The South Philadelphia High counselor was recently recognized for her work with students
By Lindsey Nolen
When Emily Goodman was in high school, she remembers the hands-off approach and lack of academic and emotional support from her counselors. Hoping to change that mold, and since becoming South Philadelphia High School’s counselor, she has dedicated her work to becoming a stand-out mentor, ultimately earning her a “Teacher as a Hero” award this spring.
One of just 10 local teachers to have received the award that honors outstanding educators in the Delaware Valley, and which is sponsored by the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance, Goodman always knew she wanted to become involved in a career that allowed her to work with kids. Upon graduating Harriton High School, she took her first steps to fulfilling her goals by obtaining an undergraduate degree in human resources education and public policy from the University of Delaware, and later received her master’s degree in secondary school counseling from Villanova University.
“Initially I got a job where I was working in the mental health field and where I shadowed kids with special needs,” Goodman said. “Being put in a classroom really led me to wanting to be in a school setting. That’s why I chose to go to grad school for my master’s.”
After securing the necessary educational requirements, Goodman went on to intern at Germantown High School in 2008. There, she met Linda Singleton, then a counselor at the school, who immediately became her mentor.
“[Singleton] helped me figure out my own way and from my experience [at Germantown High School] I knew I wanted to be in an urban school setting where I could help underprivileged kids who didn’t have an opportunity unless someone brought it to them,” Goodman said. “Not long after my internship, a friend told me about an opening at a South Philadelphia middle school and I was immediately interested.”
After connecting with the then-principal, Otis Hackney, who now serves as the chief education officer for the Mayor’s Office, she was offered a was always her goal to return to counseling at the high school level, and in 2014, South Philadelphia High School principal Kimlime Chek-Taylor gave her that opportunity.
“High school always felt like home to me,” Goodman said. “It’s a job from the heart and I love it.”
Yet, right around the time Goodman made her transition to counseling high school students, South Philadelphia High School and the Edward W. Bok Technical High School merged, with all programs taught at South Philadelphia. Due to this transitional time in the two schools’ history, Goodman recalls there being a mix of students with issues ranging from graduation rate and secondary education goals to behavior and attendance.
“The student population wasn’t up and flourishing, so changing that became my №1 focus,” Goodman said. “I made my first priority to get the graduation rate up, since it was at less than 50 percent when I started.”
Goodman organized daily and weekly meetings with students, put together group activities such as trips and college and career readiness programs, as well as partnered with the competitive grant program of the U.S. Department of Education, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. In working with the GEAR UP program’s site coordinator, Tamika Jones, the two established parent meetings, guest speakers, enrichment programs at the Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University and offered credit profiling assistance.
“We aimed at taking the students through the whole high school to college readiness process, including SAT/ACT prep, because they had not had much continuum of that through their four years prior,” Goodman said. “I also thought to myself ‘What do these kids want that they cannot do because their circumstances won’t let them?’”
Goodman came to organize a series of new, high schooler-approved events. For example, she set out to throw a Prom Drive Tea Party, where more than 500 new and gently used prom dresses were donated, along with jewelry and accessories. The event also served as a lesson on manners, confidence and self-esteem to female students.
A countering event for the male student population, “Scholastic Swag,” featured a workshop on resume writing, professional attire and communication skills. Additionally, she has hosted a Dream Bar, where students set short- and long-term goals; a Male Symposium with guests from different careers and experiences; and a Commitment Ceremony where all incoming ninth graders signed a commitment pledge to graduate in four years.
“Before students would voice that they were overwhelmed with career or college options and that they were lacking the support they needed. They would even call or email the school after graduation asking for help,” Goodman, a Center City resident, said. “Now, they know they’re able to depend on me to help take care of them academically.”
Goodman, 35, has additionally built “incredible relationships” with them, and has ultimately helped the graduation rate rise to 70 percent her first year counseling at South Philadelphia High School, and now to roughly 88 percent.
“I always have their backs and do my absolute best to support them and find them opportunities,” Goodman said. “I’ve established myself in a way that there’s nothing these kids are afraid of to come talk to me about, and in addition to the students, I stress good relationships amongst families and the community.”
Moving forward, although Goodman has typically counseled two grades at a time, working with them from freshman year as they progress through senior year, beginning in this fall she will be the primary counselor for all grades. Despite an increased caseload due to budgetary constraints, she plans to continue doing her best to meet the needs of all South Philadelphia High School students.
“These kids are a part of the future of society, and we need to help make sure they will go on to do positive things in their lives,” Goodman said. “Normally my ‘thank you’ comes from seeing my students excel in their lives, but having received the ‘Teacher as a Hero’ award has been very surreal. In my occupation, public recognition is often uncharted territory, but it’s beautiful to be recognized.”