Lanayjah Turner began her senior year at South Philadelphia High School with a special goal: to leave the school an even better place than when she entered.
Janelle Harper, South Philadelphia High School’s community school coordinator, remembers when Lanayjah told her about her plans.
“She was so excited,” Harper said. “She told me she wanted this year to be all about being better. A better climate, better student activities, and more opportunities for students to have a say. She was so passionate about it. It was really inspiring.”
In pursuit of this goal, Lanayjah participated in several of the school’s community clothing giveaways throughout the year, including “Harper’s Bazaar,” a holiday event that provides students with clothing and presents for friends and family
Working with Harper and the school’s leadership, Turner also helped revitalize the “Ram Council,” the school’s student leadership committee. Through her work, the committee expanded to include representatives from each grade, and focused their work on creating more opportunities for student engagement and participation in school based decision making. She worked closely with the council to create goals for them to work towards throughout the year, such as fundraising for the senior trip, and worked with members of the student body to identify issues they could later discuss with the school leadership team.
With Turner’s help and a renewed structure and purpose the Ram Council raised enough money for the first senior class trip in seven years, cleaned out lockers on the second floor, and supported school events such as the Multicultural Fair.
“When I started as a freshman, I thought Southern was a good school, but I wanted it to be better,” Turner said. “After I met Janelle and started working with her, I realized I had to make the changes I wanted to see. And I needed my classmates to see that for themselves as well.”
The experience proved to be a learning opportunity for Turner as well.
“I realized that the more I participated and got involved, the more I enjoyed it,” she said. “I liked helping my friends and the other students, and it showed me what I want to be doing with my life.”
Turner will miss a lot about her high school, including her friends and the many activities she participated in. Most of all, she says, she’ll miss Harper.
“Miss Janelle is my inspiration, and she’s basically my best friend,” Turner said. “She has done so much for me and my friends.”
Lanayjah will study psychology at Community College of Philadelphia in the fall. After that she plans to pursue a graduate degree in psychology, and become a counselor for students and young adults.
On May 28, just prior to graduating, Turner was honored as one of 12 of this year’s Community School Award recipients. Community School Award winners are selected by each school’s Coordinator in honor of their work to support the Community Schools initiative.
“Lanayjah has enthusiasm that people are drawn to,” Harper said. “People see the work she does, and the love for it. That energy, it’s infectious! Students, and even teachers, want to be better because she is setting the tone.”
The Community Schools initiative is a collaboration between the School District of Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia, and community partners, and is central to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s vision for public education. Philadelphia currently has 17 designated Community Schools, where a Community School Coordinator supports added school-based programs and services for 10,000 students and their families and neighbors.