Teens, Venus Williams, fight slump in nat'l graduation rates

Having escaped the civil war in Liberia in the 90s, Bintu Sherif and her parents emigrated to Philadelphia to start anew. Since her arrival, Bintu has achieved amazing success academically and socially. Now, a senior at Motivation High School, she's an active member of the Philadelphia Futures Sponsor-A-Scholar Program, an organization she's been a part of since her freshman year.

A budding politician, Bintu was elected Senior Class President and was also inducted into the National Honor Society. If that isn't enough, the humble teen is also a participant in the Model United Nations, Dove, Drum Club and the Line Dancing Club.

Venus Williams reacts after working hard to beat Vera Dushevina in 2009.

David Buckholtz, a student at the Science Leadership Academy, works as an intern with the Urban Affairs Coalition in their Summer Career Exploration program which he credits for fostering a love for math, science and robotics.

David, who also is actively involved in the Partnership for Achieving Careers in Technology and Science program at the Franklin Institute, mentors youngsters in the Philadelphia public school system and is a Robotics Education Specialist/Coordinator for the LEGO League Robotics Club. He plans on studying Aerospace Engineering in college.

These two teens, exceptional in their own rights, will join 19 other students from across the United States to tackle the growing national crisis of lagging high school graduation rates.

As part of the inaugural Sun Life Rising Star National Summit in Miami, attendees will have the chance to network, share best practices and learn important tips about post-secondary education. Attendees will break into small groups to discuss issues such as college enrollment and declining graduation rates, rousing a call-to-action and carving out strategies for combating these obstacles.

Buckholtz and Sherif, and the respective nonprofits with which they are affiliated, LEAD, Urban Affairs Coalition and Philadelphia Futures, received $165,000 in grants and scholarships.

Famed tennis player Venus Williams is the keynote speaker for the event.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Water Department is accepting both drawings and videos for a student art competition ending Friday, Feb. 25.

Children at any public, private, or home school in Philadelphia can participate in one of two categories. Those who choose the drawing category must create an original work showing others how to protect Philadelphia’s hidden, underground streams. Those who choose the video category must create a 30-second film showing Philly Water’s Best Friend in action.

Philly Water’s Best Friend is a yet-to-be-named “spokesdog.” More than 80 spokesdog candidates are currently up for election at PhillyWatersheds.org.

“We thought students might enjoy making videos even more if they got to involve the family dog,” said Drew Brown, public education manager at the PWD.

“We’d like them to use their imaginations and encourage dog walkers to pick up their pets’ waste. That way it won’t pollute our waterways, such as the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers.”

Children who enter can win gift cards up to $100 in value. Teachers, meanwhile, will receive $25 gift cards for every student of theirs who wins. These and other prizes will be awarded at a ceremony following Earth Day in April.

The drawing category is open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The video category is open to those in sixth through 12th grade.

Please call Cheryl Jackson at (800) 445-4935, extension 112, to learn more about the Protect Philadelphia’s Hidden Streams Art Contest. Entry forms and additional details can be found at DelawareEstuary.org, the online home of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.