High schoolers learn the ropes of governing

High schoolers learn the ropes of governing
Charles Mostoller

If Mayor Nutter has yet to answer your gripes about potholes and unsalted roads, you had another politician to reach on Monday.

Donte Meares, a senior at Northeast Magnet High School, shadowed the mayor of Philadelphia as part of the 45th annual Lockheed Martin PAL Day, in which 18 high school students accompanied city officials on their daily routines.

Meares, 17, of Tacony, has spent 10 years in the Police Athletic League coaching hip-hop dancing and flag football.

“I love working with kids,” Meares said. “As mayor, I’d like to reach out to someone that has no one.”

Since 1947, thousands of Philadelphia youth, ages 6 to 18-years-old, have benefitted from the city’s PAL youth-empowerment programs.

John Cepparulo says he’s one of them. About seven years ago, his buddies invited him to play basketball, but since it was “like 4 degrees outside,” Cepparulo thought they were crazy. Then they introduced him to the Rizzo PAL.

“The streets of Philadelphia aren’t the best anymore,” Cepparulo said. “So when you go to PAL, everything is secure. You have a cop looking out for you and you have a bunch of friends there.”

A junior at Franklin Towne Charter, Cepparulo felt he hit the PAL Day lottery by being assigned to First Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross.

“My grandfather was a cop,” said Cepparulo, 17, of Port Richmond. “I love the police department and all they do.”

The mentored students took an oath of office as “Honorary Public Officials” during a ceremony at City Hall where PAL Day co-founder Sally Berlin, who passed away in 2014, was saluted by friends and former colleagues.

Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr supervised 16-year-old La’Shawn Kelly, a junior at Mastery Charter Lenfest.

“I always learn a lot from the students about what’s happening in their schools, with themselves, their brothers and sisters, their neighborhoods,” Shorr said. “If you’re in government or the nonprofit world, having this kind of connection keeps things pretty real for you.”

Tackling an afternoon full of meetings, Shorr and Kelly discussed summer internship possibilities, college preparatory work, and networking.

“Before I was in PAL, I don’t want to say I was in the streets, but I was getting into a little trouble,” said Kelly, of Cobbs Creek.

By getting involved with PAL’s double-dutch and basketball leagues, as well as the Positive Images Girls Mentoring Program, Kelly says, “all of the activities keep me busy inside,” away from trouble.

“I really think I changed.”