Life of a Fellow: Meet Elise


Life of a Fellow: Meet Elise

For our second Meet the Fellows blog post, we introduce Elise Lee. Elise, a New Jersey native, graduated form Tufts University with a Psychology degree in 2017. Since then, she has moved to Philadelphia and spent her time advocating for students, discovering new music and movies, and honing in on her chess skills. 


Lunches at Penn Treaty are remarkably lively. Students who are eager for their only break in the day express their excitement by participating in a series of games and activities. My first week at Penn Treaty was colored by these forty minutes, in which I learned that I am a fantastic chess player—a brilliant, hard-edged competitor of one of the most challenging puzzles ever created.


Or actually, I played against a couple of first-year boys who had just learned to play chess, and ended up beating them once or twice. Regardless, I developed a notorious identity worthy of competition, primarily with the freshman class. Truthfully, I had never thought that my hours of playing chess against a computer in the technology section of Costco would be useful. Yet, my days at Penn Treaty are filled with students coming to the PLUS Center to throw down the gauntlet. A common phrase is, “Miss! You versus me, today, at lunch!”


Despite such confidence in demanding a match, nearly every student I have played against has accepted both victory and loss with extreme grace. Nearly every game has ended with a handshake and the conclusion that it was a “good game”--give or take a couple cheeky jabs at the opponent’s strategies. Such sportsmanship is indicative of the culture of community established at Penn Treaty. Students are motivated by the precedents set by invested staff members who work tirelessly to provide positive learning environments. At Penn Treaty, it is not uncommon for staff members to contribute personal resources for their students. Many teachers have been known to provide proper business attire for students to wear on job interviews; to take home students’ empty backpacks that are in need of a wash; or to call each parent directly on their cell phones to personally notify them of their student’s performance.

It has been an absolute privilege to walk alongside the Penn Treaty team, as a member of 12Plus, and to learn from the incredible individuals that work at this school. Similarly to the ideals of Penn Treaty, relationship building is also upheld as the cornerstone of 12Plus.  I have been so grateful to have the opportunity to surround myself with humans who are capable of compassion and selflessness in order to build new relationships, and maintain preexisting ones. As the busy season of college applications encroaches upon Team Penn Treaty, I am looking forward to continually being humbled by these experiences, and hopefully, to continue being a feared competitor of chess!




Life of a Fellow: Meet Erin


Life of a Fellow: Meet Erin

Meet Erin Agnew, a recent graduate from George Washington University with an International Affairs and Human Services and Social Justice Degree, returning to Philadelphia from D.C. A history buff and Philadelphia lover, we are so happy to have her on our Hill Freedman team. Welcome, Erin! We are so excited to hear your thoughts on your first months at 12+!

Leaning into discomfort is hard. This is especially true for those of us in transition moments in life, whether it’s ninth graders beginning to navigate high school or seniors deciding what comes next. It’s also difficult for young professionals stepping into a year of working alongside both student cohorts and many more in between.

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The students at Hill Freedman World Academy are unqualifiedly brave. Because they are attending a magnet school, they had to apply to study here, opening themselves up to the risk of rejection and the challenges of acceptance. They travel each day to the upper border of Philadelphia, many finishing homework during their morning commutes. They carry with them not only heavy backpacks, but also the weight of knowing that they are in one the most rigorous high schools in the Philadelphia School District peers. Within that rigor is the expectation that their academic success in the International Baccalaureate program will link college credits to their high school graduation. As we reminded anxious classes of ninth graders, they have to make the choice each day to get to school, to do their best work, to manage distractions, and to self advocate when necessary. All these things that will frame their high school careers bring discomfort. This is equally true for our seniors. They are working on lengthy research papers, while many are also learning to write a thesis statement. They are applying to colleges and chasing dreams that, for many of them, they will be the first in their family to pursue.


The students I have met show endless courage in facing these overarching, big picture discomforts and challenges. In educator-speak, this is called ‘grit’. While working in preschool classrooms, high school enrollment, and curriculum development, I have been part of many trainings and discussions on developing grit to push students through milestones and challenges. But those students I've met through 12+ have grit, perseverance, and guts already. It's how they are still invested in their education and connecting with resources to help them figure out what comes next.


