Life of a Fellow: Jenny

Jenny comes to us after graduating from Kenyon College. She’s been in Philly for a while now, working in multiple places across the city, including La Columbe coffee! We’re so excited to have her as part of our Penn Treaty team.

It’s that time of year that calls for list-making. We’re not far past the inevitably butter-stained schedule of when each dish goes into the oven on Thanksgiving day. There are advertisements everywhere telling you to make a holiday gift wish-list. Lists of New Year’s resolutions will soon be jotted down in diaries. At Penn Treaty High School, it is “To-Do List” time as well.

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I think I can speak for the whole Penn Treaty team when I say, we love lists. Around our workspace, you will find many things. Each of our three laptops will be open to the internet, with way too many tabs open to different college applications. Sometimes there are bags of microwave popcorn, popped as a pre-lunch snack, which students end up eating most of, each giving their two-cents about what level of butter or burnt they like their popcorn as they grab a handful. My beanie lays on the desk, the edges of it rolled up by one of our most fashionable students, who then placed it on my head just so, saying “Yeah, that’s the look.” But you will always find at least three lists, one for each team member. Sometimes our lists are in planners, or in a Google Doc. Sometimes they're just scribbled on a piece of scrap paper, just the right size to put in your back pocket to dash down to a classroom to check in with students about that one part of an application, or if they want to register to take the SAT again. They could contain reminders to seniors to finish their four-year college applications before Winter Break so that everyone can rest a little easier knowing one (huge) task is completed. Students are writing down reminders for themselves, as well, to bring in the information to complete their FAFSA. Sometimes, when we are cleaning up the Center at the end of the afternoon, I’ll collect a handful of finished To-Do lists and handwritten passes. The passes are twins of one another, all written in handwritten teacher-scrawl, each listing the name of a student who asked to come to the center, followed by “to 12+.” Sometimes, it isn’t until looking over these artifacts from the day that I can see, “Oh, that’s what we did today!” The day can feel like a blur, often. A fun, hectic, exciting, purposeful blur.

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There is something about these portable scrap paper to-do lists that feels emblematic of my time as a 12+ Fellow at Penn Treaty so far, and why I have loved it so much. As a team, Kat, Elise and I, are flexible, communicative, and check in often - both with one another, and with our students. I like that our to-do lists are in our pockets; that they tell us where in the school we need to go, and which students to reach out to. Fittingly, I see our little team as just a bit scrappy. We often work together to address challenges that arise, with the speed and quick communication of skilled soccer players moving a ball down the field. People talk a lot about teams, about the idea of “being a team,” but I think it is quite rare, and special, to actually feel like you are apart of one. At Penn Treaty, we are a team.

Recently, a junior who frequently stops by 12+  was chosen to be on the Student Advisory Board for the School District. She and one of our seniors were both nominated by our counselor to go to a meeting with many other district students to talk with the Superintendent, Dr. Hite about issues within their schools, and their perspectives on their own education. After the meeting, our student came by the Plus Center and told Kat, Elise, and I that she wanted to tell us all about it. Days passed where she only saw us in passing between classes, or just didn’t have time to tell us about her experience. Finally, she sat us all down, and told all three of us about how neat it was to meet other students; how smart and articulate the other students were; and how much she loves talking about issues and ideas and can’t wait for the next meeting.  After all of that, she said, “I wanted to tell all three of you when I had your undivided attention! It makes me happy how happy you guys are for me!”

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Attention - that’s it. When I’ve had a long day, and I can’t quite recall exactly what I did all day, that’s what I know I did. I gave people my attention. Most days are an accrual of small moments in this way. Listening to a student tell me about the latest chapter in the vampire book he is reading. Listening to someone’s new favorite song they play for me on YouTube, even when I have to crouch down to listen through the one earbud they are offering me. Listening to a student’s top three dream careers, and noticing when one career shifts in priority over the other that week.

This kind of attention has made my experience as a Fellow so gratifying. I think a huge part of my 12+ Penn Treaty site team’s success so far this year has come from how attentive we are to one another, how we can support one another, and how we can make each other laugh. Whether it be with my coworkers, or in any and all interactions with students, I have come to regard this kind of attention - kind, caring, open, thoughtful attention - as being one of the most valuable things we can give to one another.  

 The Penn Treaty team celebrating the completion of College Week.

The Penn Treaty team celebrating the completion of College Week.

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Life of a Fellow: Kat

Kat has been a vital member of our Penn Treaty team this year! She came to us with a degree in Education and Public Policy from Pennsylvania State University, where she also minored in Sociology and Political Science. No stranger to the Philadelphia education system, having worked at YouthBuild while an undergraduate student, she has fit in perfectly to the Penn Treaty community. Welcome, Kat!

 Kat color-coordinating with a student.

Kat color-coordinating with a student.

