Howard University students give up spring break to volunteer at Philadelphia schools

A growing number of schools across the country are offering Alternative Spring Break programs.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Instead of being under the sunny blue skies of a beach, Chantel Williams is spending the Tuesday of her spring break under the bright lights of the auditorium at Samuel Gompers School in Wynnefield.

"It was a difficult decision because of spring break," said Williams.

While her trip may not be the typical spring break destination, she's glad she made that decision.

"We're here at elementary, middle, and high schools just to encourage and motivate them to go to college, especially HBCUs," said the Howard University senior who's originally from Atlanta.

Her message is even more powerful to children who may have never seen African American college students such as herself.

"Our students can see themselves in the college students," said Tanishia Pride, assistant principal at Samuel Gompers School.

The 27 students from Howard University spent Tuesday at Gompers elementary and Bartram High School speaking to middle school and high school students about going to college.

They also talked about trade and vocational schools. It's all part of an effort to encourage Philadelphia students.

The Howard University students volunteered their time as part of the school's Alternative Spring Break program, which offers students an opportunity to use their free time to serve.

A growing number of schools across the country are offering Alternative Spring Break programs.

The Howard students arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, and they've already taught 7th grader Natyah Peterkin something she didn't realize about college.

"You just have to work hard and do the best that you can do and be the best that you can be," said the student who has always thought about going to college but believed she had to have straight-A's to get into a university like Howard.

The students from Howard are focusing their volunteer work on education resources for students.

"We chose Philadelphia as a site because of the education issues," said Williams.

One of the people that's helped the group get more familiar with the city is 19-year-old Akayla Brown.

AT 13-years old, she started her nonprofit Dimplez for Days in University City, aimed at providing resources for children trying to escape violence and create a better future for themselves and their families.

The name came from Brown's nickname as her smile reveals two adorable dimples.

"We're not just like any nonprofit. We're loving. We're giving hugs," said Brown.

Her determination to improve her community made her a Gates Scholar. She's now a freshman at Howard University.

"I got a call that the Howard kids were coming down. So it was like I'm coming down too," Brown said of her decision to drop her plans to go to Miami, especially after her mother's urging.

Brown is helping her schoolmates organize and volunteer their service projects in Philadelphia, but Brown's service will last beyond spring break.

That type of dedication to her community led Brown to give up her vacation and serve alongside her Howard University schoolmates.

They're bringing students the message: that they can go to college.

Even a prestigious HBCU like Howard, the alma mater of Vice President Kamala Harris.

"To be at the same school that the vice president went to, that's really like, wow," said Peterkin.

Administrators are also grateful for the dedication that the students have shown.

"I'd offer every one of them a job here at Gompers," said Principal Phillip DeLuca.

The students will continue with more service projects daily, including a bus stop breakfast on Thursday, where they'll hand out free breakfast sandwiches to children on their way to school in West Philadelphia.

"The fact that they sacrificed their spring break, it really speaks to the importance of lifting as you climb," added DeLuca.

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