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.


Life of a Fellow: Emma's Final Reflection


Life of a Fellow: Emma's Final Reflection

This week former Fellow Emma Thorp shares her thoughts about continuing the tradition of Cookie Monday this year as we continue our Summer Fellow's Final Reflections series. Emma will be continuing on at Penn Treaty High School this year as Site Director.

Cookie Monday

Scattered chocolate chips. Sugar cookie crumbs. A hollow, ceramic cow.

These images all add up to a constant that has comforted me during a year where I changed more than I thought I could. These last nine months have made me grow in ways I didn’t know I could grow. I learned to talk to people in ways I never knew existed. I have never asked questions better than I do right now, and I give people much more informative answers when they ask me questions. This year has altered both my perception of myself and the way I perceive my surroundings. But something that has both pushed and allowed me to stay calm in a constantly changing environment has been Cookie Mondays. This tradition, which was started by Fellow Jenn Thoman last year, was something that stood out to me last year when I was volunteering for 12+. I was impressed by Jenn’s dedication, and decided it was something I was ready to commit to. I am so glad I did.

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"I have learned that you have to ask for help to get it, and the same is true for extra cookies."

Every Sunday night I soothingly roll out three to four dozen soft dough balls and lay them out on two baking sheets. Every Monday I bring the resulting confections into the PLUS Center for students. That is constant. What changes is the students’ negotiation tactics for getting more than one cookie. I insist that everyone only take one treat to maximize the number of students that get cookies. The ways that students convince me to give them multiple cookies are silly but also impressive. One student used to come in multiple times every Monday claiming it had not been him in the Center earlier who had gotten a cookie, but his identical cousin or brother. Students often bargain with me, asking if they can have another cookie if they come back at the end of the day. I love hearing students fake groan when they pull out two cookies that are stuck together and facetiously say, “Oh no, Miss, I got two cookies, what am I going to do?” To a certain extent I want to encourage their enterprising spirit. A student taught me a phrase this year that has really stuck with me. She told me, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” I have learned that lesson time and time again while advocating for students. You can’t get a fee waiver or deposit deferral unless you call the admissions department and ask for it. I have found that if you are making very specific requests, and can justify why you deserve to be answered, people are often willing to give you what you want, whether it’s answers or extra grant money. It’s a lesson that I will transfer wherever I go after 12+, and a lesson I want students to learn as well. That’s why I let students return at the end of the day and have another cookie if there are any left. I have learned that you have to ask for help to get it, and the same is true for extra cookies. If you want it, you have to ask for it.

Another element of what makes me love Cookie Mondays is the way students react to seeing cookies in the Center.  The tradition of Cookie Monday is not a new one. As stated earlier, Jenn Thoman, a previous Fellow, started the tradition last year. I decided to continue the tradition after witnessing first hand how much students look forward to starting the week with a sweet treat. Their reactions have continued to be joyous and celebratory. One of the students I worked with closely came in and did not initially realize there were cookies in the Cookie Cow. When I told him to look inside the cow, he was so excited he did a dance when he opened the cookie jar and saw the treasure inside. I’ve given a student the recipe for the chocolate chip cookies I made because he often bakes for his family and wanted to share the same treats I made for him with his family.


I appreciate the students’ excitement but I don’t understand it. You would think that by June they would expect cookies every Monday. Yet most of them still act like every Monday is the first time there have ever been cookies in the PLUS Center, even though this tradition has been continuing for two years now. It’s these moments that make me so appreciative of this year with 12+. Our students are complex. They are innovative and they know how to negotiate. They like cookies and they will say what they have to to get more of them, but they will also say thank you while they walk away with a cookie in each hand.


Life of a Fellow: Selena's Final Reflection


Life of a Fellow: Selena's Final Reflection

This is the second post in our Summer Fellow's Final Reflections series in which Fellows look back at their year working with 12+ and share with us their feelings about this year. This week we hear from Selena, who is moving on to a research position at Penn after a successful year at Kensington Health Sciences Academy. 

