Life of a Fellow: Tiasia

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.

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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.

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Life of a Fellow: Ingrid

Ingrid shares with us her story of finding new moments to share with students that reframe er works as a 12+ Fellow. We are so grateful she chose to share this journey with us.

One of the most pivotal moments of the year for me had to be a moment I shared with a student in the month of March. At the beginning of the year, one of my projects was to coordinate Student of the Month for KHSA. If I am being honest, some months I struggle to get the winners posted in our Center on time. Requesting nominations from teachers and reviewing nominees for the Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior and Senior classes takes time, and some months it is challenging to get the nominations up by the 1st of the month. As tedious as the task may seem at times, I absolutely love seeing the winners’ faces light up when I tell them the good news. As winners, students are asked to answer some fun questions about themselves so that biographies could be shared on the bulletin board in our Center. This information then gets hung up next to their picture that stays up all month long in our Center. It is an opportunity for peers to celebrate each other and also get to know their peers.

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Last month, a student in my cohort of advisees won “Student of the Month” for the senior class. Upon telling her the news, I asked her to return the answers to her questionnaire to me as soon as she was able to. The following day, she gave me her responses. I have made it a practice to skim the student’s answers in front of them just in case I have a question about their handwriting. As I quickly looked at her paper, I noticed my name. The prompt was: “Name two people you admire.”

“Wait, you wrote me down as someone you admire?” I asked surprisingly, to which she responded, “Of course, Miss, because you make me feel like I can do anything, and if you went to college, so can I.”

At that moment, all I could muster was “You absolutely can go to college,” and gave her a hug. If you ask my family or friends, they would say it is hard to get a reaction out of me. I am not one to wear my heart on my sleeve, but that day on my way home, I cried. I was beyond humbled that a student would view me in such a light. More so, I realized that our positions as Fellows come with extraordinary responsibilities

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When I made the decision to join 12 PLUS, it was with the intention of supporting students with their post-secondary path and with the hope of forming relationships. I am not sure I really understood the gravity of our work. It is fair to say some days I question if I am doing anything right as a Fellow. I wonder if I am giving my best to our students. Some days I leave the center drained and any energy I have must go to my graduate school work, but regardless of my demands outside the center, I owe it to my students to give them the best of me.

On that day last month, I knew all my frustrations were worth it and all my doubts disappeared.

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Life of a Fellow: Meet Tiasia

We are so happy to share Tiasia's blog post this week!  Tiasia is a Philly native who comes to us by way of Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she majored in Sociology. We loved reading her reflections on transitioning from her previous job with Americorps to her position as a Fellow, and we hope you love it too!

As I near the end of my program, I think back to the ways in which my Fellow’s year has benefited me. More people should know about 12 PLUS and what it offers Fellows, as well as students. After doing a service year with Americorps, I wasn't sure if I was made the right decision by not returning. I was in search of an opportunity that would allow me to make a greater impact on the Philadelphia educational landscape than I had my previous year as a Junior High School Coach. After completing a long interview process, I had been offered a position to become a College Coach. As a College Coach, my caseload would increase tremendously, giving me an opportunity to touch point with many more students via phone and video calls. While preparing for my upcoming role, I reflected on what went well in my first year of service. What I enjoyed most about my role was working with students.

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I really enjoyed showing the Juniors how to build their first resumes and how to map out their college pathways. I even enjoyed facilitating writing labs. It was the one-on-one check-ins that allowed the relationships between my students and I to thrive. Then it hit me- it wasn't that I connected with as many students as I did that made me feel successful, but rather the way I connected with them. If I wanted to reach more people like me, it was best that I stick to the face-to-face interactions that I too preferred. I was not only interested in the outcomes of students in our program pursuing four-year universities, but for students interested in all pathways. That was the last sign I needed to rethink my decision to return. I turned down the position and began to explore opportunities that would give me a better perspective of what Philadelphia High School students in all grades were doing to prepare for their postsecondary goals. I’m not sure if I believe in fate, but that very same day, I was presented with an opportunity from 12 PLUS to be a Fellow and continue working within a high school every day, gaining direct access to students in every grade level.

 Tiasia and the KHSA team celebrate a successful freshmen RAISE workshop!

Tiasia and the KHSA team celebrate a successful freshmen RAISE workshop!

I appreciate 12 PLUS for its highly personal approach to learning. Working in the PLUS Center allows for the more frequent one-on-one check-ins that I wanted in my old position. If I can change a box in our spreadsheets from red to green, my day has been made. Green boxes in the tracker symbolize completed milestones such as completing the FAFSA or a program application. It’s about having empathy and support for every student, regardless of what direction they are headed. There are three staff members in the PLUS Center who come from a variety of different backgrounds. I believe this gives us an advantage in reaching every type of student that Kensington Health Sciences Academy has to offer. Almost any student can find solace in one of the three distinct personalities. This year I have learned that some of our most brilliant young leaders do not feel as though their greatest talents can be served in a college setting, so they seek other avenues to success. I love working with these students to explore the ways their interests translate into careers pathways because it is important that we continue to support all students and provide platforms for each of them to flourish.

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It has been rewarding to be able to help foster safe spaces where everyone who enters the room is just free to be. There is not a single doubt in my mind that I made the right decision by choosing to work for 12 PLUS. I learned different segments of the education and nonprofit sectors that will help me to best prepare for my next steps. From planning networking events to facilitating professional development trainings, this experience has given me the opportunity to think critically about my goals and strengths. The 12 PLUS fellows initiative is a rewarding opportunity because whether you are a student or a Fellow, 12 PLUS staff will go the distance to help you find your way.

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