Vaux BPHS Principal Shavonne McMillan, District Principals Raise Their Voices on Gun Violence - Oct 2021
BPP welcomes our new Executive Director, Catie Wolfgang - July 2021
On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Director Search Committee, I am delighted to announce that Catie Wolfgang will be the new Executive Director of Big Picture Philadelphia, effective July 1, 2021.
Catie was most recently the Senior Director of Workforce Policy and Strategy for the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce. Before that, she served in multiple positions for the City of Philadelphia, including the Director of Policy and Strategy in the Office of Workforce Development and the Chief Service Officer. Her accomplishments during her ten-year tenure with the City include creating the SERVE Philadelphia VISTA Corps and PowerCorpsPHL (AmeriCorps programs that engage young adults in community building work that helps prepare them for careers), and playing a leadership role in the City’s efforts to create a comprehensive workforce development strategy. Catie also did youth leadership development work at Temple University and, before that, taught elementary school for several years.
Catie emerged as the best choice for Big Picture Philadelphia after an extensive search process that included multiple interviews with board members; meetings with school leaders and BPP staff; a “performance task” designed to assess each candidate’s skills, knowledge, and vision; and conversations with references and other former colleagues.
In addition to her experiences in organizational leadership, education, and workforce development, Catie will bring to this work a solid understanding of—and shared commitment to—Big Picture Philadelphia’s vision and goals for its students and the city as a whole. She is a smart, hardworking, and strategic leader and manager who is ready to hit the ground running.
We are very grateful to the Search Committee and Big Picture Philadelphia staff and school leaders who were so generous with their time and insights in meeting with the candidates and providing their feedback. And, of course, our debt to David Bromley—for building this amazing organization and supporting the board throughout the search process—is beyond measure.
Please join us in welcoming Catie. We look forward to keeping you informed about Big Picture Philadelphia’s accomplishments in the year to come!
We interview recent el Centro grad, Olivia Quinones - June 2021
INTERVIEW WITH OLIVIA QUINONES
Olivia is graduating this June and sat down with us to reflect on her time at el Centro.
1. What brought you to el Centro?
I love telling my story because it was like a roller coaster. What me brought me here is COVID hit, obviously. But even no matter what--even if COVID hadn’t hit--I was going to Charter High School for Architecture and Design, CHAD, and they were already talking about closing down. So I needed a second choice.
El Centro moved--they used to be around York-Dauphin and they moved up to the Frankford-Church Station area and that’s where I live. My sister graduated from el Centro and I was like, “You know what: it’s right around the corner, it’s virtual [right now] and I was like I might as well just do it.” It was one of the best decisions I made.
2. What internships did you do while at el Centro?
At first, I did the intro to healthcare that was organized by Temple University. I did it for a few weeks and graduated from that one and went on to another one, I think run by stepping Stone Scholars, the bioethics one. And I was in there for a few weeks and it was a two to three hour internship. I would have loved it maybe if it was in person, but it became virtual. Oh my goodness--already staring at a screen for three hours was like, “No, ma’am.” So I took it as maybe the health field is just not for me.
Because, I mean, we watch movies, shows for three hours straight and you can still have your interest. But it wasn’t interesting me at all so I was like, “it has to be the field. It’s not for me.”
And then the Spring trimester came along and they had the real estate internship with Long and Foster. That was always my dream--to do real estate and interior design. So I did that one--I absolutely loved it. And it was paid! That’s the best. You’re working toward something and you’re also getting paid and no matter what it’s good to have on your resume and get the experience. And I got to meet a lot of people--I’m going to be a young graduate. I’m only 17, but to get your real estate license you need to be 18. So they were like, “You can be an assistant.” But it was one of those things where I don’t want to sit around for a whole year and not do anything until you’re 18.
3. What are your plans for after you graduate?
I already committed to going to Bloomsburg University. I did the drive, it was about three and a half hours away, and I absolutely loved it. I’m fully committed and I’m going to major in education. I really want to do early childhood education. But I still want to do real estate on the side. Because that internship--I really loved it. I could tell nursing was not for me, but I fell in love with the real estate one.
