Philly Rising: Fairhill teacher changes students' lives by going beyond the curriculum

Carlos Aponte
Photo credit Courtesy of Carlos Aponte
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Carlos Aponte teaches history at an alternative high school in Fairhill, one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city. 

“We help graduate those students that the school district couldn’t.”

Aponte says his students are between ages 16-21, with some attending the school due to court orders. The born and raised Philadelphian overcame his own challenging upbringing, so it’s more than a job for him, it’s a calling. 

“I know that feeling of not thinking anyone cares about you and how devastating that is on the developmental mind. I just try to be that mentor, that positive role model that I wanted in my life and craved so badly.”

Aponte founded We Love Philly about two years ago. The nonprofit, which started as an after-school program, helps to build students’ confidence, relationships, and experience through acts of service. Aponte was motivated by the idea of getting students out of their neighborhoods and classrooms to show them more of Philadelphia and open their minds. 

“Let me get students off their block and let me put them around people who run nonprofits, they’re also angels, that will help their self esteem. If they go and volunteer and feed 200 people in one hour it taps into that instant gratification the generation is used to.”

The students are also gaining entrepreneurial skills to help them gain employment in the future through creating digital content for local nonprofits.

“It’s in our terms of service “please consider us if you ever have a job opening. We're doing all of this stuff for free, give us an opportunity to help build our resume.”

We Love Philly also host a podcast where students have an outlet to talk about their experiences, which helps them build social and emotional skills that they might otherwise miss out on. He also begins group meetings with meditation and journaling to encourage time of reflection for students.

Aponte says with COVID19 challenges, We Love Philly has pretty much become an around the clock job. 

“At the same time it’s been a blessing because I’ve been able to take the We Love Philly curriculum and make it completely digital. We went from being at one of our high school campuses to being at all four.” 

Next week, the group plans to clean up the Fairhill community all-day in order to help raise money for a bus to help transport students around the city for service projects. 

As many teachers know, in order to impact our students you have to give 110% from #sunrisetosunset . Our communities are no different---- Join us on August 29th with your time, treasure, or talent as we clean our community of Fairhill Philadelphia. Link in bio to donate and sign up. . . The goal is to raise 10,000 dollars for a We Love Philly Bus to help us in our mission to empower high school students with positive community experiences across the Philadelphia region. The bus will provide mobile educational workshops and will serve as a safer option for students to travel during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

A post shared by We Love Philly (@welovephilly) on Aug 8, 2020 at 8:16am PDT

So far the group has reached about 25% of their $10,000 goal. Next, Carlos wants to purchase a physical location to help teach students about investing and upkeep of property.

“I think that’s the future of education. Teachers are competing with social media and technology, and keeping attention. It has to happen in real time and real-life and real world connections. There’s nothing more real world than buying a property and fixing it up.”​