A Fellowship year is not easy! We ask our Fellows to play a lot of different roles because we know they are skilled and hardworking professionals who can handle it. Below, Tiasia shares what it was like bringing her own experience into the many roles she was asked to play this year, and how that translated to working with students. Read her story below:
There is no question the work 12 PLUS does with the students in Philadelphia is challenging. Motivating a high school student to commit themselves to a college or career pathway requires tremendous fortitude and emotional energy. It is a seemingly daunting task for students, and for the Fellow advising them, it can be just as taxing. At Kensington Health Sciences Academy, the situations we encounter on a daily basis can be serious and heart wrenching, so it is imperative during a complex senior year that we allow students to deliberately take pride in their efforts and each other, no matter what path they take onto higher education.
By National Decision Day on May 1st, every student with a plan to attend college or enlist in the military will have had completed college and career applications, FAFSA, compared award letters, and finally, made a solid decision about where they are going next year. For students with less traditional pathways, this time can be less engaging. Four-year bound students at KHSA are surprisingly the most relaxed bunch of students I have ever encountered in my life. Most students committed to Community College of Philadelphia have just completed their placement exam and are now beginning to contemplate their decision to pursue college after realizing they will need at least one class to develop their academic skills to be college ready. There are two-year and four-year bound students who know exactly what they want to do. There are students who are pursuing vocational and technical programs to learn trade skills that will allow them to expand on their interest. Students pursuing special placement and job training programs are rarely acknowledged or celebrated. But, among all of these students are many who are still exploring whether these paths are ones that they should take, and those conversations are the ones that are most rewarding to me. 12 PLUS has grown to embrace the idea of laying out as many options as possible for all of our students, even those students who are categorized into groups who have committed. While diversity and inclusion are staples of the PLUS Center, students do not always feel motivated to speak to each other about their future plans and instead find solace in discussing teenage things such as how to crash the set of Creed at our local boxing gym. These initially unproductive conversations have turned into short lessons such as what our elevator pitch would look like to make the production team donate to our school and cause. I am someone who believes there is a lesson to be learned in everything we see and do. As Fellows, we are in a powerful position to be able to transform these seemingly unproductive discussions into lifelong tools that students can carry with them outside school doors.
I have taken my passion for exploring career possibilities and applied it directly to my work with students. If you ask most of our students who 12 PLUS is, they will describe us as friends, teachers, or reminders, but we are much more than that. We are academic advisors, confidants, educators, job developers, mentors, case managers, retention officers, and sometimes even workforce advisors. We bring together students from all walks of life to act on the common goal of becoming powerful community leaders, whether it be in college, military or the workforce. At 12 PLUS it is not just about where you are. Your success is not determined by just how far you have come, but also by where you are going. 12 PLUS understands that not all students want to pursue college. We also understand that it can be even more difficult to say that you do not want to pursue college confidently once you are already enrolled or in debt. It is our role to ask students the hard questions directly and indirectly, such as are you thinking big enough? Are you thinking long term? Yes, you want to be a cook at a restaurant because your dad is a Sous Chef, but have you ever considered owning your own restaurant?
I have learned through my Fellowship year that regardless of how many times I change my mind about which path to take myself, my passion remains the same: challenging and rewiring the way people view themselves, what they are capable of, and the world around them. While I used to be ashamed of my incapacity to stay focused on one concentration within sociology, I now take pride in my ability to relate to students across the career spectrum. In fact, I encourage students who feel as lost as I once did to follow the same steps I did. Ask questions; believe in your right to change your mind as you learn and experience more; act on what you don’t know; and be unapologetic in your strive to find your purpose. It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it in the end.