This is the fourth post in a six-part series, in which each Fellow looks back on their year in the PLUS Center and shares what they will take with them as they embark on their next ventures. Today we hear from former Fellow Ciara, who is returning to Kensington Health Sciences Academy as Site Director this year!

My Fellowship experience has changed me significantly. I have grown a lot as a person over the past year, not only professionally but also personally. I began the year excited to participate with an organization that had goals and missions aligned with my own beliefs.  New to Philadelphia (and Pennsylvania), I had a lot to learn very quickly. I wanted to start the year familiarized with Philadelphia School District policies and the way in which their students are treated (and feel treated). I set out in a manner that I was very used to; an organized, in-depth, dissection and analysis of the school district and how 12+ fit into it. There was only one problem: I was hired 5 days before the school year started! I did not have much time.  

This was the first time I needed to come to terms with the fact that my strategic, organized, or what some might call “rigid” approach was not going to fly in the KHSA PLUS Center. The first time I met with Christine Liang, 12+ Site Director at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, to discuss plans, goals, and challenges for the year, I expressed that my personal goal was to become more comfortable with less structure. After finishing my Masters degree I had been in school for a total of 17.5 years. I recognized that I had become comfortable in the role of a student but also grew accustomed to the structure provided by academia. Even though my Fellowship year would be spent in a high school, I recognized that the structure offered to students is a luxury not always afforded to school faculty, administrators, or partners.

Sure enough, within the first month I was asked to “fly by the seat of my pants,” whether that meant improvising a portion of a presentation I had not previously prepared, or walking a student through an Algebra 2 concept that was lodged too far into the back of my brain for me to remember. Sometimes substitute teachers sent a class of 20 to the PLUS Center at the last minute, which certainly required some spontaneity. It took several weeks before I even realized that day-by-day my panicky feelings subsided when I was asked to perform under unstructured environments.

It took even a few more weeks to realize that this new skill I had developed was bleeding into my life outside of 12+ and KHSA. I was suddenly  a “spontaneous friend” (relatively, of course). I have not jumped out of any airplanes on a whim, or hopped in my car to travel across the country. Instead, I’ve hosted parties that did not go as planned, and with just a few deep breaths, survived! I have been able to make plans closer to the last minute with ease, which my friends are thankful for. While I still haven’t given up my color-coded daily and monthly planner, thanks to my Fellowship year I know some things might change color, time, day, or month, and I’m okay with it!

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