West Philly HS senior accepted to Harvard University

senior harvard
Paul Robeson High School principal Richard Gordon smiles with senior Alyssa Perren.
School District Of Philadelphia

Paul Robeson High School senior and West Philly native Alyssa Perren has made history by becoming the first student in the school’s history to become accepted into an Ivy League institution.

This announcement comes after the 17-year-old inspiring veterinarian first revealed to her local nonprofit ‘Work To Ride’ community that she was accepted to attend Harvard University this fall academic semester.

Perren, an active polo player, was once inspired to be a Paleontologist as early as pre-K amid her love for dinosaurs.

She later decided to pursue a career as a veterinarian after evaluating her preferences in work conditions long-term overall.

“I have a strong love for antimony. I really love bones. But I really have a strong love for animals that are living; versus those of the past. I prefer an office as opposed to being in the dust all day because I don’t like spiders,” Perren laughed.

The decision to choose Harvard University came after an unplanned trip to Massachusetts with her father opened her eyes to the limitless opportunities available.

After meeting with one of the university’s polo team staff members in Oct. 2022 to observe a simple practice, Perren was encouraged to apply for early fall admissions… and the rest is history.

But her journey did not come as a cakewalk, as she states the many challenges she faced that led up to this goal.

“One of the biggest challenges started before I even started into Robes’ (Paul Robeson High School’s) doors. I ended up doing online school for the last marking period of my 7th-grade year, which completely tarnished my grades,” Perren said. “I had made a switch in my life from living with one parent to living with another. I was too scared to go to public school that last quarter.”

After discovering online school wasn’t for her, Perren attended Martha Washington Academics Plus School in her 8th-grade year.

However, she did not instantly connect with her academic peers as she began to explore her choices in high schools to attend the following year.

“When it came down to high school selection time, I applied to magnet schools,” added Perren. “I applied to CAPA (High School For Creative & Performing Arts), SLA (Science Leadership Academy), Saul High School, and you have to have your safety school, so I did Parkway West High School.”

Perren says her school choices either waitlisted her or rejected her, except for Parkway West, despite her not wanting to attend there.

“I wanted to go somewhere that fits me,” she said. “My older cousin ended up going to Paul Robeson High School at the time, and my aunt set up a meeting with Mr. Gordon (the school’s principal).”

That meeting instantly created a connection that stuck with Perren and built a bond that she considers family surrounded by an environment that fueled her to excel.

After consistent years of thriving in the classroom, Perren had her mind set on attending Cornell or Princeton University to further her education.

But thanks to her father, a Work To Ride alum, Perren’s Massachusetts visit turned into an opportunity to not only watch Harvard University’s polo team practice but the perfect introduction to her future pathway.

Outside of her father, Perren credits a lot of her academic success to the efforts of Work to Ride and Paul Robeson High School principal Richard Gordon who helped her remain focused.

“It’s special to be a face in the media that little Black girls and little Black boys can look at and be like, ‘I want to do what she’s doing.’ To be able to put my foot in the door so that someone else later down the line can knock the door down makes me feel really good about what I’m doing,” she said.

Principal Gordon, who was elected Pennsylvania and NASSP National Principal of the Year, had nothing but great words to share about his student and her accomplishment.

“We know exactly how hard she’s worked. We know exactly all of the challenges she had to overcome to be in this position, and we’re proud of her for that,” Gordon stated. “We also know that Alyssa’s achievement represents all of the amazing work that’s been going on at (Paul) Robeson High School in the last 10 years.”

He adds despite being a school slated for permanent closure within the district, stories like Perren’s directly represent the hard work carried out consistently by many students in the City Of Brotherly Love.