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At 18, Shania Bennett Turns College Opportunities into Stepping Stones

In April, clad in her power suit and professional high heels, Shania Bennett, 18, stood on the steps of Pennsylvania's Capitol building in Harrisburg and declared herself to the world.

"When I come here, I feel great," said Shania, who joined other students from Community College of Philadelphia in lobbying for improved funding for community colleges. At that time, she was a dual enrollment student, which meant she was taking college classes while finishing up high school classes at Girard Academic Music Program High School in Philadelphia.

"I feel like I belong here,” she said as she met with her state representatives and state senators in pursuit of increased funding for the state’s 14 community colleges.

She took what she learned to heart. On June 4, Shania was elected ward treasurer, perhaps the youngest in the city. In May, Shania won a committee person's seat in the 48th Ward's 12th District in South Philadelphia. Her election is part of a city-wide drive to bring fresh air and fresh effort into a city pressed hard by poverty.

"My mindset is that somebody has to do it and that somebody is me," said Shania, who grew up in a poverty-stricken area of South Philadelphia.

As young as she is, Shania's no stranger to politics. For two consecutive years, she has traveled to Harrisburg as part of the College's annual Lobby Day event. Specifically, the students shared their stories and their dreams. They also sought a $10.6 million increase in the state's appropriation to community colleges, with $1.4 million of that slated for Community College of Philadelphia.

The dual enrollment program at the College allows high school students to take classes at the College for free or deeply discounted. The College enrolled 655 high school students in the fall and 778 in the spring. Among them were six students from MaST Community Charter School in Northeast Philadelphia who earned their associate degrees in business before they received their high school diplomas and 121 ninth graders  from the Parkway Center City Middle College, which was in its inaugural year. By the time they are seniors, they will have earned an associate degree or certificate. Shania earned about 40 credits, with some of her college work also fulfilling high school requirements. 

Shania, who studied criminal justice courses at the College, followed in the footsteps of her brother, Juwan, who also took courses at the College while in high school. He's pursuing his doctorate's degree at Temple University.

Shania will attend Pennsylvania State University in the fall, coming in with enough college credits to allow her to graduate by the age of 20. She expects to be a lawyer within five years.

In the meantime, though, she and her classmates absorbed the lessons they learned on Lobby Day on April 10, as they traveled with Stephen Jones, an assistant English professor, and Gilberto Gonzalez, a designer in the marketing and government relations department. Jones and Gonzalez are co-presidents of the College’s faculty, staff and adjunct union, the American Federation of Teachers Local 2026, which co-sponsors the Lobby Day trip.