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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Life of a Fellow: Shay Columbus

A new Philadelphia transplant, Shay has recently joined our team after leaving her home town of Atlanta with a Bachelor’s degree in english from Columbus State University. We’re thrilled to have Shay as part of the Kensington Health Sciences Academy Site Team, and we hope she’s happy here in Philadelphia. She’s already started picking up some Philly slang.

Trust the Process.

 Shay and co-Fellow Devon (far right) works students during a workshop in Kensington Health Science’s PLUS Center.

Shay and co-Fellow Devon (far right) works students during a workshop in Kensington Health Science’s PLUS Center.

This mantra, although not a new concept, is known as the strategy for rebuilding Philadelphia’s NBA team, the 76ers. This was new information to me as I only recently moved to Philly, so I had to do my research and find out why I was hearing this phrase more frequently than I did back home. I enjoyed learning about how this motto has been pivotal to the success of the 76ers over the last several years, especially since it is one of the many mantras that I keep on reserve.

Prior to the last few years of my young adult life, “trusting the process,” was far too abstract for my liking. Admittedly, it still is scary to embrace because trusting the process involves being patient and living in the present. Nevertheless, I undoubtedly refer to the 76ers motto when talking to both students who are eager about the future and those who are struggling to determine their purpose in life.

Lunches in the PLUS center at KHSA have been an invaluable source of building rapport with students. Day by day, students have begun to show the many sides of themselves, which has encouraged me to be my true self with them. Recently, I had a great conversation with a group of freshmen, a classification that I can more than relate to at the moment. I am not a freshman in the primary sense of the word, but I am a freshman in my new role as a 12+ fellow. Our conversation began with us sharing random thoughts about transitioning into our respective new environments. I was not surprised to learn the group assumed high school would be a big, scary place because that’s how it’s mostly explained to us. Although the liveliness of city life feeds my soul, I was still nervous about relocating to Philadelphia where I wouldn’t know anyone. Fortunately, our new environment and the people we’ve met have alleviated any anxious feelings about being the new kids.

 Shay shows off her silly side with a bunch of KHSA students during lunch.

Shay shows off her silly side with a bunch of KHSA students during lunch.

Even though we’re only a month into the fall term, I have already started to figure out why 12Plus reaches new strides every year. One simple, yet essential reason is that we meet students where they are. We offer them a space driven by safety and respect to come ask questions, tells us stories, play games, and do classwork. I’m no longer searching for the answer as to why sophomore lunches are the most crowded. I don’t need to question why the seniors have already put so much faith in me to help them make important post-secondary plans. They trust us here at 12Plus. They trust me even though I don’t sound right when I say “jawn.” They trust the journey that we have begun to embark on together. I look forward to learning from them and growing with them.

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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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