In one-on-one work with students, such as when reviewing SAT problems, homework, and essays, I hope to support them in bringing that big-picture grit and confidence into smaller schoolwork and personal interactions. Showing students the benefits of embracing a growth mindset is powerful. However, for learners who have carried the label of “smart kids” their whole lives, it can be difficult to hold on to grit when difficult academic concepts aren’t coming naturally. More than once, when reviewing a math problem or grammar rule with a student, I have seen them pause in a moment of self doubt. Rather than following my instinct and reminding them of the equation or sentence structure, I leaned into my own discomfort and simply reminded them that they had time to review their resources before finding and fixing a mistake; that not knowing right away means that they are approaching an opportunity to learn confidently, not a moment of failure. In each instance, students knew where to go to find what they needed, and developed not just a new academic connection, but a reminder of the courage they will always carry with them.


Life of a Fellow: Thu's Final Reflection


Life of a Fellow: Thu's Final Reflection

This is the final post in our Summer Fellow's Final Reflection series. Today we hear from Thu as she reflects on her year at Kensington Health Sciences. Thu will be staying on as Site Director at that school this year. 


When I commenced my Fellowship year at 12Plus, I was overwhelmingly excited to gain rewarding experiences from building meaningful relationships with my students. Undoubtedly, not a day passed by that I did not hear beautiful, inspiring comments from students about their goals and dreams and their valid thoughts and concerns that ignited my drive to empower and support them.

Each day, students would express their goals for their senior year and postsecondary future. It was especially meaningful to learn about why these goals were important to them.

“Miss, I want to be a businessman.”

“Why do you want to be a businessman?” I asked my student.

“My grandma works too hard in her restaurant. I help her and all but… I want to become a successful businessman and help her in the future so she can stop working.”

“Miss, I don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.”

“Miss, I want to go to college just like you did.”

“Miss, I want to prove to everyone that I can do big things.”

“Miss, I want to go to college.”

“Miss, I want to apply to as many scholarships as possible, as long as there are no essays.”

“Miss, I found a school that I’m really interested in applying to! Can you help me tomorrow?”

“Miss, I’m going to apply to be a 12+ Fellow like you and Miss Selena when I graduate college. Your job is really easy.”

“Miss, when I need help with my homework, can I come to the PLUS Center?”

“Miss, I’m going to come tomorrow, and I’m going to apply to two more colleges.”

“Miss, I’m still wearing this dog tag from Job Corps because it reminds me to always work hard and be someone.”

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From building individualized relationships with students, I was not only able to offer them full support and advisement, but I was also gifted with a sense of belonging at KHSA. This sense of belonging was conveyed through the students’ valid and silly thoughts.

“Miss, you’re my outlet.”

“Miss, stop laughing.”

“Miss, you’re crazy.”

“Miss, stop running. You’re going to trip again.”

“Miss, you’re too young to have a job.”

“Miss, where is my Buenos Dias?”

“Miss, you’re old. Don’t put your birthdate on the poster because everyone will find out your age.”

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Relationship building is the anchor of 12Plus, and it is one of the defining aspects that set us apart. I could not have imagined that building relationships would entail so much love, grace, and compassion. I have been honored to hear our students’ stories, witness an overwhelming amount of success, and learn and grow from our students.


Life of a Fellow: Sarah's Final Reflection


Life of a Fellow: Sarah's Final Reflection

This week in our Summer Fellows' Final Reflections series Sarah wrote a thank you note to all the wonderful people she worked with this year. arah is continuing working in education with her very own elementary school classroom! 

Traditionally speaking, this last blog post is where Fellows contribute their final thoughts and reflections of the year. I began mine in a similar fashion, but as I kept writing I found that I continued to use the phrase “thank you.” So instead of going over my year and my take aways in a linear fashion, I’m choosing to write a thank you note.

First and foremost, thank you seniors:

This year was yours, and I am so incredibly proud of the work you’ve put in, and the people you have become. In just a year I’ve seen you all grow, and you’ve changed me so profoundly as an educator. Thank you for inviting me into your lives and sharing some of the most exciting pieces with me. You are all going to find success, whatever paths you choose, and I cannot wait to see what you do with the world.


Thank you to my regulars:

To the small group of students who I have bonded so closely with over this school year: Having you spend a part of your day, every day, with me meant so much. Thank you for letting me be a part of your hardships and your high points. I am so incredibly proud of you and all of your work. You have made me feel appreciated, loved, and respected here at Hill Freedman. I am so happy I could make school feel a little more like home, and please know you did the same for me.

