Mastery charter schools USC Jade Mickens
Bobby Chen (@rysChen)

Scholars, first-generation grads and future West Coasters: Mastery Charter Schools celebrate College Signing Day

A Gates Millenium Scholar, a Dell Scholar, and five recipients of Lenfest Foundation Trustee Scholarships (to Penn State) were among the 565 college-bound seniors celebrated at Mastery Charter Schools’ College Signing Day at Temple University’s Liacouras Center Tuesday.

College Signing Day, an imitation of the signing days during which college-bound athletes announce their school choices, is MCS’ now-annual effort to both celebrate the seniors’ accomplishments and to inspire younger MCS students to follow in their footsteps.

MCS grads will attend a range of schools, from the West Coast (University of Southern California) to here in Philadelphia (Temple, Drexel, and La Salle, for instance), from large state schools like Penn State to small women’s colleges like Bryn Mawr. Ninety-six percent of the graduates will attend college or a post-secondary program, according to a statement from MCS.

Below are a few moments from MCS’ College Signing Day:

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Mastery Charter Schools CEO Scott Gordon at College Signing Day. About 5,000 of the over 10,000 students in the 15-school charter school system attended, according to MCS Chief Innovation Officer Courtney Collins-Shapiro.

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Students celebrate as Villanova University is announced as a college destination for Mastery Charter Schools students at College Signing Day. The event is meant to demonstrate the importance MCS places on the pursuit of post-secondary education – "Let’s show them that we’re invested in them as much as they’re invested in themselves," says Jade Roane, a college adviser at Simon Gratz High School, which joined the Mastery network in 2011.

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Audience members from the Thomas campus of Mastery Charter Schools cheer during College Signing Day. The prospect of preparing for college will be what the younger students in attendance "are all going to be talking about for the rest of the year," according to Collins Shapiro. They'll be thinking, "That's going to be me in five years or seven years," she says.

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Penn State-bound seniors from the Mastery Charter Schools cheer at the conclusion of College Signing Day.

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Gratz senior and aspiring physician Evana Wilson earned a full ride to Tufts University, commonly considered a school of Ivy League prestige. "She's one of those diamonds in the rough," says Roane, Wilson's college adviser. After a rocky transition from her "very small" middle school to the dramatically larger Simon Gratz High School – Wilson was at one point sent to disciplinary school in ninth grade – she turned around and earned the highest-ever ACT score in Gratz's history. Now, the North Philly native's story is one that Gratz advisers use to motivate future graduates. "She's one of those students where everybody loves her," Roane says. "She's very dynamic, and her future is very bright."

[img attachment="10914" alt="RYC_6477" width="325" height="267" linkto="file" /] Tyesha Witherspoon, right, will attend the University of Virginia on a scholarship with Gratz classmate Chanice Bey. Witherspoon chose UVA for what it offers her in career prospects – “It’s the second [ranked] public school in America, so they have a lot of connections for internships,” she says.
Mastery charter schools USC Jade Mickens

Jade Mickens is proud to attend college as first-generation student. She'll be taking advantage of a full-ride to the University of Southern California, a school that she says has everything she wants, from the academics to the social environment to the weather. "And their accounting program is nationally ranked. Everything is good about it. I don't see any flaws."

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Waleed Edwards is also the first of his family to attend college. “It means the world to us as his parents and even more to our community,” says his father, Stacy Edwards. And Waleed describes his accomplishment as one for his parents. “They can live vicariously through me,” he said. “I basically did this for them. And for me, also.”

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This is the third-annual College Signing Day, which has grown in attendance every year as MCS teachers see the benefits of exposing their younger students to the success of the graduates, according to Collins-Shapiro. As for its role for the graduating seniors, she compares College Signing Day to graduation, which she calls "a little more solemn." College Signing Day, on the other hand, "is just a really spirited, fun event for the entire community," she says, an opportunity for friends and family to celebrate the accomplishments of their students.

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