Since I was little I’ve always thought about being a teacher because I’ve had really great teachers. Living in Florida, and even going to el Centro, I’ve had teachers that really impacted me. And I’ve also had teachers that--I just cried because I couldn’t understand and they weren’t too good at explaining. You can tell when a teacher’s just in it for the money or when a teacher’s really passionate and really love what they do. I’m going to be honest--that really impacted me a lot. It made me make a lot of decisions. So if I could help do that to have the same impact for little kiddos because they are a sponge--they’re absorbing everything. I want to impact stuff like that.
I remember my third grade and my fifth grade teachers--I love them. I texted them a couple of times and when I went out to Florida they were telling me to visit them and to meet their new students. Because they absolutely impacted me so much--they were such a big help. So if I could do that for other people why not?
They made me enjoy learning and made it memorable--the classroom environment. My teacher always told me some students don’t always need what’s in the plan book. They need the relationship and stuff like that. A lot of kids come to school as their getaway because they don’t have that at home. So if I could offer that, that would be a really great impact for me.
4. How has el Centro affected your decisions for after you graduate?
A lot of people say COVID had a negative impact, but, for me, it had the greatest impact. If it wasn’t for COVID, I would have never thought about el Centro. I probably would have done nursing because it was my mom in my ear.
But el Centro gave me that opportunity to have the internships and get into all of that and it was like, “Wow.” Because a lot of schools don’t offer that--I know a lot of schools don’t offer that because I have friends who go to other schools and my friends are like “What? Get me into that internship for real estate!”
My friends tell me, “I remember a point in time when you weren’t even going to school, Olivia. You’re aging really, really well.” And I’m like, “It’s the school.” It really helped me make that impact. I wouldn’t be anywhere that I am at now otherwise. I love the fact that they’re so flexible and understanding with certain students. There are students in my class who have babies already. People have to work. El Centro is very flexible and understanding. They always work with you, they do one-on-ones. It’s always awesome. I really vouch for that school. Even my sister, who graduated from [el Centro], she’s in college for behavioral health. She was saying to me, “I wonder if when the virtual stuff is all over maybe I could come and offer an internship on behavioral health.” You can tell that even when people leave--like both of my mentors went to el Centro--you can tell el Centro really impacted them. People want to come back and impact other people.
5. What tools or skills have you gained at el Centro that you will take with you?
The skills they have to offer are the real world learning skills. Stuff that you’re really going to need when you leave high school. Building a resume, what’s your plans after high school. What’s your interests. What’s credit. About financial aid plans. All of that. Other high schools don’t offer that.
I know it depends on what you major in, but, in my opinion, 80%, 90% of the kids don’t need y=mx+b and stuff like that. I feel like that’s all unnecessary. I feel like, in the schools I went to other than el Centro, everything after the eighth grade--I didn’t like it. School was useless. It wasn’t helpful for anything I needed to survive in the real world. And el Centro gives you that.
I grew up at a young age. I already had skills going into el Centro. I already had jobs, I already had resumes. But el Centro, they helped… They help you gain knowledge, they help you peek through, they help you grow, learn. I came in with the skills but they helped me make them stronger. I tweaked my resume more. I wrote different cover letters going into the internships. I have that down. I showed up with a bare face and they put make-up on. Or like the house was already built but they came in and interior decorated it...
I’m a firm believer that you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink it. El Centro already has such a good support system you have no choice but to succeed. Take it and run with it.
6. Are there any challenges you’ve had at el Centro that you’ve overcome and want to share?
I don’t know if there’s a challenge I’ve had. I get through it. But I think the math and the science class combined [is a challenge]. I feel as though they need it separate because every other day is the hard core classes and Tuesdays and Thursdays are the real world learning--and that’s awesome. I see so many posts that nobody taught their kids things like that when they were in high school. No one taught them credit. At el centro, you learn about credit in your math class, in internships, workshops. No one else does that.
7. If you had five minutes to tell someone who knew nothing about el Centro what it’s all about, what would you say?
El Centro is a college readiness, post-secondary readiness [school]. That’s a school that revolves around that. For a lot of people, they just want a high school diploma, but you’ve got to want something else other than a high school diploma. You’ve got to have a job, you’ve got to have something to help you maintain the lifestyle that you want. It’s a great support system. It’s a great atmosphere.
The support system as in, like if you have a job and you can’t come to certain classes. They will record the class and send it to you and set up one-on-ones. They know we all have different lives and are coming from different areas and they will support you through that. They make sure you are fully prepared and are understanding.
