Fellow's Final Reflection: Danielle

This past year, Danielle did amazing work at Penn Treaty High School and formed close relationships with every one of her students. We are so proud of her transition to the Financial Aid department at University of the Arts and know she will work just as hard to take care of students there as she did at Penn Treaty. 

I had been living in Philly for about six months when I started at 12+, and working here has finally made me feel like I belong in Philly and that I could make a home here. When I began at 12+, I never expected to love the experience nearly as much as I did. The moment that I was offered a full-time job at the tailend of my Fellowship year just recently, my immediate and genuine first thought was that I would be able to return next year for Penn Treaty’s Career Day.

The community that I’ve been so lucky to have found myself woven into remains my absolute favorite element of my Fellowship year. The community that was built within the walls of the PLUS Center gives me a feeling that has no words. If I had to characterize it, I would say it made me feel warm and cozy. I could roll out of bed each morning and know that I’m about to enter a space that will uplift me and make me feel that I’m in the right place at the right time in my life. I’ve been able to learn so much about myself within the context of my Fellowship year, most of which was taught to me by the students that I work with. They’ve taught me to be confident in my decisions, to easily laugh at myself, and to be resilient when the world tries to tear you down.

 Danielle chaperoning a group of students to the 2018 Dollar Divas Conference at University of Pennsylvania. 

Danielle chaperoning a group of students to the 2018 Dollar Divas Conference at University of Pennsylvania. 

I think that the most important skill that I’ve learned from working with our students is that of patience. These students have more patience than I ever thought possible, and show it to themselves, their peers, and 12+ with such grace that it blows me away. They’ve taught me to show myself the same patience that I would show them or my peers, and to give myself that same level of respect and love I would convey to others as well. That is such an important life lesson, and one I wouldn’t have gained without getting to build relationships with these incredible people. I went into this year knowing that I had a lot to learn from them and a lot of ways to grow, but never expected to learn and flourish as much as I did.

I am thankful that 12+ exists for my own, selfish sake, but after spending a year in school alongside these students, I am more so thankful that 12+ exists at all. Unlike other work I’ve done in the realm of college access, 12+ genuinely assists and respects all paths a student could want. I am proud to be a part of such an open space that exists solely to serve the students in our neighborhoods, and provides them supports that would not exist without the PLUS Center. I am proud to know these students, and proud to know the school faculty that genuinely show so much care for them. I am proud to know my colleagues here, and I am generally just proud to work at this organizaiton.

There are a bunch of students whom I’ll never forget, and a few of them made that very intentional by giving me pictures of them so that I “would remember them”. They’d be impossible to forget, pictures or not. I’ll always reflect on the joy and growth that this group of students brought me, and I’d be lying if I said I won’t feel emotional when I’m no longer referred to as just “Miss”. I’ll miss their sass, their weird jokes, and their stories brimming with strength and heartache that they share. I’ll miss hearing about their first dates, seeing pictures of their dogs, and editing senior projects. I’ll miss being headed to the bathroom and hearing this one freshman call out to me, “Miss, are you cutting class?!” as well as the freshman who pretends not to like us, but always says he missed us whenever we’re out of the school for Professional Development. I’ll miss learning to dance from them and getting annihilated in chess by them. In fact, to keep this already long post short and readable, I’ll just say that there are few things that I won’t miss.

 Danielle and the Penn Treaty team during the 2018 18 12+ Mini-Olympics.

Danielle and the Penn Treaty team during the 2018 18 12+ Mini-Olympics.

I plan to take my Penn Treaty mug to my next job, and when life feels overwhelming or I feel like I’m incapable, remember all of these small and beautiful moments spent during my Fellowship year. I’ll remember my all time favorite compliment from a student when the world feels crushing and terrifying: “If I could have any personality in the world, I’d pick yours”. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Fellow's Final Reflection: Ingrid

This year, we had the pleasure of working with Ingrid and now we get the pleasure of reading her reflections on how her students will continue to encourage her as she finishes her degree from Chestnut Hill College. Good luck with all your papers and exams, Ingrid! After a year of working with you, we know you will do well. 

