Junior Achievement

STEP for Success

Compelling Multi-year Value Proposition

High School graduation rates for the Public School Students of Philadelphia are dismal. College attendance rates are even more depressing. The future for students without twenty-first century skills and knowledge is grim. And sadly, a huge number of our city’s students don’t recognize what “college” is, have no familiarity with a college setting, and may not know adults who hold and value college degrees. Step for Success is a Junior Achievement Program (JA) is a “game changer” taking every third grade student on an inspiring structured college campus visit, exposing students to the reality and potential rewards of college, and training students at an early age to EXPECT to go to college. This expectation becomes a real goal.


This JA Program’s expected result is many more college bound students after high school. Surveys from the initial participants show 94% of teachers overwhelmingly felt it addressed student needs, while 100% of students reported they believed going to college should be their new goal.

The Step for Success premise is simple, and based on a recent series of national studies. If you train a child from an early age to anticipate and expect to go to college, they develop that vital “college bound” mindset. Step for Success was rolled out to approximately 3,500 third grade students in May of 2016. The student—and teacher—response was dramatic. One student said simply: “I think I’m going to like college a lot better than grade school. I’ve got to get there”.


Superintendent Hite has made creating a culture of aspiration—college aspiration—a highest priority for the District, and has personally gained the full accord of decision makers, the School Reform Commission and the internal bureaucracy. To achieve this college focus—literally a sense of “I am College Material” among students as early as possible as part of his acclaimed ActionPlan 3.0.

Why Did The School District Choose Ja As Its Partner?

Each year JA of Southeastern PA positively impacts the lives of over 26,000 students in Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, and Philadelphia counties, in 120 schools, and with 751 teachers! JA programs focus on “three pillars” … work readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship. Their record of success is outstanding. More than 20 city schools already have JA in place across multiple grades. This number will dramatically increase as Step for Success fulfills its goals.

Step launched in May 2016. During the 2016-2017 school year, the number of students engaged in Step will grow and reach every third grader in the District by June 2018. A formal evaluation follows in June 2019. Beginning with grade 4 in Fall 2016, JA will create a continuum pilot to reinforce students’ college aspirations. This will be incorporated in grades 5 and 6 in the following years using JA touchpoints at more than 20 schools.


  • Teach Grade 3 students what college is, and why it is important for their future
  • Have every Grade 3 student in the Philadelphia School District visit a college campus and learn about the college experience
  • Develop a “college bound” mindset in every child
  • Train students to believe college is an achievable goal
  • Sustain the “I am College Material” focus throughout elementary, middle and high school
  • Improve the region’s workplace readiness

Program Overview

An Anchor Goal of Action Plan 3.0 is refocusing curriculum and enrichment activities across the grades. This refocusing is “College Bound” … every student should envision themselves as college material, and should have access to the tools, support and incentives needed to achieve that goal. Imprinting students for college is the target, and Step for Success is the long-range launching pad, following the “steps” below:

  • Comprehensive Teacher Training. Step one is training the instructors to teach the students. This step was developed by leading educators for JA, and is mandatory at the Superintendent’s insistence for every third grade teacher. The process includes a dedicated peer session, scripted session guides and external learning opportunities. JA provides ALL teacher and classroom materials. Teachers are coached to embed a “college bound” mentality into across-discipline classroom lessons and assignments as frequently as possible. The college-bound momentum will continue to expand as students move into upper grades, with particular touchpoints for all students planned for grades seven and ten. These middle and high school teachers will also be trained to focus on college aspiration goals.
  • Two Dedicated Classroom Lessons. Step two is consecutive, interactive and engaging scripted 45-minute teacher-led sessions, designed to get students thinking “why college?”. JA provides personal “I am college material” portfolios and worksheets for each student. Corporate volunteers are welcome to participate in these important preparation sessions.
  • Experiential Learning. Third is the exciting and inspiring three to four-hour site visit to a local college campus, hosted and supervised by the corporate volunteers. Students learn about the possibilities and opportunities of college life, experiencing the dining hall, gym, dorms, and student center—at least four on-campus destinations. They engage in active discussion with college students, alumni and the corporate volunteers, and share an interactive lunch conversation. Throughout their visit the core message comes alive with a group rap, a team cheer, and a special “I Am College Material” t-shirt for each student to proudly wear and keep!
  • Reinforcing and Imprinting. As the fourth step, the classroom teachers lead an interactive debriefing activity in the classroom the following day to reinforce the college aspiration message. Corporate volunteers can also play a role in this vital sharing activity that imprints “I am college material” in each student’s mind.
  • Student Contract. Finally, as the fifth step, following the reinforcement lesson, students sign a contract—a pledge that says they will focus on being “College Bound”, and they each receive a take-home certificate. A copy of this contract will also be displayed in the JA School grades 4-6 classrooms.


The momentum and focus doesn’t stop here. The 20+ JA schools will serve as a continuum pilot group, with I Am College Material incorporated into other JA programs already in place in grades 4, 5 and 6. Equally important, continuing opportunities for corporate volunteer engagement are a key part. Volunteers visit the grade 4, 5 and/or 6 classrooms, sharing their personal stories—their education journeys—telling about obstacles they overcame, support they enjoyed, role models and mentors they found—how they got to college, and how it impacted their life. The volunteers will work together with the students in subsequent years to create motivational “I Am College Material” posters about the students’ goals and aspirations. Each 4-6 classroom will proudly display an “I Am College Material poster created for that classroom—constant reinforcement of this vital message. This continuum pilot will become part of the national JA model.

“The Highest Priority for the City of Philadelphia must be getting our students into colleges. The future work force, for a living wage, not just a subsistence wage, demands a higher level of education. This city’s success depends on them.”

-The Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael J. Nutter

Participant Comments

“We are thrilled. None of our students have ever been on a college campus before. What a difference this program makes.”

-Third Grade Homeroom Teacher, Shepperd Elementary

“I think I’m going to like college a lot better than grade school. I’ve got to get there”.

-Ramon, Grade 3, May 2016

Key Impacts

  • National, replicable model for improving students’ focus on college, especially students from poor socio-economic situations with limited exposure or role models
  • Successful model for increasing participation in higher education
  • More students from poor socio-economic situations actively going to college
  • Better-trained local workforce and future leadership

Opportunities For Employee Engagement

A group of schools from diverse socio-economic areas already in the JA continuum will be dedicated as “Sponsored by Corporation Name”. This sponsorship will offer multiple opportunities and calendar dates for employees to get involved in the program at one of “their” schools throughout the cycle. This is designed to accommodate both employees’ schedules and the sponsor’s engagement goals.

  • Participate in the two key lead-in activities at their school(s)
  • Serve as an on-site volunteer for the College Visit on the date of their choice
  • Participate in the debriefing activity that follows the that visit
  • Work as a liaison with their own local college alumni group or admissions office to set up a specific visit(s)
  • Share their personal stories and serve as role models throughout the Continuum Pilot
  • Maintain contact with the students in subsequent school years (4-6) to reinforce college aspiration

Opportunities For Sponsor Recognition

  • Corporate name and logo featured as Sponsor
  • Name and logo prominently displayed on all handouts and materials, including the T-shirts
  • Corporate name and logo with hyperlink, QR and social media icons featured on the JA website, Philadelphia School District website, College and University partner websites and in media releases