Today's blog post is from Emma, who is a Fellow at Penn Treaty this year. Emma has been in Philly since graduating from Bryn Mawr, where she was an English major, in 2014. Emma loves to travel, and has spent two summers teaching abroad in Italy! At Penn Treaty, Emma is carrying on the Cookie Mondays tradition established last year, bringing freshly baked cookies to the PLUS Center every Monday morning for students to enjoy.
Something I didn’t expect when I started working with 12+ was how much attention would be spent on the setup of the PLUS Center. I was surprised by the level of concern given to the placement of the desks or the arrangement of the couches. This was attention to detail on a level that I had not seen since childhood. Both of my parents are architects, and when I was a child, I remember being continually frustrated by how long it took to rearrange my bedroom or hang a picture due to my parents’ dedication to design. But since going to college and setting up my own dorm rooms and apartments, I’ve come to realize the importance of that precision. My time in the PLUS Center has driven that point home. Being intentional in room design is crucial to creating a safe and productive space for students. I talked to several students that spend a lot of time in the Center about how our space is set up. There was a general consensus that the PLUS Center is comfortable and spacious. “It’s really well spaced out. You don’t have to sit next to someone if you don’t want to. It’s never too crowded,” said Paige, who is in the PLUS Center every day during lunch. I was happy to hear that because often the PLUS Center functions like a three-ring circus. Just like at a circus in which multiple acts all contribute to entertaining the audience, different activities can be happening in different areas of the Center, but they all serve the same purpose: to be a productive and positive space for students. Our room will often have to serve multiple students with different needs at the same time. It was reassuring to hear Paige say that, even during lunch, when the PLUS Center transforms into a mini-cafeteria, she doesn’t feel cramped or crowded. Tyler, an underclassman who works on his personal writing project on our computers every day during lunch, told me that he prefers coming to the PLUS Center over the lunch room. “There’s a happy vibe in here. Everyone’s always smiling.” Creating a space where students can be productive is one of our primary goals, and it’s encouraging to see students use this space to work on both personal and academic projects.
Setting up our space so each student feels like they have enough room to work is pivotal in creating a productive space. I talked to one of our seniors, who is in the Center almost every day working on college applications. This student usually comes in during his work release, when seniors don’t have class and are allowed to leave school because they have completed the necessary credits to graduate. This is an opportune time for us to work one-on-one with seniors on their post-graduation plans, as the space is quieter then than it is during lunch. “It’s neat and organized. I like it when it’s empty in here. I can do more work when it’s isolated. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone but it’s true for me.” Providing students a quiet space to be productive is important in a school that has to deal with classroom overcrowding. Every teacher and staff member in this school is dedicated to making this building the best it can be for students, but because our specific goals are different than the teacher’s goals, our room looks different than their classrooms. When the PLUS Center was moved to its current location, the walls were painted a vibrant blue color. In addition to making the space feel bright and positive, this color also serves to make this space feel very different from the rest of the school. We have informational posters plastering the walls of the Center, in an effort to really grab students’ attention while still giving them information they need. We have couches and chessboards available, which make some students feel more at home. One member of the Class of 2017 loves our comfy couch corner. “You got to get more like those,” he told me. “You want to spend time in them.” We have lots of decorations in the room, such as college pennants and goofy memes we’ve made to promote our upcoming College Week. So far, it seems like students like them. Nicholas, one of Paige’s friends, agreed that the decorations in the Center make it an inviting and welcoming space. One of our seniors stated that our room has a “chill vibe.” It’s nice to know that our efforts in creating a good space for students are paying off.
At Penn Treaty, 12+ has been extremely fortunate to have been given a space in the school which has high ceilings, huge windows, and an extra room for workshops. Our space works perfectly for our purposes. We have only enhanced what we’ve been given with paint, posters, and furniture. However, the most important addition to the space is the students who come in and feel, like one junior, Yetzilee, has claimed, at home.