By the end of this summer I have to finish my Capstone paper for Graduate school. I cannot help but laugh when I remember that just a few short months ago I was assisting my students with their Senior Capstone. I remember how stressed and nervous they were.  

“Miss, I can’t do this!” I would respond with an encouraging, “Yes, you can.”

I offered the writing tips that worked for me when I was in high school and when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. I would tell them “pick a topic that excites you and do not begin to write until you have done your research.” But my personal favorite tip- create an outline. I remember just the word “outline” intimidated them.

“Miss, you want me to do what?”

I would say, “I want you to write an outline, trust me.”

With hesitation, they would question again, “write an outline?”

And I would respond, a little too enthusiastically,   “Yes, let’s go!!”

Some of the students would complain and delay the process by watching YouTube videos first while others got to it right away-  but all of them were so grateful they wrote one. Once they saw their topic on paper organized and broken down into detailed information, it made the idea of writing an eight-page research paper, a little (emphasis on little) less daunting for them.

Fast forward to today and now I am the student. I am the one who needs to write my Capstone in order to graduate. I find myself in their shoes, saying “I can’t do this!”. As I approach this monumental task, I think of my former students. I think of sitting next to them in the center telling them they can do it. I think of when I would say, “work hard now and it will pay off later.” I remember the days when we would sit long after school finished, writing page after page. I remember telling them about my high school senior research paper and them asking questions about both my high school and college experiences. I remember talking them through their fears and worries about not only finishing this project but also about the fear of the unknown after they graduate.


Now as I approach my 30-page paper, I hear their voices telling me “Miss, you can do this! Start with an outline”. And that’s exactly what I will do, I will start with an outline and reassure myself that I can do this. In moments where I doubt myself, in the moments where I want to quit I will remember my students. I will remember how they tackled something that they believed to be impossible. I will remember not only did they finish their capstone but they absolutely blew everyone’s mind away with their Capstone presentations. I will remember how proud of them I was when they finished.  Any fear or anxiety they had, they threw out the window and nailed it. I will remember in my moments of my frustration that if my students can do it, so can I. I will pull from their courage and strength because that’s exactly what they did for me this year- they gave me courage, strength and more than anything, confidence. Now it is my turn and I cannot wait to make them proud of me.

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Fellows' Final Reflections: Erin
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Site Director Ernest Tam and Fellow Erin Agnew on the first day in the Hill Freedman World Academy PLUS Center

After an amazing year at Hill Freedman World Academy, Erin is moving on to study Law at Temple University next year. We will miss her consistent preparation, unending humor, and huge smile. Thank you for all you did this year, Erin!


It takes a village to raise a child. It’s a phrase we learn in faith communities, parental advice books, and introductory sociology courses. And it’s a sentiment that grows truer and truer as the world be live in gets bigger, more networked, and more data driven with each passing year of developments. We talk a lot about family involvement at 12 PLUS. I have talked a lot about family involvement at every education-based job I have ever had. We talk about students as the center-focus of a team comprised of their families, their schools, us as their advisers and cheering section, and many other seen and unseen support mechanisms. We talk about reassuring parents that they are still the primary supporter of their child and that seeking and accepting help with navigating the postsecondary landscape does not undermine their wisdom and ability to guide their family. We talk about honesty in drawing from our personal experiences with the many tests and applications required to see students successfully through high school. We talk about carving ourselves a unique niche between teacher, counselor, friend, mentor, tutor, and consultant. This has left me with a clear but nuanced advising philosophy: we have to be vulnerable but tough to do right by our students and families. I’ve seen this philosophy work wonders. This year, students have assigned family honorifics to past and current 12 PLUS team members: Mom, Uncle, Grandma. Many of my advising cohort of seniors have punctuated my name in their phone contact list with strings of gleeful but barely interpretable emojis. Many of these students have shed solemn or sloppy tears behind the little table I’ve come to call my desk. Many more of them have rung the blue cowbell reserved for announcing college or training program acceptances - prompting jumps, cheers, and hugs from everyone in the room. We’ve developed these rituals of strategizing for success, regrouping from setbacks, and celebrating each step towards progress. I would  never elevate myself so much a to say I helped raise anyone’s child. But, this year, I became part of the village, and I consider that one of my greatest accomplishments to date.

