Dr. Sean Vereen, President of Steppingstone Scholars, Inc.
Base Of Operations: Philadelphia, Pa. Why he is a Community Hero: Dr. Sean Vereen leads Steppingstone Scholars, a nonprofit that grooms underserved children in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas, beginning in elementary school up until their entry into college.
Dr. Sean Vereen serves as the president of Steppingstone Scholars, Inc., a Philadelphia-based organization that helps underserved students create pathways that will eventually lead to college. Dr. Vereen has held the position since the summer of 2012, and the nonprofit not only serves Philadelphia but the outlying city suburbs as well.
Dr. Vereen explains that his organization tries to provide opportunities to schoolchildren beginning at fourth grade, using what he explains is the “long view” approach. “We are working with talented kids who otherwise wouldn’t have great options of where to go to school,” explained Dr. Vereen about Steppingstone’s efforts. “And that’s both in the public schools and private, independent schools here in the region.” He continued, “We’re both trying to work with students to academically prepare them, but also work with families to navigate those choices.”
Dr. Vereen stated that Steppingstone serves 400 students moving from fourth to fifth grade, 300 kids between fifth and 12th grade, and 100 program students in college. Dr. Vereen explains the Steppingstone selection process in grander detail. “We identify kids in their fourth grade year, through nominations and recommendations from teachers and other community-based organizations and families. We interview those kids and we put them through a whole process and we select a class anywhere from 35 to 40 [students].”
Steppingstone then rolls those schoolchildren into what’s known as the “Academy 6 Program,” a six-week summer school session that prepares them for the rigors of the school year’s added workload. During the official school year, Steppingstone students are required to take certain classes on the weekends and the organization works with the families in trying to get the schoolchildren placed in the best area schools.
Steppingstone continues tracking the progress and promoting these core group of students all the way until seventh grade, where then they’re rolled into the “Step It Up” summer program all the way until 10th grade. From there, Steppingstone helps with college visits, selecting the right schools and other needs that may need addressing. Dr. Vereen looks at Steppingstone as a way for the students to go through their early schooling years and be entered into a “community of support,” recognizing that some children may be excellent students but lack certain opportunities.
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Steppingstone’s work is a fine example of educators investing in schoolchildren by bolstering their learning environment with the proper resources and preparing these children to shatter socioeconomic or academic ceilings placed over them due to unforeseen circumstances. But Steppingstone can’t do it alone, and it asks that those in the Philadelphia area lend their time in volunteering and tutoring students in the program. The organization also relies on the support of outside donors to provide the various resources and programs they provide. As Dr. Vereen said in closing, “A huge issue for us in this country is whether or not we’re going to invest in kids coming from middle and lower class background, kids of color. A big hallmark of our program is to push institutions and schools and families to invest in these kids.”