Philly teacher's effort to support Class of 2020 expands beyond her expectations

Cherri Gregg
May 29, 2020 - 12:36 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — When Philadelphia teacher Kelli Wyatt started a social media effort to celebrate high school seniors whose graduations and proms were sidelined by COVID-19, she had no idea it would grow as big as it did.

Wyatt created the Facebook group Adopt A High School Senior 2020 five weeks ago after people began posting their old graduation photos to cheer on the Class of 2020.

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“Does me posting my high school picture from 1993 support a high school graduate, or does it add salt to the wound?” she said. “After some discussion, I realized it was just salt, because they are dealing with things now.”

Philadelphia teacher Kelli Wyatt
Kelli Wyatt
With proms cancelled and graduations turned into virtual celebrations to comply with public health restrictions, high school seniors are left with fewer rewards for hard work. 

Also many of their parents are struggling with the financial repercussions of the pandemic.

Wyatt says she started the private Facebook group with 20 parents, who could nominate a senior to be “adopted” by a doting adult. 

“Adoption didn’t have to have a monetary component,” Wyatt said. ”We wanted people to adopt — to send a congratulatory or encouraging token to the seniors.”

From the first cohort of 25 senior adoptees, the effort has swelled to more than 700. The group now has more than 7,000 members who offer assistance or make requests for high schoolers they are willing to help. The benefactors get to know the students through methods such as video nominations, and they choose how to show the young people random acts of kindness.

“It could be an email. It could be a gift card. Could be a cash app,” Wyatt said.

Since the group’s early days, those acts of kindness have expanded to include mentorship, networking connections and other resources to help prepare graduating seniors for college or the workforce.

“We’ve held virtual scholarship sessions,” Wyatt said, naming an example.

So far the Facebook group has raised $25,000 for scholarships and, more is rolling in with 100% going to help the seniors pay for books and other items they’ll need after graduation.

And the return on that investment, the benefactors say, is priceless.

Melissa Leslie, an adoptee from the 'Adopt A High School Senior' Facebook group, says thank you in a video.
Adopt A High School Senior 2020
Members who adopted Melissa Leslie, a senior graduating from Mastery Shoemaker, sent her items listed on her college registry.

“Thank you so much for accepting me on the site,” Leslie said in a video she posted to the group.

“This site is something that is needed around the world. I am not sure how Kelli Wyatt started this, but it really is something special.”

Wyatt, a mother of two teenage sons herself, one in 8th grade and one in 10th grade, predicts the needs of these students will continue, and so will she.

“We’ve created a village,” she said, “and we’re going to do what we can to keep it going.”