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.