. “Some really smart students head in the wrong direction, then ask for help later,” said Daya. “We wanted to make sure there are places like The Bridge Way School to help students recover and move forward.”
Through bake sales during lunch and a paid dress down day promotions, Daya and her five classmates raised almost $200 for The Bridge Way School.
“These kids could’ve chosen a much easier task to complete this assignment,” said Caitlyn. “But to see them want to focus on a problem that affects our neighborhood so much, and to see them particularly focus on supporting people their age going through this difficult process, it was inspiring and really wonderful.”
“This demonstrated such compassion for students their age who have struggled with Substance Use Disorder (SUD),” said Rebecca Bonner, the principal of The Bridge Way School. “Too often, individuals with SUD are stigmatized and judged for a moral failing of some kind. The fact that this group of students from Washington chose to focus on a program that is helping to address the terrible opioid epidemic is just remarkable. I was so touched.”
After graduation next year, Daya said she hopes to continue doing work like this.
“I want to find a career that focuses on helping others in recovery. This process has made me see things differently, and it makes so much sense for me to do more in the future,” said Daya.
The Community Schools initiative is a collaboration between the School District of Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia, and community partners, and is central to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s vision for public education. Philadelphia currently has 17 designated Community Schools, where a Community School Coordinator supports added school-based programs and services for 10,000 students and their families and neighbors.