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A Girl with Grit

Genesis Soto, a senior at Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School, believes that every student has a right to a quality education. Her own educational experiences have shown her that this isn’t always the case. Income and zip code do have an effect on education. Genesis is committed to making a change and wants to earn a college degree to empower herself, her younger siblings and her community.

Before she arrives to Dobbins each morning, Genesis is responsible for helping her four younger siblings get ready for the day, which includes making sure their homework is completed before dropping them off at school. Genesis explains there isn’t anyone at home pushing them to reach their full potential so she has taken on that role. “I always tell them that education will get you far in life,” she says. “Once you learn something, it can’t be taken away.”

At Dobbins, Genesis thrives. She is the only student in her class to maintain honor roll status for four consecutive years. Not only is she a part of the National Honor Society, she also leads the organization as its president. During graduation, Genesis will give the commencement speech as the class valedictorian.

Genesis’ drive and motivation extend beyond the classroom and into her community. She has organized fundraisers for the school’s basketball teams, participated in community service activities through her church and National Honor Society and is an active member of College Possible Philadelphia. An avid reader, Genesis organized a Philly Reading Coaches chapter at Dobbins, a program that pairs trained volunteers with young students to help build reading skills and motivation. Genesis even took initiative to compile the entirety of the school’s yearbook when the printing press fell through on short notice. On top of all of this, she also maintains a job in the food-service industry.

While Genesis’ ambition helped her succeed, she knew that, as the first in her family to attend college, she needed extra guidance during the application process. So when she learned about College Possible Philadelphia during her sophomore year, she knew she needed to sign up for the program. She credits her senior coach Tyler with providing the support needed to navigate the ups and downs of the college process. “Tyler has been key to me getting into college,” Genesis says. “He showed me how much he cares and made me want to push myself.”

For Tyler, the respect is mutual. “Genesis is remarkable,” he says. “She understands that she has not been given the same resources as other youth in Philadelphia, but she persists and demands success not only for herself, but also for her siblings, her peers and her community.”

In March 2019, Tyler nominated Genesis for The Jill Melmed-Buzzeo Award (JMB Award), which celebrates “girls with grit.” Recipients receive financial support, mentoring guidance, and attend intergenerational events and trainings. In May 2019, Genesis was selected to receive the 2019 JMB Award. Throughout the nomination process, she expressed how receiving the award would impact her future: “Not only would I get funding for school, I would also connect with another group of people who have the same drive and [who] want to motivate and inspire each other.” Gaining a female mentor was especially important to Genesis who said it would provide a new perspective and form of support [system] that she had never had before.

Reflecting on her educational journey, Genesis places great emphasis on the school she attended from kindergarten until the end of sixth grade, which she notes was in a mostly white neighborhood. “We were challenged every day,” she recounts. “That school really developed my work ethic and gave me a strong foundation for the future.”

When her family moved and she transferred schools, she immediately saw how income and area code affect the opportunities students receive in school. “When I transferred, I realized right away that the resources were different,” she remarks. Genesis says that she and her peers didn’t have access to the same sources of support she had been accustomed to, which was frustrating. “Even though I live in a poorer neighborhood, I should still get the same education as students in a wealthier neighborhood, especially if we are all in the same school district.”

The hardships and obstacles Genesis has overcome helped to shape her future plans at LaSalle University, where she will be attending as a freshman this fall. Genesis plans to major in accounting –stemming from her love of math.

After earning her degree, Genesis has plans to give back to the community. “I want to work in the School District of Philadelphia, or another school district, and help to balance budgets or bring internship [opportunities] to students at disadvantaged schools,” she says. “[Or] I might work in a community group that can bring opportunities and internships to schools with students who have lower-income levels and who don’t get the same quality of education. I would like to teach financial literacy to students in high school and help them navigate the things I didn’t know about and only know of because of College Possible. Money effects everyone’s life and so you should know how to manage your finances.”

Ambitious, motivated and driven, Genesis is intent on making a difference and becoming a leader. “I want to empower my community with my degree. I will be another voice for kids in the schools I attended and the neighborhoods that I grew up in. I’m fighting for them.”

Genesis had the opportunity to share some of her story during an interview with NBC10 Philadelphia.

By Ian Reitz

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