Better Together: Our Partnership with the School District of Philadelphia

The first POBS expedition in 1993 included these students and teachers from Beeber Middle School as well as from three other schools in the SDP. (See History of POBS).

The Philadelphia Outward Bound School (POBS) began its partnership with the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) over 30 years ago when opening an Outward Bound school in Philadelphia went from being an idea to becoming a reality.  At the time, Outward Bound schools operated in the United States and around the world, but the question remained, “how can these experiences be brought to the School District of Philadelphia and Philadelphia youth?” Our founders had SDP students in mind as the impetus for starting a local Outward Bound school and that foundation has been fundamental to our partnership to this day. 

Both POBS and the SDP hold unwavering commitment to serving young people in safe and nurturing environments. We want them to see that they are needed to build positive school communities and contribute to the world around them, and understand they are capable of thriving in and out of school. Beyond that, there are particular strengths that contribute to the success of our partnership.

SDP and POBS are committed to serving the partnership. We exercise a collaborative mindset, recognizing we are greater than the sum of our parts, and can achieve greater success using our collective skills and expertise in the field of education. We believe in the value of experiential learning opportunities as an effective tool for personal and group development and know appropriate conditions for learning must exist for effective learning to occur. We are committed to providing opportunities for students and their peers to act on their learning for the greater benefit of the school community.

Students from Swenson Arts and Technology High School, a 9th Grade Academy School, pause for a scenic photo op on their five day expedition with POBS.

Together, we align goals and objectives, drawing a line through SDP strategies such as their Goals and Guardrails, the 9th Grade on Track initiative, and our Domains of Thriving model. We adapt to meet evolving student needs in an evolving world, informing each other’s practices to increase effectiveness in areas such as program focus and delivery, equity, investment, communications, evaluation, and participation.

Behind these efforts are PEOPLE. Countless numbers of dedicated and caring individuals from SDP and POBS have contributed to the success of this partnership at all levels, some for almost 25 years. Included from SDP are central office leadership staff, the Offices of Student Support Services, Postsecondary Readiness, School Climate and Culture among other offices and Network administrators. Collectively they support the foundation of the partnership, advocate to extend experiences throughout the district and guide strategic planning. They also directly participate in program experiences - their commitment is immeasurable.

Leaning In - the Office of School Climate and Culture staff connect and support each other while crossing the Team Beam.
"Now what?" Staff from the Office of Professional Learning debrief after their day with POBS and share thoughts on transference of their learning.
School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington meets Principal Crystal Edwards of W.D. Kelley and Assistant Principal, Alexis Agree with students from Edison High School’s 9th Grade Academy at their program day.

School-based educators and administrators deserve special mention here as the backbone to the partnership.  They are the glue, the champions in their schools who coordinate with POBS, students and families and serve as chaperones on single day and 5-day expedition trips — leaving their families, school, and day-to-day responsibilities behind for a week in the wilderness. Their involvement has made it possible to go from serving under 50 youth per year to serving almost 3,500 SDP students and staff each year. Our partnership would not be possible without their deep and consistent commitment. 

Through the decades, the partnership between SDP and POBS has evolved; enduring through challenge and change and flourishing with creativity, strong relationships, targeted program impact and expansion opportunities.

A few examples of our collaborative work to improve service and support of students and staff include:

  • Embracing opportunity and ability to provide more students with well-rounded, integrated, co-curricular educational experiences. Moving to the Discovery Center in 2018, POBS focused on increasing the number of single-day “Insight” programs serving more schools, students and educators in team-based, ground activities and challenge course climbing experiences.
  • Creating the 9th Grade Academy Peer Leadership Program (9GA), serving 8 schools in 2017, to address the unique needs of the middle school to high school transition.  Serving 25 schools in 2024, 9GA focuses attention on accelerating peer to peer and student to staff connections through Insight day and expedition program opportunities. The goal is to support students building meaningful relationships that positively impact their desire and willingness to attend school, serve as a peer support and develop skills that contribute to creating and maintaining a positive school culture.
  • Creating the Learning Network 11 Middle School Experience (LN11) and a Community of Practice; jointly working to secure support and external funding to deliver a program progression model, including Insight day and expedition programming for 326 middle school students and staff from 8 schools in North Philadelphia annually.
LN11 Community of Practice members prepare to tackle the Aerial Teams Challenge Course at the Discovery Center. L to R - Mary Beth Hays, Director Temple PHASeS (Philadelphia Healthy and Safe Schools), Kim Glodek, POBS Director of Education and Partnerships, Amelia Coleman-Brown, former Assistant Superintendent, LN11.
  • Promoting scholarship opportunities to middle and high school students who have engaged in their school-based programs  to enroll in longer, summer courses.
  • Utilizing research-based outcomes to improve program delivery, consistency and efficacy.
  • Extending programming to include school and Network-based educator programs and SDP office teams.  These have included 9GA teams, LN11 staff and its Community of Practice members, multi-year engagement with the SDP Offices of Prevention and Intervention; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Student Rights and Responsibilities, Professional Learning, Student Health Services   and the Office of School Climate and Culture, who have led the discussion for expanding staff learning opportunities, and prioritizing support for school-based climate staff.
Look Up! High above the ground, OSCC staff traverse the Lily Pads on the Aerial Teams Challenge Course.

Our goal is to be the best partner we can be - and we feel that in return.

We celebrate this extraordinary partnership, and look forward to our future. We are better together.

Enjoying the warmth of the fire - and keeping mosquitoes away - educators debrief the day and plan for the next on their 7-day canoe expedition with POBS.