The mission is as simple as it is audacious: get students from one of the worst school districts in Pennsylvania into college.
“That’s what sets Project Blueprints apart — no one else has that goal,” says Cynthia Jetter ’74, director of community partnerships and planning for the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility. “But more importantly, we’re doing it. Every child from our program has gotten into college, prepared to succeed.”
Recognizing that success and the rich collaborations within the program, the federal Office of Minority Health recently named Project Blueprints as the most outstanding Youth Empowerment Program in the country.
Representatives from that office, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources visited campus in late July to take an up-close look at the program. They also listened, as current and past participants and their families as well as student mentors from Swarthmore extolled the program.
The officials left their visit deeply impressed by and hoping to expand and replicate the program, says Jetter.
“They told us the love, commitment, and dedication we have to these young people and their families were so evident,” she says. “It was a very good day. We were very proud.”
A joint initiative of the Lang Center, Black Cultural Center (BCC), Crozer Wellness Center, and the College Access Center of Delaware County, Project Blueprints provides academic and cultural enrichment and paid internships to 8th through 12th grade students from the Chester-Upland School District. This summer, students gained job and life skills at the Crozer Chester Medical Center and the BCC and received lessons on subjects such as math and literacy on campus.
The Office of Minority Health lauded those core elements of the program as well as the seamless collaboration of the partners and their willingness to go above and beyond.
“That comes through in the extra tutoring and resources, the number of people that the students engage with on campus, the outreach to the families, and the ongoing follow-up,” says Jetter. “It’s the personal extra touches we know are needed to make this program successful.”
It’s also important to build bonds and understanding with the students so that they see program staff not as teachers but as peers, says student mentor Xavier Lee ’17, a comparative literature major from Maplewood, N.J.
“They realize that we’re passionate about helping them and seeing them succeed in a way that they often are denied at their schools,” he says. “But seeing that someone believes in you and wants to see you do well pushes you to want to do well yourself.”
Funded with millions of dollars of grants from the Office of Minority Health, Project Blueprints has been held at Swarthmore for 10 years. The program’s first cohort of 25 students all went on to college. Another 40 students are now in their fourth year of the program.
Project Blueprints is looking at ways to ensure retention and support of its students once they go off to college, for which funding has been scant. But it will never waver from its mission of shepherding them there in the first place.
“It means so much to be able to say we didn’t just get them through the 10th grade or help to improve their attendance, but got them to college, with the confidence they can succeed in light of what they were up against,” says Jetter, who grew up in Chester and counts herself as a beneficiary of a similar program.
“It’s a special gift and opportunity to impact their future.”