El Centro Big Picture, SHIFT Capital, and Voyage Investments Partner to Create Forever Home for Education and Workforce Development for Philly’s Opportunity Youth

The two impact-driven real estate development firms joins forces to open a new hub for education and workforce development in Kensington.

SHIFT Capital, Voyage Investments, a Latino-owned real estate firm with Kensington roots, and El Centro Big Picture, one of Philadelphia’s first alternative high schools to serve students who had previously disconnected from school, officially opened the new home for El Centro High School’s new state-of-the art education and workforce development center at 3360 Frankford Avenue. The grand opening celebration on June 5th drew a large crowd of community members, teachers, and students.

El Centro is a non-traditional, alternative high school that provides students with a path to a diploma, certification in skilled trades, and career-track employment. El Centro serves Philly’s Opportunity Youth – young adults ages 16-21 who are disconnected from high school or post-secondary education, because traditional models of education have not worked for them.

As a member of the national Big Picture Learning network, El Centro centers students’ learning on their interests and passions, integrating career exploration and internships into their school curriculum, and creating a supportive and nurturing school environment focused on youth resilience and a restorative behavioral model.

After spending two years in the Sharswood neighborhood, El Centro is officially coming home to Kensington. At its new school, El Centro expects to serve 200 students annually, with the majority living in the Harrowgate-Kensington neighborhoods, and has set a goal that within three years 80% of students will graduate with both their high school diplomas and an industry credential. The most current data shows 54% of youth in 19134 did not have a high school diploma.

“El Centro Big Picture High School is moving back to Kensington because those are our roots. The Akan people of Ghana have a word, Sankofa, which means to look back to your past because it’s going to propel you forward. It doesn’t mean that you live in the past, but rather that your past is an intricate part of you that you learn from,” said Jacquelyn “Mama Jacquie” Tisdale, M.Ed., Principal, El Centro Big Picture High School. “We are excited to return home – and bring back with us the Big Picture model of education. This approach to learning centers young people’s passions and helps them turn those passions into sustainable careers.”

Since 2013, El Centro’s efforts have graduated 525 formerly disengaged young adults in Philadelphia with industry-specific skills and a professional network and has helped 10% of all Opportunity Youth in Philadelphia earn their high school diplomas. That’s roughly 3,000 Opportunity Youth supported by El Centro.

“El Centro has been in three different buildings since its opening in 2009. We need a place that can be a home for our young people – they’ve never had that in a school, many of our students have never even had that in their own families before,” said Tia Hall, Big Picture Philadelphia’s Executive Director. “By partnering on this project with SHIFT Capital, Big Picture Philadelphia is deepening our investment in our city’s most deserving youth as well as investing in our future as a community – as a workforce, as leaders, as a society.”

SHIFT and Voyage co-developed El Centro’s new home at 3360 Frankford Avenue, deepening their investment in and commitment to the Kensington community.

“As a Kensington-native, this project really hits home. SHIFT and Voyage are collaborating to activate a long-vacant building and working with an organization that will put it to an impactful use,” said Alex Robles, SHIFT’s Developer-in-Residence and co-founder of Voyage Investments. “We look forward to seeing El Centro create pathways for its students; many of whom come from low-income households. The curriculum offered at El Centro is much needed in urban communities, and we are excited to help bring it home to Kensington.”

“We are investing in a mission-critical school driving positive change in Kensington that is co-led by a mission-driven, Latino-owned impact developer and being completed by a construction team of 70% minority- and women-led contractors,” said Brian Murray, SHIFT’s Partner, CEO. “We’re also, and this is new to us for Kensington, working with the Small Change crowdfunding platform to provide opportunities for the Philly and Kensington communities to invest in El Centro’s new home.”

In most neighborhoods, community members see development happening around them. Rarely getting the opportunity to invest in the development in their neighborhood. SHIFT and Voyage are changing that with the project at 3360 Frankford Avenue. The developers teamed up with Small Change to open access to community members to invest directly in the project.

Construction for phase one was completed in May 2024 and the school will be moving-in in September 2024 for the 2024-2025 school year. Construction for phase two will take place in Summer 2025.


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