It is difficult to write this blog from my own perspective; without saying “we” instead of “I”. Nothing that has been accomplished at Penn Treaty so far this year has been because of me alone. It has been because of the work of our little Penn Treaty team, helpful school staff members, and, of course, the students.  I have been a part of many different teams in my life, but never one I’ve enjoyed as much as this.

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In October, we were able to test the effectiveness and creativity of our team by planning and carrying out College Week. What started as a lot of grand, abstract ideas was eventually streamlined into a week of events involving Penn Treaty staff, students, and other members of 12+. College Week consisted of events for all grades, but gave us an opportunity to work closely with seniors in particular. The senior class worked for over a week researching different colleges in preparation for the culminating event of College Week: the student-run college fair. On that Friday, the seniors set up their presentations throughout a designated hallway, and students from all grades came through to hear what the seniors had learned. Despite being drained from a full week of workshops and events, the energy of the senior class was infectious. They were fully invested in learning about their designated colleges, and even more willing to share that knowledge with their friends and peers at the fair.

 During college week, Seniors were able to attend a panel where teachers answered questions about their college experiences.

During college week, Seniors were able to attend a panel where teachers answered questions about their college experiences.

 Underclassmen crowd the hallway during the Senior-run college fair.

Underclassmen crowd the hallway during the Senior-run college fair.

I went into College Week with no expectations, hoping that students would enjoy it, but prepared to be ok if they weren’t super interested. I was pleased when students were engaged in our workshops, and were patient and kind in groups I was facilitating. However, I was not surprised. It would be unfair to say that I was impressed because these are all qualities I have seen in them all along. It is truly a beautiful thing when something you worked on is successful, especially when others find joy in it as well. Seeing the work of our team and of the students come to fruition over the course of the week solidified my belief in our Penn Treaty team, in the Penn Treaty students, and sparked a belief in myself that has sometimes faltered.

After the success of our College Week, I am motivated to plan and execute more events throughout the year, and I am confident in my ability to do so. I have to keep reminding myself that it is only November, and that there are so many more grand ideas to be had, and so much more joy to be shared.

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Life of a Fellow: Devon

Devon comes to us from Keene State College in New Hampshire where she studied Secondary Education, by way of Columbia, South Carolin where she worked as a City Year Corps Member. She is currently getting her masters in Urban Education from Temple University. We count ourselves blessed to have her on our Kensington Health Sciences Academy site team.

Last week, the New York Times published an article titled, “Trapped by the ‘Walmart of Heroin’” and profiled the neighborhood of Kensington in North Philadelphia where daily drug activity draws people from all over the country to its streets. Only a week before, the Times also published an article about a drug ring bust in Kensington, with the hopes of bringing an end to the organization that brought in more than $5 million in revenue a year at others expense. Every morning I take the bus directly into Kensington to go to work with my students at Kensington Health Sciences Academy.

 KHSA Freshmen RAISE Workshop

KHSA Freshmen RAISE Workshop

Kensington Health Science Academy students don't define themselves by the neighborhood. Contradictory to the despair that can be painted by police reports and news headlines, the students I work with crush any sense of hopelessness about the future of people who grew up here or live here now. When delivering RAISE workshops to freshman classes, students articulate the importance of continuing their education and not letting other factors, both in and out of school, distract them or interrupt their plans to graduate. We have anxious juniors who are preparing for their senior year by researching universities, scholarships, and prospective majors, both with our direct help or just our suggestions. Our most individualized work, advising seniors, has shown not a desire for financial gain from future careers but the ability to help others. Students have expressed plans for careers as nurses, preschool teachers, business owners, and dentists. Others who cannot pinpoint an exact career at this point in the school year know they want to do something that serves their community.

 Celebrating after the NACAC National College Fair at the Convention Center in Center City.

Celebrating after the NACAC National College Fair at the Convention Center in Center City.

Roughly two months into my 12+ Fellowship year, I am still balancing the views that Philadelphia residents, the Times pieces, and perhaps the entire country, have about the environment in this neighborhood and the environment students and staff at my school have been able to create. Does the impact of the local environment leak into my daily work? Yeah, sometimes. I am reminded of the generational impact that drug use can have when reading senior personal statements or when researching with students about their senior project profiling mental health issues. A student justified the rip in her jacket after an encounter with a drug user on the walk to school. I read news articles on the weekends and fear when an arrest or overdose mentioned will directly impact a student. Does it stop the trust in or impact of our work at 12+? No, never.

As their mentor and supporter in their day, it is my responsibility to encourage students to reject the labels that media wants to place on them that actively work against them. In fact, I consider an important component of my work to be helping them prove to others how far their lives and futures are from the headlines. Supporting and encouraging their academic and professional paths after leaving high school, and perhaps Kensington altogether, is the objective of my short term and long term work at 12+. Future headlines about this neighborhood will continue to be written, but instead about these students and their success.

 Parents, families, and friends at the Senior Pinning Ceremony where seniors and supporters pledged to make it to graduation!

Parents, families, and friends at the Senior Pinning Ceremony where seniors and supporters pledged to make it to graduation!

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