Thinking about the levels of support students need and deserve to have in their villages illustrates just how much the character of postsecondary success has changed in our collective memory. There was a time in not so distant history when a high school diploma was sufficient to grant success. That education and a strong work ethic was enough to open the door to a job. That job likely offered consistent enough wages to live somewhere, buy some groceries, and support the incidentals of travel, evenings out and the other activities that make a life well rounded. A village could get you there. That village needed to include some family love, some teacher support, maybe some professional connections, and a few open doors. To pursue a college degree in that time, the village may need to expand to include a tutor or two, and some sundry employers to help a student save enough for tuition. Now, we are told we need another degree is necessary for that kind of stability. This degree often requires steep loans to pay it’s way (the metaphor I’ve come to use in advising is “taking a mortgage out on your brain”), and comes with the challenges of navigating the college life ecosystem of social, extracurricular, and work opportunities and pressures. Or we find one of the many incredible non-college pathways available; and it work for us. But we have to do the work of representing them as good pathways, and answer seemingly endless questions about why we’ve chosen to pursue something other than what is considered traditional. That is, assuming we are aware of these pathways, have the confidence to pursue them, and have the right vocabulary to get ourselves through the door in the first place. For this, the village must grow. The village that once needed only to have some family, a healthy community, and a handful of caring teachers in it must now include experts.


Hill Freedman's Team flag for the 2018 12+ Mini-Olympics

These experts become necessary, not because the parents and caring community members in a student’s village can’t navigate the systems of tests and applications, but because the system has sprouted up around them. The system changes every two or three years, and it takes a full time commitment to navigate it well enough to get students where they need to be with the supports they deserve. When my advising cohort’s parents entered our conversations with memories of their own college and career application processes, they largely remembered a system which no longer exists. Their student had new hurdles to clear - the SAT and ACT, setting up Common Application and Naviance profiles, adding profiles on Fastweb, ScholarshipOwl, CollegeGreenLight, and Raise.me if they planned to pursue external scholarship, procuring and tracking every College Board and NACAC Fee Waiver required to cover the cost of each application, entering tax information from two years ago into FAFSA and PHEAA, securing digitally sent transcripts (both current, midyear, and finalized end of year) and letters of recommendation for each application, following up on all requests for verification documents which colleges and programs invariably requested, taking placements tests, sending standardized test scores, and re-taking placement tests, enrolling in classes, and finding a useful and instructive way to spend each summer between classes. All of this demands to be navigated on stringent timelines, while students also upkeep pride-worthy grades and class performances.


Ernest and Erin on their last day in the Hill Freedman PLUS Center.

I have cherished every conversation I’ve had with parents this year. I’ve cherished them when they entered the conversation with documents, plans, and checklists. I’ve cherished them when they were run entirely through students’ worried text messages. I’ve cherished them when parents came into the PLUS Center wide-eyed with excitement and concern about the future. It is precious to share times of excitement and re-strategizing as a trusted member of a student’s team. It is empowering and intimidating to step into the role of expert on that family’s team. But, that is what 12 PLUS exists for. We are here for the planning, the hard work, the behind the scenes data tracking, the networking, the striving, the celebrating, and the following up. We are here to humbly offer ourselves as one more member of the village all working together to get the students Philadelphia has raised on to their next steps, goals, and dreams. And what an honor it has been to see so many students get there this year.

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