Brandywine Heights gives freshmen a taste of graduation success

Patriot photo by Alyssa Shields Brandywine freshman Samantha Evangelista presents her voucher that she will trade in, in three years, for her diploma when she graduates in 2017.
Patriot photo by Alyssa Shields Brandywine freshman Nadine Vandevender shakes Assistant Principal, Josh Ziatyk's hand during the mock graduation at Brandywine Heights High School on March 24.

Brandywine Heights High School freshmen walked across the stage and received their diplomas during a mock graduation ceremony on Monday.

Freshman Samantha Evangelista thought the mock graduation was a good experience for her and her classmates.

“I think it’s helpful for us actually, because you’re going to realize that we need to work harder in order to be on that stage and we need to go to school and do our studies and make sure that in order for us to have a career and going to college we need to work hard in school, so I thought it was a good idea,” she said. “It affected me by showing me my future plans and it affected me to be a better person in school, and work hard and keep doing what I’m doing.”

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This is the first year that the school has hosted a mock graduation and visits to colleges for the freshmen class, and High School Principal Heather Piperato hopes to make the event a tradition for all freshmen classes coming to the school.

“The main purpose is to get them thinking about what they want to do post high school and realize that the decisions they make today, even if it’s three and a half years before graduation, really affect their potential outcome in their success,” said Piperato. “So if even for five minutes they start to think, ‘I guess what I do right now really matters,’ then I think we will have had a successful time.”

Piperato hopes the students understand that this opportunity allows them to realize this will one day be a reality for them.

“I hope that they see that it’s an achievable thing,” she said. “By feeling it, and by sitting there, and by shaking our hands, they’ll say, ‘I do want that to happen one day.’ And if nothing else, even maybe the opposite say, ‘I know I can do it, I don’t want everybody else to have that and me not have that.’ Sometimes being able to taste graduation is a motivator for them to make good choices now.”

She stresses that the importance of freshmen receiving their diploma will open the door to a variety of possibilities after they graduate from high school.

“Some of them had experiences where their parents will tell them this is what it was like, or their siblings will say this is what it was like, some of them don’t though and I want to make sure they know exactly what it is that their goal is,” said the principal. “Even those who have had the experience of a parent saying this is what it’s like, as teenagers they don’t always listen to their parents, so maybe having gone through it they can picture themselves in that role and say it is achievable for me.”

Two important factors inspired the principal and administration to give students the chance to experience graduation and to visit different colleges.

“The inspiration for visiting colleges and their career choice was a program that was sponsored through the Berks Business Education Coalition and they gave us money to be able to do that,” said Piperato “So that was the start of it.”

The second inspiration came from a senior class a few years back who had a difficult time getting the graduation rehearsal.

“I had a senior class who did not do graduation rehearsal very well and we had to go through it two or three times and by the end of rehearsal, I knew every child’s name,” said Piperato. “And I thought to myself, if you just did this in ninth grade you would know all of their names by the time senior year came around.”

“Those kids, those seniors, that’s when it hits them, ‘Wow, tomorrow I’m graduating,’ when they go through rehearsal, that’s when it hits them, and I thought if that can have the impact on freshmen, three and a half years earlier, why not do it then,” she said.

“I hope that our freshmen start to think about it earlier and start to ask more questions,” said Piperato. “It’s apparent that they’re freshmen not seniors when we’re on those college campuses and they’re repeatedly asked, ‘Do you have any questions?’ and they don’t, and you wouldn’t expect them to because we have not laid that foundation. If we can have them start thinking about it now, then perhaps they’ll be more purposeful in the choices that they make in terms of the classes that they take and what other things they go to visit during the summer. I just hope to raise that natural inquisitiveness in the kids.”

Five universities welcomed the students to tour their campuses and ask questions about the opportunities at college. They included Kutztown University, Alvernia University, Albright, Reading Area Community College and Penn State Berks.

“I hope they start to realize what it takes to be admitted to college and also that they realize that there are many different kinds of colleges,” said Piperato. “So even if they can’t afford to get in, or they can’t academically get in to a certain college, that there are plenty of other opportunities for them to get an education.”

Brandywine freshman Christopher Unis thought it was good to “get a taste of what it’s going to be like in four years and inspire us to strive to make it to graduation. I learned that a lot of effort goes into graduation from the teachers and the principal and the rest of the staff to help make it as awesome as it can be.”

Unis, who visited Alvernia University, viewed the experience as if the tour were a possible choice of college he would attend.

“I think the college visits were good because it was a standard tour and we could look around as if we were going to the college to check for a tour, and we know that the colleges offer the tours now,” said Unis.

Like Evangelista, Unis appreciated the efforts of the faculty, and believes the activities of the day will help to prepare him for the future.

“I think it was a good experience to motivate us so that we strive to make it to graduation and so that we want to go to college, so we start looking at our options and know that there are options out there,” said Unis.