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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Fellow's Final Reflection: Ingrid

This year, we had the pleasure of working with Ingrid and now we get the pleasure of reading her reflections on how her students will continue to encourage her as she finishes her degree from Chestnut Hill College. Good luck with all your papers and exams, Ingrid! After a year of working with you, we know you will do well. 

By the end of this summer I have to finish my Capstone paper for Graduate school. I cannot help but laugh when I remember that just a few short months ago I was assisting my students with their Senior Capstone. I remember how stressed and nervous they were.  

“Miss, I can’t do this!” I would respond with an encouraging, “Yes, you can.”

I offered the writing tips that worked for me when I was in high school and when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. I would tell them “pick a topic that excites you and do not begin to write until you have done your research.” But my personal favorite tip- create an outline. I remember just the word “outline” intimidated them.

“Miss, you want me to do what?”

I would say, “I want you to write an outline, trust me.”

With hesitation, they would question again, “write an outline?”

And I would respond, a little too enthusiastically,   “Yes, let’s go!!”

Some of the students would complain and delay the process by watching YouTube videos first while others got to it right away-  but all of them were so grateful they wrote one. Once they saw their topic on paper organized and broken down into detailed information, it made the idea of writing an eight-page research paper, a little (emphasis on little) less daunting for them.

Fast forward to today and now I am the student. I am the one who needs to write my Capstone in order to graduate. I find myself in their shoes, saying “I can’t do this!”. As I approach this monumental task, I think of my former students. I think of sitting next to them in the center telling them they can do it. I think of when I would say, “work hard now and it will pay off later.” I remember the days when we would sit long after school finished, writing page after page. I remember telling them about my high school senior research paper and them asking questions about both my high school and college experiences. I remember talking them through their fears and worries about not only finishing this project but also about the fear of the unknown after they graduate.


Now as I approach my 30-page paper, I hear their voices telling me “Miss, you can do this! Start with an outline”. And that’s exactly what I will do, I will start with an outline and reassure myself that I can do this. In moments where I doubt myself, in the moments where I want to quit I will remember my students. I will remember how they tackled something that they believed to be impossible. I will remember not only did they finish their capstone but they absolutely blew everyone’s mind away with their Capstone presentations. I will remember how proud of them I was when they finished.  Any fear or anxiety they had, they threw out the window and nailed it. I will remember in my moments of my frustration that if my students can do it, so can I. I will pull from their courage and strength because that’s exactly what they did for me this year- they gave me courage, strength and more than anything, confidence. Now it is my turn and I cannot wait to make them proud of me.

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