8. Any last thoughts?
It’s all what you make of it. At first, I was really, really nervous about college. But I’m like, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” My eighth grade teacher taught me that. If you go in with a cloudy mindset and a closed mindset, then that’s what your experience is going to be. But if you have an open mindset and be willing to try and do new things, then you’re probably going to have fun with it.
Vaux BPHS 9th Grader Mirror Evans-Leach talks about pandemic learning - May 2021
It was actually really good. The mock interviewer was really nice and she gave me some advice and, you know, she sent me an email about the job that she does and to see if I wanted to have it as a summer job.
For my experience, I was really nervous. I was so scared at first.
But, during the interview, she didn’t even know I was nervous because I was so calm and collected that she didn’t even notice that I was super nervous. I was freaking out--I thought I was going to be horrible. I was scared out of my mind.
I had a lot of practice with my Advisor, actually. He was going over with me the interview questions--well, not the exact interview questions but some interview questions that maybe she would ask me.
So I just, you know, thought about it as just between us and he was interviewing me instead of her and it made me feel so calm and collected. So I tried to compose myself and just be like, “Oh, don’t say the wrong things.” I started to feel like I was fumbling with my words. But she was like, “No, you didn’t fumble.”
She said I presented myself really well. I felt honored to hear her say those words. I really thought I did poorly--I was so scared. I thought I was going to fumble and mess up. But I did really well for my first interview. I was actually very proud of myself.
Next year, the internship I want to do will have something to do with authorism or journalism because I want to be an author. I like writing a lot. I’ve been writing, making stories and putting my creativity on paper or just type it down on the computer. I’ve been doing that for four years now.
That’s something I want to do as a job and actually help people who are aspiring writers come out of the closet and tell other people and have their stories read.
I want to go to college for creative writing. I express myself through writing a lot. I’m a really creative person. Everything I write or think about--if I have a good idea, I’ll watch a movie or TV show and not even ten minutes into the show I’ll already have an idea. My creativity literally just sparks like that--out of nowhere. That’s mainly why I like being a writer--I like putting my creativity onto paper for people to read and to enjoy. It’s an amazing feeling.
I don’t really show much of my writing to my teachers. I show my Advisor, though. When it comes to different types of projects, like in my English class, I always have to write essays. So I put a lot of my creativity into my essays.
I took drama for my first two terms. We actually did a podcast. The character I used for my podcast was the same exact character I used in my story.
5. Was there an unexpected question you were asked by the mock interviewer?
She had asked me where I see myself in ten years and that question threw me back. I didn’t know how to take this question. So I said in ten years I see myself having my own business--my own writing business--helping aspiring writers to get their voices heard… That’s my ten year goal.
Now, I feel more encouraged to do more and to do better than I already am doing. The word that she gave me--she gave me a lot of inspiring words and she was building my confidence up and all that. It just made me feel like a better person and I want to do more because of what she said. I want to be like the best, at the top. I already think I’m the best and at the top. But I want to do more than I’m doing now. So it really inspired me to hear her words and what she said to me. It was a phenomenal moment.
As class president, I don’t really know what to do most of the time. I have an idea to make a class t-shirt and a class hoodie for my graduating class. But when it comes to the students, I don’t always know how to interact with them. I don’t want them being like “oh, who’s this random girl”...
I feel like I’m doing a good job. I help people when they actually need my help. Whenever they come to me or say something about it then I help them out…
I want to run again next year. It threw me off when I won class president this year. I was at my Pop-Pop’s house when I got the email and I read it… and I ran into my Pop-Pop’s room. I was like, “Pop-pop--I’m president!”
I want to run again next year because I want to do more. Since I already won this year I’ll have a more likely chance of winning again next year…
My favorite memory from this last semester would definitely have to be yesterday. Yesterday was actually my first official time coming into the building. I’ve been at the school three times before but I’ve never been in the building. It was like, “Wow!”
Definitely, yesterday had to be my best memory and my favorite memory so far.
Mirror Evans-Leach, Class of 2024
Thank you, Mirror!
Volunteers and students participate in mock interviews - May 2021
El Centro and Vaux students win the top prize in a business pitch competition at UPenn - May 2021
Vaux Principal Shavonne McMillan named one of Philly's seven best principals - April 2021
Students from El Centro and Vaux are pitching business plans as part of their business internship - April 2021