Students at Sayre High School, located less than 20 blocks west of campus, tend to a garden in the center courtyard of the school, participate in science intensives about neurology and cardiology, and engage in a wide range of project-based afterschool activities, from mural arts to sports.
Patrice Green’s main job as site director is to make sure that these programs—all part of the Sayre Community School, a partnership between the high school and University—support the students’ needs and help them thrive.
“I come to work every day with a renewed spirit and a sense of possibility for what can happen. Despite any obstacles, I know that I’m doing everything with the best interest of students in mind and I take that very seriously,” says Green, who works at the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. “As a staff member, I want to make every day, second, minute there count to make sure that I can have the impact on all students, and our programming can impact as many students as possible.”
Penn has had a partnership with Sayre since 1996, making it one of the first university-assisted community schools in the country. Today, the programs are varied in scope, and include initiatives to improve math and science curricula and content knowledge in the classroom, hands-on after-school experiences for students, and post-secondary school preparedness.
Green, a graduate of Penn’s Fels Institute of Government and a former teacher with Teach for America, began working with Sayre three years ago on the Out of School Time After School Program. At Sayre, Green is responsible for overseeing all of the Penn programs in place at the high school—both in the classroom and after the school day ends.
The Current caught up with Green in her large classroom at Sayre, located in the main hallway of the high school, where she talked about how being a former teacher informs her work today, and how the Sayre students understand that Penn is committed to the high school for the long-term.
Q. How did being a former teacher give you a unique perspective on your role as Sayre site director?
A. One, it helped me understand the needs of teachers a lot more, empathizing with them and anticipating how I could be of support to them. It’s great to be able to approach things through an instructional perspective, and then offering any support and resources that Penn has to help them. That’s been great.
It also provides credibility to why I’m here—that’s been very important, too.
Q. What were the programs like when you first came to Sayre?
A. When I first came to Sayre, the most notable thing was just the reception that Penn had in the building. It wasn’t quite as warm as I anticipated, and so it was important for me to understand what the gaps were, just trying to get the history behind the partnership, getting feedback on what people thought worked well, what needed improvement. That took some time. We had a new principal and she was a little bit wary of Penn, questioning the motives a bit. For me, it was important for her to understand we are here for the students. That’s the primary goal—to offer support to them in any way possible, but also to help her achieve her vision and mission for the school. I think the biggest change came when we did get a new principal and we could start fresh and make sure that our programming aligned with her needs and the vision, mission, and goals that she had for the school. Once we were able to do that and connect and strategize, it made the partnership stronger.
We have little to no resistance on things we’d like to do because the staff genuinely feels that we are here for the right reasons and we want to support students as much as possible.
Q. I imagine it helps, you actually being physically based in the school. Was that something that began under you?
A. I’m the first site director and for me it’s always important to be in the building as much as possible. I couldn’t imagine managing a partnership from Penn. The office that we created [at Sayre] allowed us to have that strong presence. We’ve made sure that it’s as warm and welcoming as possible for students and staff and they feel connected to us in the same way we feel connected to them.
Over the years, we had been placed in a wing of the building that was very isolated, and people didn’t know what we had to offer. Instead, the [current] principal has given us such a great space to make our own. It’s dynamic. This is something that we achieved over time. We went from being in one very small classroom to being in a suite where we can provide different services to students.
Q. You have many programs for students. Are there any broad themes?
A. There are some programs that have been around for a while. There are, I would say, four key themes we have here. One is college access and career readiness, which is a theme that we expanded this year with the development of a resource room in here. We also have a VISTA volunteer who has led all of these initiatives.
Our second priority is science and math [through programs such as Moelis Access Science]. We have a pipeline program that is centered around cardiology, neuroscience, and infectious diseases, and this program brings Penn undergrad students that serve as TAs [teaching assistants] to Sayre once a week in the fall to facilitate curriculum on these topics. In the spring, these [Sayre] students go to Penn and actually work with med students and these same TAs for more intensive instruction and hands-on learning.
