Life of a Fellow: Jesse

The school year is well on its way, and the Fellows are settling into the rhythm of the PLUS Center, which means our regular Life of a Fellow blog posts are back! We're so excited to introduce you to the 2016-2017 Class of Fellows. These individuals have dedicated the year to serving in our partners schools and developing relationships with students.  Follow along here as they share snippets from and reflections on their experiences in the PLUS Center. 

We're starting off with a post from Jesse! Jesse graduated from Oberlin College in May with a major in Law & Society.  As a Fellow at HFWA, he brings boundless energy and a deep interest in the inner workings of nonprofit organizations.  Outside of the PLUS Center, you might find him fostering his newfound passion for golf, or spending time with his family.  

I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia called Upper Dublin, and after my four years of college in Ohio, I knew that I wanted to come back home. My mom taught elementary school for the School District of Philadelphia when I was growing up, which influenced my future goals of going into education reform. So when I was looking into what I wanted my first job to be, 12+ made a lot of sense. I appreciate the opportunity that I have been given to see the Philadelphia public school system from within. I believe that this experience will make me a more effective leader later on in my life.

This year, Hill-Freedman World Academy (HFWA) relocated to a new building.  The move was interesting, to say the least. Less than a week before the school year was set to begin, teachers and staff were allowed into the building. Faculty rushed to set up their rooms while painters and mechanics finished up making the school presentable for students on the first day. Our PLUS Center did not even have furniture in it until the day before students came. Although I did not know many people in the school, we all were going through a time of transition. There was a feeling of uncertainty that we all shared.

Our organization’s mission is to change culture in schools, but what is cool about my experience this year is that we are helping to create it. This is a year of firsts at HFWA: it is the first year in the new school and it is the first year that there is a graduating senior class. The senior class is smaller than all of the other grades (there are just 38 seniors), but these students are trendsetters. They are a tight-knit community of motivated students, and it is our goal to see all of them graduate at the end of the year.

12+ talks about culture in schools a lot, but it is a difficult concept to really understand. I define culture as the metaphysical environment of a space. It consists of, among other things, past events shaping our expectations for the present and the future. When only one out of every ten students from a public Philadelphia high school goes on to graduate from a post-secondary institution, how are students supposed to expect success from themselves? That is why the strong counter-narrative that 12+ has brought into Penn Treaty and Kensington Health Sciences Academy is so important. But at HFWA there is not yet a narrative to counter. So Ernest, Sarah, and I (better known as #Ersasse) came into the year with high expectations for our students. It is important for the kids in grades below to see their older peers graduate and go on to create their own successful post-secondary paths. This will help future classes at HFWA to recognize that they too can reach graduation and continue their education beyond high school.

It is a good feeling to go to work excited each morning, and leave hungry for more the next day. It is good to know that the work you are doing is important. As I try to help my students find their own paths, mine is becoming clearer. They have already helped me learn about myself, and I know that there is so much room left for me to grow. I applied to 12+ because I wanted to embody this organization’s core values, and in striving to do so I have grown in many other ways as well. I guess that I can’t make any absolute statements about my experience just yet, but from where I am today I can say so far, so good.


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