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.
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.
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.