Our History
Our History

Philadelphia Academies, Inc.

Is rooted in a desire to create equity and sustained transformation among Philadelphia’s most vulnerable populations in a time when to many, neither seemed possible.

The trick is not to give them something, but to help them find themselves. If I gave them anything,it was faith in their own potential.

— Charles Bowser 


It was the spring of 1968

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King unleashed violent protests around the country. Over the course of the following week, riots broke out in 125 cities nationwide. Philadelphia escaped some of the more violent protests but it was on the verge of massive civil unrest. Recognizing the need for immediate action, two business leaders convened a meeting between corporate leaders and community activists. The agenda: “What could businesses do that could make an immediate difference in Philadelphia’s poorest communities?”

An agreement was hammered out that would create an organization which would support neighborhood programs that attacked poverty. The Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition was created and tasked with the mission to seek solutions to community problems, implement needed change and provide support to ensure the ongoing success of programs and activities that address inherently complex and sensitive urban issues. Charles Bowser, Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia, was named to lead that organization.

Knowing that reaching young people and stemming the overwhelming high school dropout rate was essential for changing the environment of the city, and knowing that employers were having a difficult time finding entry-level employees while at the same time youth unemployment rates were skyrocketing, Charles turned his sights on education. He had the idea to bring businesses into schools, engaging both students and business partners in meaningful ways. He called these programs “Academies” because it sounded special, and he wanted the students to feel that they were part of something special. Charles called on Lee Everett, CEO of the Philadelphia Electric Company, and Albert Glassman, a principal of Thomas Edison High School, and worked together to open the Electrical Academy that fall.  Thus, Philadelphia Academies, Inc. was born.

Fifty years later

Charles’ “little project” has become known across the country as the Career Academy Model.   This thriving national model has been the focus of numerous research studies, and has spawned organizations and associations that support, study and implement academies across the country.

Since 1969, Philadelphia Academies has partnered with Philadelphia Schools and local businesses to transform students’ experiences through relevant career-connected learning that makes them ready for both college and career. Now, rooted in our founders’ principles, we look to the future and move to the next stage of organizational growth. We are excited to expand beyond just Career Academies to also provide career-connected learning through Work-Based Learning Strategies, Career Pathway Development, and Pre-Apprenticeship Bridge Programs, as well as Industry Organizing and 9th Grade Success Networks.

PAI: We’re Different

We are not a school.

As a nonprofit, we use our almost 50 years of programming expertise and best practices to support career-connected learning in our partner schools. Bringing together schools, industry, and higher education, we leverage our relationships and knowledge to transform learning so that young people are prepared for in-demand careers and/or post-secondary education upon graduating high school.