Providing the Spark of Education
As students from all over Philadelphia settle into another year of reading, writing, and arithmetic, one former student has returned to help usher a new generation of students to college and beyond.
Tanisha Clanton, a former participant at our Honickman Learning Center Comcast Technology Labs (HLCCTL) and the first college graduate from our College Access Program (CAP), is a sterling example to the youngsters she now works with of what is possible with hard work and community support.
Tanisha – a 2012 graduate of Albright College – uses her art degree in her role as Art Specialist to spark the hopes of Philadelphia's future leaders, providing them with a glimpse of the promising future that awaits them.
In other words, she has the coolest job around. “I get to teach children to imagine,” she says with a huge smile.
Tanisha’s journey from student to teacher was not a smooth one, however; she and her family struggled with homelessness before they became one of the first families to move into our Rowan Homes residence in 2000. It would be the first of many challenging transitions in Tanisha’s life.
“It’s not every day you get your own home after staying in a shelter, so it was a big chance,” she remembers. “But I had to figure out how to get to school on the bus and everything like that.”
Tanisha’s first transition was by far the rockiest. The middle-schooler had “a lot of anger issues” that needed to be addressed, and her mother hoped a change of scenery would do the trick before her grades began to slip, which neither Tanisha nor her mother wanted to see happen.
“I am a smart person and I really take my education seriously,” she said. “And my mom would get upset if I didn’t do my work.”
A transfer to the Young Scholars Charter School led to a marked improvement in her behavior, and Tanisha credits the new social atmosphere and the school’s unwillingness to tolerate “nonsense” for the turnaround. The new academic environment also provided Tanisha with the room to explore her academic and personal interests, where she realized she wasn’t just a kid who liked to color, but was a budding artist.
Even at 10 years old, Tanisha would “take art very seriously”, so it came as little surprise to her family that she chose to attend Philadelphia’s Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD), a diverse, creative environment that fostered her artistic growth.
“I was enhancing my skills because I had no idea what I was doing,” she remembered with a laugh. She realized that she loved painting and hated sculpting, and that she was a people person who could find commonalities with nearly anyone.
She was also branching out in other ways, spending her non-school hours at the HLCCTL, eventually becoming a part of our Teen Program as a teacher’s assistant and taking advantage of the resources available through the Harold A. Honickman Entrepreneurial Program to start “Tanisha’s Spectacular Water Ice”, a stand she operated every season in Rittenhouse Square for three years.
Despite all of this energy and ambition, she initially didn’t want to go to college. She loved the structure that high school provided and worried what would happen once “everything [was] on [me]”. Tanisha initially decided to get a job to help her mother until a friend convinced her that “the best thing I could do to help my mother is to go to college”. So, with scholarships set up by Project HOME and our generous donors, Tanisha was able to get to college and stay there.
So another transition – this time to Albright College in 2008 – was in the offing. “When I first got there I was so nervous,” she said. Everything, it seemed, was a stressor: college roommates; cafeteria food; a fear of failure.
And now, a few months removed from accepting bachelor’s degree? “I miss school!” she said with a laugh. “You can either go with a positive attitude and come out with a positive outcome or go in with a negative attitude and watch everything crumble in front of you.”
That she was able to achieve the positive outcome seems to have inspired her younger siblings, as well; her brother, Leonard, is in his first semester at Bloomsburg University, and her 10th-grade sister, Latanya, is already eyeing schools in Colorado and Connecticut.
As for Tanisha, she is looking at graduate schools with the hope of enrolling next fall. But is she ready for yet another transition?
“I’ve mastered the art of adjustment,” she offers through a confident smile.