Phoenix Collegiate Academy: College for All

Graduates posing for a picture

Rachel Yanof’s Phoenix Collegiate Academy is taking to college students who never thought it was possible.
Image: Shutterstock

Seven years ago, Rachel Yanof was a door-to-door recruiter. She walked the streets of south Phoenix neighborhoods in the Arizona heat–not to make a sale or pitch a pyramid scheme, but to look for students. She and her staff worked hard to connect with parents in those neighborhoods, where students were mostly poor and Hispanic.

What she had to offer was a new school. Yanof, the young administrator at a brand new charter school, pitched it as a rigorous environment with high standards and higher goals. Students would wear uniforms, sign contracts that they would complete their homework, take extra courses in math and writing, and read vigorously.

And they would go to college. That was Yanof’s promise to every sixth grader and each of their parents: every one of her students would go to college.

Now, seven years later, her promise has come true. Phoenix Collegiate Academy’s first class of seniors has just graduated, and each of them, all twenty-five, has applied to college and been accepted. Between them they’ve also received 50 scholarships at a total of over $200,000 and counting.

Twenty-three of the twenty-five will be the first person in their families to attend college.

In 2015, the rate of students going directly into college from high school was a little less than 60%, and it trends much lower in neighborhoods like those from which Yanof recruited. And in this digital age, more and more entry level jobs require a four-year degree. Yanof and her staff have worked hard–as hard as their students–and the success was visible on every face as those young men and women crossed the stage to get their diploma, each accompanied by a loved one, and each with the name of their future college on their lips.

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Just the Job

Teacher and students in classroom

Teachers in struggling Pennsylvania schools struck earlier this month to raise awareness about how teachers go above and beyond.
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It was a different kind of strike in Philadelphia earlier this month. For one week, a number of elementary school teachers across the city did their jobs.

Only their jobs.

Only their jobs as stipulated by their contracts, in fact. So while they taught, graded, and cared for their students, they did not patrol the playground before school, tutor kids at lunch, or stay late with kids whose parents couldn’t be there right at the bell. No printouts in the classrooms or copy paper to make them, because that’s been coming out of the teachers’ pockets. Books purchased by teachers for their classrooms vanished, just for the week.

These actions, organized by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, were concurrent with a protest held at Cooke Elementary School, one of the statistically “failing” schools that the Philadelphia School District intends to hand over to a charter operator. That announcement was not received well by local teachers.

“We don’t have teachers in classrooms some years, and then they tell us that we failed,” said Christine Kolenut, one of the Cooke teachers who will be fired if that handover occurs.

The decision to make more Philadelphia schools into charter schools has not been popular with parents either. In 2014, the district allowed the parents of two schools to vote on the matter, and both votes were landslides against charters. This year, the decision was made without parent or teacher input.

The objective of the semi-strike was to force the district to recognize that teachers do much more than the contracts itemize, and that disrespecting teachers will never lead to a better-performing school.