*Names have been changed to protect the students’ privacy.*

On the very first day of school, I was introduced to B. On this first day, the KHSA team runs RAISE workshops for KHSA freshman students to prepare them for starting high school. In our workshops, we ask senior students to volunteer and give advice to freshman students. B, who volunteers to help with more school functions than any student I know, had volunteered to help out with our RAISE workshop. “As seniors, what advice would you have for our freshman?” we asked our senior volunteers. I still remember B’s advice to students: “You have to do you,” he said. He then told them about his own freshman year, remembering himself as someone who got in trouble at school often. He told them about how he had changed since freshman year, about how he had become more attentive and respectful in classes. B had already changed and grown immensely since his freshman year by the time I met him.  Throughout his senior year, I saw him grow and mature even more.

During the college application season in the fall semester, I got to know B better as we worked on his college applications together frequently. I learned about B’s dream of being a Civil Rights lawyer in Philadelphia. He specifically dreamed of defending victims of hate crimes. B also came to the Plus Center for other reasons, such as to tell us about the latest work he’d done for planning senior year events. Sometimes he would come in simply to talk about music or his latest dance routine with us.  We had, at times, more difficult advising conversations too: conversations about how to come to school on time; how to balance work and school obligations; how to navigate tense interactions with classmates and staff.

In the spring, I saw him deal with some of these difficult interactions. He came to ask for advice from us about how to handle these situations. He explained that he recognized that adults in his life might be able to provide guidance about these issues. I was so impressed when he remained composed when he was confronted with some of these situations. I could visibly see the difference from how he might have reacted at the beginning of the year.

In the spring, B wasn’t accepted to his first-choice school of Temple University. I was worried that B would lose hope, and I even felt like I had let him down. But, rather than be disheartened, I watched B become excited about the option of going to Community College of Philadelphia and transferring to a 4-year school. Although CCP is an amazing option for many of our students, it is sometimes difficult for them to choose the path of community college, especially when they see peers committing to 4-year schools. Rather than be disappointed with his path, however, B embraced this opportunity to attend CCP, and supported his peers who were choosing CCP as well.. Even when classmates mentioned that they had received acceptances from Temple, B congratulated them and cheered on his peers: “That’s so awesome, I’m really happy for you!” he told a classmate who had committed to Temple.

I wasn’t surprised when B soon became very proactive about attending CCP. He would come into the center and tell me that he had already scheduled his placement test and was setting up appointments with academic advisors. “Are you visiting CCP everyday or something?!?” I would ask jokingly. But truly I was so impressed with how he had dived right into this option of CCP.  One day, he told me that he had to make an appointment with an advisor to change his major. I lit up when he said which major he would be pursuing: Communications. As someone who majored in Communications in college, I was so happy when I heard this. All year I had thought that B would thrive in this field of study, and I’m so excited to see what he does with his degree.

Although much of my time working with B was related to academics, I learned much more about what it means to be an advisor from my interactions with B that didn’t focus on academics alone. Rather, I learned that being an advisor means understanding our students through and through. It means learning about their families, their friends, their work life, and their interests. Sometimes, being an advisor meant helping B with college applications, but sometimes it simply meant brainstorming ideas for B’s next pep rally dance routine. Other times it meant giving B advice about how to balance work and school, or about how to navigate peer interactions. And sometimes it meant that B gave me advice about what I should choose as my quote for the school yearbook, or what the other 12 Plus staff members and I should wear when we chaperone prom. It was in moments like these that B taught me what it meant to be an advisor: These times when parts of our students’ personalities and circumstances revealed themselves to us. These key details about their lives that an advisor needs to understand so that we can best support our students on a path that fits them and their dreams.  

Whenever I hang out with my friends and the topic of my work with 12+ comes up, they always ask about B. “How is B doing? What is B doing after graduating?” they ask me. When they say this, my heart always warms at the thought that B has people rooting for him that he doesn’t even know.  I feel even more proud when I think that I am one of the lucky people who did get to know him this year; one of the people who got to play a small part in his journey. As graduation day nears, I have this feeling towards all of my students. I know that they will all have a team of people cheering for them as they walk across the stage; a team of teachers, school administrators, family, and friends. I am so thankful that 12 Plus and KHSA allowed me to have a spot on our students’ team this year.


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