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Take the ride!

For more information on the “158 Miles for Act 158” bicycle fundraiser, including sponsorship opportunities, bicycle rentals, and event details, please visit the We Love Philly website here. Together, let’s pedal towards educational equality and transform the lives of countless young adults across the state.


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Carlos Aponte: Integrity Icon

Carlos Aponte, the founder of We Love Philly, was named one of our first-ever Integrity Icons. Watch this inspiring video to learn more about him.

The Citizen Recommends: Biking 158 miles from Philly to Harrisburg

The nonprofit We Love Philly is leading a bike ride from August 17 to August 20 to raise awareness for Act 158. Join them for all or part of the journey in support of high school students throughout the Commonwealth.

The Citizen Recommends: Biking 158 miles from Philly to Harrisburg

The nonprofit We Love Philly is leading a bike ride from August 17 to August 20 to raise awareness for Act 158. Join them for all or part of the journey in support of high school students throughout the Commonwealth.

Andrea Santiago could’ve become a Philly statistic.

She was kicked out of her first high school, then dropped out of another. It was 2019, and she was 18 without a high school diploma. She’d never satisfactorily completed the Commonwealth-required Keystone exams.

Then she found the Philly alternative high school One Bright Ray, and We Love Philly, then a program — now a full-fledged nonprofit — started by Carlos Aponte. Aponte was recognized as one of The Citizen’s first-ever Integrity Icons for his commitment to providing pathways to high school graduation — and livable wage jobs — for young people in our city. From its home base at One Art Community Center in West Philly, We Love Philly offers hands-on programs to help students graduate, build community, and learn essential life skills.

“The world is changing, and so should education.” — Andrea Santiago

When Santiago heard about Aponte, she decided to see what he and the program were all about. What she found was a model that worked for her. “I’d never passed a Keystone [exam]. I dreaded the Keystones. And I’m sure other kids felt that way too. Not every kid can do school. But We Love Philly taught me who I wanted to be, who I wanted to be around, and what I wanted to do,” she says.

Getting in on the Act 158

In 2018, then-Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 158, a bill that, in short, allows for students to bypass the required Keystone exams and instead graduate by showing competency through other means. Now, there are five pathways to high school graduation; two require passing the Keystone exams, and three do not. “The way I see it, Act 158 presents the opportunity for innovation, the opportunity to change the education system, the opportunity to really center students’ voices and give them alternative opportunities to get them ready for life after high school,” Aponte says.

While signed nearly five years ago, the bill went into effect this past school year. We Love Philly was ready.

“Because we are young, small, and scrappy, we have the opportunity to innovate and pivot much faster,” Aponte says. They partner with District schools, giving priority to the young people who are not passing Keystone exams. Students come to One Art Community Center to complete We Love Philly programming to meet the requirements that will enable them to graduate. When they do, they get a diploma from their neighborhood high school.

How We Love Philly does it

Last spring, for example, We Love Philly participants created their own cooperatively-owned business by turning a shipping container into a recycling center and selling it to a neighborhood nonprofit in Kensington. The project fulfilled Act 158’s service/internship requirement. And over the summer, they did a program with Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, wherein students created their own diversion program and presented it to them. That satisfied yet another requirement.

Another alternative pathway for graduation: a pre-apprenticeship program that builds a pathway to a full apprenticeship program once they graduate. So this past spring, We Love Philly obtained approval from the Department of Labor and Industry’s Apprenticeship Training Office to offer a state-certified pre-apprenticeship program in digital marketing.

This fall, they’re launching a 24-week program; students will get an industry-recognized credential in Google digital marketing and e-commerce and earn an hourly wage. They’ll also participate in a one-on-one mentoring program, with mentors staying alongside each young person to ensure that they graduate. Once they graduate, students will be eligible to enter a full apprenticeship program – 40 hours per week with one of two partners, 1SEO Digital Agency and Revcarto, with wages starting at $16 per hour and increasing up to $25 per hour once the apprenticeship is completed. We Love Philly is launching a solar energy program as well.

Cycle 158 miles for Act 158

Now, Aponte’s hope is to spread We Love Philly’s programs throughout the District and the state. To do so, they’re raising awareness and funds through a bike ride with the 158 theme. Riders will start on August 17 at One Art Community Center and finish on August 20 in Harrisburg, with stops along the way in Norristown, Reading, and Lebanon, to work with other community organizations on developing Act 158-compliant programs.

“[Act 158] provides students with the opportunity to proactively think about their postsecondary goals and take the first step toward pursuing those goals.” — Malika Savoy-Brooks, Ed.D., assistant superintendent of special projects

“Our young people want this,” Aponte says. “They see this as an opportunity to have a direct pathway to a liveable-wage career where they don’t have to go into debt to go to college to figure it out. They get to stay within our loving tribe and connect with people that they know they can trust.” Already his program is expecting an uptick of 60 students for the coming school year; with more funding, they could support twice that amount.

The School District is just as pleased. “While ACT 158 was a heavy lift for the School District of Philadelphia, we are proud that, as of June 2, 88 percent of our students were on track to graduate by meeting the District’s graduation requirements and one of five ACT 158 Pathways to Graduation,” said Malika Savoy-Brooks, Ed.D., assistant superintendent of special projects. “[ACT 158] provides students with the opportunity to proactively think about their postsecondary goals and take the first step toward pursuing those goals.”

Santiago says the program works. Last spring, at 21, she graduated from high school, walking across the stage at One Bright Ray with a diploma from her neighborhood school, Penn Treaty. “The world is changing, and so should education,” she says. This fall, she’ll start a full-time apprenticeship program in digital marketing.

But first: She’ll be promoting the upcoming bike ride on We Love Philly’s social media channels, as their director of social media. And she’ll be driving along the bikers, offering them whatever support they need to cross the finish line — just as We Love Philly did for her.

We Love Philly’s 158 Miles for Act 158 takes place August 17-20. The bike ride departs from One Art Community Center in West Philadelphia and stops in Norristown, Reading, and Lebanon. Cost to participate is $10 per mile; all donations and sponsorships are welcome. Bikes are available to rent and purchase.



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