We have a partnership with the math teachers here to bring in some additional TAs to provide one-on-one support to students.
The other thing is extracurricular, so our Out of School Time programming is after-school from 3 to 6, five days a week, and it’s focused on project-based learning. We have seven or eight groups that meet at least twice a week and they select a theme for a unit. The [Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative] has been around for a number of years and it incorporates project-based learning in the sense that students go out into the community and, based on the cooking and the nutrition lessons they’ve learned, they are able to re-teach that to residents of the community. There’s a cooking crew and a garden crew. The students actually grow all of the stuff in the garden themselves. From there, once they harvest, they actually sell the [items] or donate them.
It’s important for the students to understand entrepreneurship, but it’s great when they’re creating the project themselves.
Q. What’s the student participation like?
A. With the math and science programs, they’re already in classes, so the students that are enrolled in those classes automatically participate in those programs. The after-school programs, the students opt in themselves, but we also work with teachers to encourage students to join. We recruit through information sessions, we recruit through the classroom, word-of-mouth, we go to the cafeteria quite a bit and make sure everyone understands what we have to offer.
In the nutrition program, students are selected; it’s an application process. They are interviewed. Once they are selected for the program, they stay [in it] for a couple of years so they’re able to have that continuity when the student graduates. The college and career resource initiative is open to the entire school and [students] are able to come at any time and get the support that they need.
Q. Were the students eager to participate in the programs, or were they skeptical at all?
A. I think we had our students on board, which was fantastic. It’s all about them, but the continued presence has made it even more legit. They understand we’re here to stay. It’s not here one year and gone another. We have maintained great staff retention and that’s been helpful for these groups we facilitate every week. It shows that the staff really care about building ongoing relationships with the students and they take their role very seriously. I had some staff that actually left for the summer and they missed the students so much, they were already inquiring about the next school year—and that’s great. Students love familiar faces. It helps them feel like someone cares about them at all times and that’s one of our goals—to make sure students feel like they have a caring adult that can help them through high school.
Q. It sounds like there’s a lot of interest in your programs.
A. It’s always important for my staff to feel like they’re engaging in meaningful work because then they’re invested in what we’re doing and they have students who progress over time. It’s something that they can feel proud of and then you know they’re here for the right reasons.
Another thing that we’ve actually done this year is [establish] a partnership with the Penn Class of 1980 that has adopted Sayre. They’re engaged in a number of activities with the students here. They did a Martin Luther King Day of Service here, and they started a mentoring program. They took students to the Barnes Foundation and we’re working to build out that program a little bit more. We’re bringing in alums from Penn that really want to impact the school in a variety of ways and we welcome that support. It’s fantastic. It’s something to be very proud of.
Q. What have been some of the challenges for you in this position?
A. The biggest challenge is putting it all together, because I feel like it’s all wonderful work. I think all the support is necessary. But how do we make sure that we’re being strategic in our approach and our planning and our implementation, but also, taking time to reflect on what we do well and what we can improve upon? This year, we have a focus on evaluation in a way that we’ve never had before. We’re administering a school-wide survey to all students to get feedback on the school and also Penn programs, [and] having a series of focus groups and interviews with students and staff to get a sense of what they think would be most helpful in what we do to support the school.
I want to make sure what we do is aligned with the needs of the school, the vision, and the mission—otherwise we’re just an extra program. The school really needs the support. They’re asking for the support. I want to make sure it’s done in a strategic way.
Q. What are your long-term goals?
A. Evaluation is great—that’s going to be very telling in terms of what direction we take moving forward. I do know that even without evaluation, there are two major things I want to build out: the academic support that we offer to students during the school and after-school day, and our college and career resource center—giving students access to more resources, trips, mentors, different things that I feel can support them as they make their post-secondary plans.
I just want to make sure we’re doing what we’re currently doing well. I don’t want to just have a mish-mosh of programs here that are not having an impact and aren’t moving our students forward academically.