IT WAS ONE of those busy days at Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), the kind of day where you can't even get to a computer, senior Angel Hardy said.
Upon finally checking her email, the 18-year-old from Germantown received some highly anticipated news and actually screamed. A counselor rushed back into the room to investigate the yelp, saw the email, hugged Hardy and ran to the principal's office. Before Hardy could utter a word of the news to anyone, she heard it broadcast over the school's loudspeaker.
Hardy had earned a $25,000 college scholarship.
"I was excited and at the same time it was like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders," she said.
Hardy, who will attend Bloomsburg University, about two hours northwest of Philadelphia, credits her success in part to Kensington CAPA's College Access Program, which helps students achieve a college education through counseling, college-related events and help filing forms, plus support and encouragement.
She and nine others who also will attend Bloomsburg after spending their senior year in the program agree that without it, most of them wouldn't have gone to college.
"I didn't think I was fit for college," said Aysis Santana, 18. "I didn't even think I was fit for trade school."
Santana credits Jocelyn Rodriguez, the college counselor at the school at Front and Berks streets, with helping her realize her potential.
"Mrs. Rodriguez was very persistent," Santana said. "She would even write on my Facebook asking if I got my papers in."
Aside from providing encouragement, the program, which served more than 250 students this year, also provided help with the college-application process, which might be foreign to first-generation college attendees.
Fifty-five percent of this year's senior class was accepted to college, up from only 23 percent six years ago, the school said.
"I thought I wouldn't be able to go to college because my family wouldn't be able to help me out, even if I asked for help," said Gelane Pratts, the first person in her family to attend college.
The students praised the program's family-like atmosphere - something they may not have at home.
"At events Principal [Debora Borges-] Carrera would say that we're here with each other more than with our families, we have to treat each other like family," Taisha Martinez said. "Without them, I wouldn't have made it this far."
"This is a safe place," Carrera said, "not only physically, but also emotionally."
Carrera explains that the program creates college awareness and a "college-going" culture, while also trying to change the culture of the school.
Being from Kensington, Carrera feels a responsibility to provide her students with opportunities to succeed.
"Part of my personal mission is to show the kids if I can do it, so can they," Carrera said.
But Carrera is concerned about the program's future. If the school district doesn't find more money to plug a $304 million budget deficit, the school will lose two counselors.