TeenSHARP prepares students for college, leadership

Atnre Alleyne and Tatiana Poladko Alleyne co-founded TeenSHARP in 2009 while in graduate school. The organization prepares talented Black, Latino, and low-income students for top colleges and community-centered leadership—establishing a generation of strivers equipped to be Successful, High-Achieving, and Reaching Potential (SHARP).

The organization makes a decade-long commitment to students—following their academic and career trajectories, and provides additional assistance if needed. This year, 87 TeenSHARP students will graduate high school and attend college, and approximately 70 alumni will graduate from college.

TeenSHARP’s vision is that one day the diversity of those occupying our nation’s highly-skilled jobs and highest leadership positions will be as rich as the diversity of our population.

The organization initially started serving students in Southern New Jersey—ten students that first year with students coming from Philadelphia. The organization has approximately 400 alumni from the Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware regions.

The company offers two programs: TeenSHARP-Striver program, which provides high schoolers (9th-12th grade) with intense academic preparation, support, and advising, positioning students to attend and succeed at America’s top colleges; TeenSHARP also offers G2C workshops and bootcamps, offered throughout the year for students and parents to help students get into great colleges with the best financial aid possible, as mentioned on TeenSHARP’s website.

However, some students attend the program later, with the latest being Junior year, because the organization needs time to work with the student and support their academic endeavors.

The organization is accepting applications for its next cohort— accepting approximately 40 students yearly. TeenSHARP is looking for ways to help more than 150 students by maximizing their online programs and workshops.

Although the organization is virtual now, the Striver program meets every Saturday—in the mornings, they discuss building their leadership portfolio, learning about the college process, the types of schools, etc. Also, it provides group advising sessions weekly, which helps educate the students and their families about the resources available to them. Parent workshops are available in English and Spanish.

“A lot of our work is parent work—[because] you don’t want the parent, because of their fears or lack of information to hold them back,” assured Alleyne in an interview with AL DÍA.

TeenSHARP provides students with comprehensive math preparation with top math teachers to ensure academic performance does not affect acceptance to ivy league institutions. In the afternoons, students take more social science-type courses with professors of color, are employed at colleges and universities, and can provide the same college-level education to students.

“It’s really about getting them into places where they are going to have access to networks and have access to resources, and have access to rigorous education,” said Alleyne. “That’s going to catapult them to be leaders in every industry.”

Inequities in Education

Education Data reports the average student loan debt in Pennsylvania is approximately $36,000, with Delaware’s debt increasing by $1,101. However, among Black women, the average student loan debt balance grows 13% over 12 years; among Black men, the debt balance grows 11% over 12 years. The report further reveals that Black and African American borrowers have the highest loan debt among all racial groups.

Alleyne explains that many stories are not often shared. Some students resort to GoFundMe to finance their education—first-year, second-year, and third-year students withdrawing from college, something Alleyne says “impacts the experience that you have if you don’t get to immerse yourself, and just be there and not be burdened by stress or debt.”According to new data released by the Department of Education, nearly 1.2 million people in Pennsylvania applied or were deemed automatically eligible for relief. The data also shows that Philadelphia has the highest number of applicants, with 96,800.

“There are a lot of inequities in the school system,” Alleyne commented. “That is why we do what we do at TeenSHARP—you might be [a] top [student] at your school, but when you go to UPenn, or you go to Swarthmore, and then you find that your A’s and someone else’s A’s can mean that you had different levels of preparation.”

Success story

TeenSHARP’s student, Sarahi Franco-Morales, received a full scholarship to attend the University of Pennsylvania. She shared her story with AL DÍA as a first-generation Mexican-American student. Sarahi will pursue a BA in Political Science with a Minor in Communications and hopes to work in politics and amplify Latinx voices in the United States and serve the Latino community.

“Making sure the Latino community knows the importance of understanding the problems of the government, the system, to know the importance of knowing the people who work for us, the politicians who are working for us,” concluded Sarahi, who volunteered with countless organizations and demonstrated her leadership skills by fighting for legislation.

Although TeenSHARP does not function like a Career Department, it regularly sends alumni emails and is “trying to raise money to have someone on staff—to help them in college, get internships, and create relationships with companies,” said Alleyne.

There are students with similar success stories as Sarahi who have been able to attend Ivy League institutions with the preparation of TeenSHARP.

From Al Dia