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.
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.
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!”
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.