The Union Academy’s future

Photo courtesy of YSC Academy

A few months ago, PSP readers asked intelligent, cogent questions about YSC Academy’s future.

Here is a speculative glimpse into it.


PSP imagines that once YSC Academy graduates reach mature success in their lifetime careers, they will generously support the school that gave them their starts.

We have directly observed that mentoring continues after diploma acquisition.

Head of School Nooha Ahmed-Lee and Director of Educational Technology, Admissions, and Operations Jim Pierce traveled earlier this spring to Southern New Hampshire University to evaluate its program offerings. They did so on behalf of Union and Steel players interested in pursuing further academic training via the internet, while simultaneously playing professional soccer.

One such interested young man commented directly that he was now bored without having classwork in addition to his demanding soccer schedule. He wanted to go back to school while playing, as do other recent graduates.

Ahmed-Lee’s efforts are not limited to her former students. She is helping a few other Union and Steel players remediate and advance their own sets of circumstances vis a vis academia. Such above-and-beyond giving tends to engender giving back, both directly and to wider communities.

The community spirit PSP has been privileged to see in the classroom building, both within the current student community and from recent alumni, reinforces the impression that future support of the school may be strong.

An excellent product for sale

The product that academy founder Richie Graham has developed will likely sell well in the educational marketplace. Its track record, while short, will impress soccer parents wanting to invest in their children’s futures academically and athletically.

College and career counselor Beverly Brooks tries to decipher not just any college fit for academy seniors, but the right one. A great player who hates math and science should not play for MIT.

The school is too small and too young to have begun systematically surveying its alumni. The only evidence available is anecdotal. But several vignettes consistently report outstanding success in time management while living independently at university.

Others delineate already-developed capacities to self-teach. From a student’s perspective, the demand for that skill is perhaps the single greatest academic difference between high school and college.

Other stories detail a hunger to improve the available soccer opportunities. YSC academy trains its students to be self-starting high achievers with both boots and brains.

In a decade and a half or so, the academy portion of the overall Philadelphia Union project should have become self-sustaining. The loyalty current and former students exhibit towards the school, its people, and each other ranks with that of the most prestigious Philadelphia-area college preparatory schools. Deft institutional advancement will turn the loyalty into general endowment, scholarship endowment, and operating capital, as it does in those older schools.

A necessary transition

How the school transitions away from the initial basic founding questions of existence towards a future more normally associated with independent school operation is the academy’s over-arching, immediate issue.

Other school personnel are supplementing and replacing the academy’s founder as its chief salesmen, quite necessarily as an initial personal gleam in the eye evolves into an ongoing, tangible institution. In financial terms donations from the few need to expand from donations by the more into the donations of the many.

A new theme

The current donation effort centers under the overall theme of improving life and opportunity in greater Philadelphia.

Philanthropists with such interests are being asked to note that YSC Academy improves life and opportunity for a smallish number of select individuals at a high rate of success. Scholarship aid to the school will allow students to subsequently earn scholarships to college, with the occasional statistical outlier signing a professional contract and continuing his education as a remote student.

The philanthropy being sought is not broadcast shotgun-style to wide numbers. It is individually targeted to maximize prospects for achievement in an environment with a growing track record of high success. There has been a lot of bang for the philanthropic buck, in other words.

In Ahmed-Lee, the Academy has one of the area’s cutting-edge leaders in nurturing “remote student” successes. While she is currently still exploring techniques, educational journals may see a paper on the subject in a few years.


  1. philsoc8 says:

    So the YSC Academy, which the Union touts as “their” academy, is looking for charitable support?

    This seems a little odd and somewhat newsworthy to me.

    • Richie Graham makes the case here why ‘we’ should give:

    • UnionGoal says:

      This was question I posed Tim last year after his series of excellent articles….namely how secure is academy budget if team has bad season and poor attendance…ticket sales.
      Didnt realize this year would be test of that.
      Surprised they didnt partner with local private school to defray some costs especially bc main line___you cant kick a soccer ball without hitting a private school or academy.
      Asking for charitable donations when charging $28k+ tuition to those not getting scholarships, aid, little odd.
      Without knowing qualifications of the particular students, I recall at least two are able to attend as it was compensation for their parent’s position on the Union, which then makes asking for charity to cover costs well even more odd. Perhaps fundraising at games or benefits with players would be more comfortable than asking for straight up contributions.
      Thanks, Tim.


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