Thank you to the student body of Hill Freedman:

As a collective group, you have all made my passion for education root deeper and deeper. I have gotten to know nearly all of you in some capacity. I know your strengths and challenges, your likes and dislikes, and how to make you laugh. You have all taught me how to better reach students, how to be a more effective educator, and you all taught me in one way or another this year.

Thank you teachers & administration:

Thank you for your work, time, patience, and partnership. So much of what we do relies on support from you. You have helped 12+ thrive at Hill Freedman, and we are able to do our jobs better and support our students more effectively because of how you have worked with us.

Thank you Team HFWA:

Through and through we are truly a team. I got to experience the highest highs and lowest lows with you this year. All with an incredible amount of love and support along the way. Jesse and Ernest: in your own ways you have both taught me an incredible amount, you have kept me grounded, and most importantly you have worked with me to bring the magic of 12+ to Hill Freedman. I am so grateful for you two. Thank you for being my starfish.

And Finally: Thank you 12+:

The people within this organization are some of the brightest, hardest working people I’ve encountered. Each with their own set of strengths and talents that they bring to the table. I am so honored to have gotten to work with each and every one of you. Thank you. For perpetuating our mission, for bringing our students your smiles and knowledge, and for never ever backing down at the challenges that are sometimes thrown our way. Each of you embodies “Believe. Act. Inspire.” in some way each and every day. And you have all impacted not only our students, but also your coworkers this year.

I am so happy that I chose to work for 12+ this year. I have learned invaluable lessons that I will carry for years to come. I have learned so much about the School District of Philadelphia and the students we serve. As this school year comes to a close, and I look back fondly on the things I’ve accomplished, I also anticipate the next one to come. I am so thrilled to enter the School District of Philadelphia as an elementary level emotional support teacher and look forward to all of the opportunities that entails.


Life of a Fellow: Gabby's Final Reflection


Life of a Fellow: Gabby's Final Reflection

Today we continue our Summer Fellows' Final Reflection series. Former Fellow Gabby Nicholas shares her thoughts about how the PLUS Center changed this year. Gabby will be continuing advocating for students while living in Chicago. 

As our seniors count the days until graduation, it’s impossible not to reflect back on the year. We spent a full year with these students, advising, mentoring, and offering academic support. I’m reminded of the advising appointments, the SAT workshops, the financial aid forms, and the Center where everything happens.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking around our PLUS Center during the last few days of school, and as my eyes survey the room, I can’t help but smile. Every wall in the room is covered with something that either advertises, informs, or inspires.

This year, our team was extremely intentional in using the space to maximize student engagement. From posters advertising different post-secondary paths and upcoming campus tours to paper crafts and motivational notes made by students, our Center has no shortage of things to look at.

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From posters advertising different post-secondary paths and upcoming campus tours to paper crafts and motivational notes made by students, our Center has no shortage of things to look at.

These pieces of paper play into bigger themes at 12 Plus: consistency and collaboration. We are in our Center every day with our students, and they’ve come to recognize our presence as a constant within the school. The posters serve a similar purpose: students can rely on getting information from both us and the material we have scattered around the room. During lunch, it’s common to see students flipping through the scholarship binder, or checking the senior wall to find out which students applied for college/trade school.

Similar to a word search puzzle, our Center has information, but students have to take the initiative to find the material and read it.

Similar to a word search puzzle, our Center has information, but students have to take the initiative to find the material and read it.


In regards to collaboration, some of my favorite memories this year have been when we laid out crafting supplies on a table during lunch, and encouraged students to participate in the project. Around Thanksgiving, we made hand turkeys with our students. Before Winter Break, one of our sophomores taught everyone how to make paper snowflakes. Days after the project, students would come in with their friends and make them guess which craft was theirs.

The PLUS Center isn’t our space, it’s the students’.

Before moving to Philadelphia for my Fellowship, I was living in the small college town of Gainesville. I had never lived in a big city, worked in a school, or heard the word “jawn.” After this year, I can successfully say that I’ve become familiar with SEPTA, learned the ins and outs of our high school, and finally understood how to use “jawn” in a sentence. Those things aside, it’s been an incredible experience to hold such a unique role in our school and contribute to its mission of student success.


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