The Free Library of Philadelphia is the 10th largest public library system in the United States. They are governed by their own city agency and have their own Board of Directors and a separate non-profit organization. They host a wide range of services for their patrons throughout the year and in 2009 began offering a college prep program.

The early college prep program was very flexible, Isamar Ramirez, Programming Specialist for the Free Library informs me during our interview, college students would come in on Saturdays to help high schools students with financial aid, the college admissions/application process,  and the library also offered three hour SAT workshops.

This past summer the library received a grant that allowed for a more intensive college prep program. 200 students applied and 10 different library branches were involved across the city. 20 students were enrolled at each library site. College graduates and work study college students worked with students during the summer in this program. Students came for six weeks, four days a week. After the summer there was follow up opportunities into the fall with Saturday workshops and after school drop in on Wednesdays. The Free Library of Philadelphia also organized a college fair over the summer, approximately 230 students and parents/guardians attended, with workshops and representatives from many local colleges/universities and organizations.

During the summer, students had three hour SAT prep workshops; there were also workshops on financial aid, choosing colleges, completing college applications, and then less structured times where students could come in and get one on one aid with college students and instructors. Isamar was also available by phone and email to help students with questions as they were working through the college application process from home. There was a pre/post SAT diagnostic given to the students who took part in this program. From the beginning to the end of the college prep program with there was an average increase of 174 points within the students’ scores.

Another component of this college prep program that was a very successful was a digital badge system. As each student completed a task (ie: created a list of colleges, completed applications, etc.) they received milestone badges. This badge system was through the site Badge Stack (http://badgestack.com/). Students could log in, see their badges, and it also gave the program a social element that the students really enjoyed. Each neighborhood/library branch had a set of badges.

Overall the program was a great success. Isamar wanted to emphasize their partnerships with PhillyGoes2College, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) and Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable (PCPR), which were instrumental to the success of the program. PhillyGoes2College and PHEAA led multiple workshops at all of our locations for the students and Thomas Butler from PCPR was hired as a consultant in the fall to meet individually with the students and provide them with advice and personalized support.

The program would not have been possible without generous support from the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation. The students overall found this an incredible resource. Isamar reports very positive feedback from both parents and students. She hopes to have another college prep program like this one. Currently Isamar is awaiting news of future funding. During this school year she has been able to visit local high schools and work with students on college prep in their own spaces which has been a wonderful experience as well to meet students where they are and support them.

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