This summer, 12+ welcomed six new talented individuals to the team through the 2014-2015 Fellows Initiative. These Fellows are commissioned to implement workshops, to provide academic assistance, and to serve our students in the PLUS Centers of our partner schools, Kensington Health Sciences Academy and Penn Treaty School. Here, we document their stories.
Dustin, a Philly native and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, comes to 12 PLUS with a background in education consulting and college advising and a love of ramen and Game of Thrones. Dustin shares his insights about his time at Penn Treaty School.
We started our 9th grade RAISE workshop with a simple question. “If you were to live the rest of your life wearing a t-shirt with one word on it, what would that word be?” Responses ranged from “ACDC” and “Eagles” to “weird” and “trust,”
But when we asked Atiya, a student who was new to the class, she responded with “Autism.”
The word hung in the air for a second before Andrea, our site director, evenly asked further, “Why autism?”
“Because that’s who I am. Everything about my life is centered around it.”
A short dialog around personal identity vs. labels, of awareness vs. prejudgment followed, but because of limited time, the conversation was left very much open ended. Nevertheless, the room, which had been rowdy a second before her response, became hushed and attentive and transformed into a safe space for students to open up. I felt the atmosphere in the room shift, and the workshop organically evolved into something more than I thought it could be.
Perhaps the greatest misconception that I had was that as an educator, I was the one approaching students. I felt assured that I was the one coming with the answers. I, of course, made sure to be cautious towards having a messiah complex but I still felt somewhat self-important. However, Atiya and other students continuously chip away at that misplaced confidence. They challenge me when I see that as I take one step forward, they are taking a hundred steps to meet me. I see Atiya, Brittany, Michael, and so many of the students break through a layer of fear, of secrets, of battered self-confidence every time they speak up.
When students come for help, for them it’s very much a struggle to approach me. Eye contact made during casual conversations over food and football wanders when discussing their futures. Heads are held down. The loudest of students start to mumble. Still they diligently come back and sit before me. In workshops, students give jokes as answers to our serious questions, questions that make these students far too vulnerable in front of friends. At other times, students respond bravely to lighter inquiries as Atiya did.
Daily, there are also quietly powerful moments at Penn Treaty and in the PLUS Center: the first time that 9th graders have the courage to walk into the PLUS Center, morning greetings and handshakes from the shyest of students, workshop homework filled with real answers, and intimate and consoling discussions about home situations and broken relationships between students and fellows all dropping their guards. The courage and character students show at Penn Treaty gives me goosebumps. Sometimes it leaves me confused. With complexes and hardships that I will never be able to understand, the students constantly encourage and challenge me with their vulnerability.
Although there is little time to meditate upon what has been learned daily, I know that my perspective is becoming clearer and my future a bit hazier. I’m learning so much about the individuals and culture here at 12+ and Penn Treaty but I’m wondering now about how I’ll be at the end of this fellowship. I know I will have an enduring hunger to tackle my own demons as these students do each day, to push myself out of my box and overcome fears, but there is still so much more to process. It’s only been a bit over a month since the fellows started school at Penn Treaty and Kensington Health Sciences, but when we come together to discuss our experiences – some sad, some encouraging, most hilarious and candid – I feel as though there is an unspoken agreement that we will not end this school year unchanged. Just for now though, I don’t think any of us has figured out in what way exactly.
-Dustin, 12+ FLIGHT Fellow
Dear 12+ Supporter,
This summer, 12+ had the opportunity to see its fourth and fifth classes of graduating seniors. On beautiful sunny days in Philadelphia's Independence Seaport Museum, both Penn Treaty Secondary School and Kensington Health Sciences Academy witnessed their seniors proudly swing their graduation tassels from one side to another. This small gesture marked a monumental step in their lives.
While our project is titled "More Than A Room," 12+'s intention has never been to confine our lessons within the walls of a school. Our hope is to empower students within our schools so that they can impact the world. Graduation is a special time for us because we get to see our students begin this journey. As we send our seniors off, we at 12+ are proud to share that nearly 80% of our seniors are postsecondary bound. Studying in a school district that has undergone its share of troubles and defying the odds against them, our students have chosen to define their own futures.
On this day, our seniors showed their parents and loved ones their deepest gratitude for the support they've received throughout these past four years. They showed teachers that their endless hours of lesson planning, teaching, and counseling had not been in vain. They showed us at 12+ that students, when given the right motivation and direction, are capable of reaching new heights. As we share their stories with you, we hope to remind you that your generosity has played a major role in making all this possible.
While this day marked the end of one chapter, there will be many more in the years to come. We are grateful for your constant support, and we are excited for the adventures that the new school year has in store.
The 12+ Team
With another school year coming to a close, we cannot help but reflect on the indelible image of our seniors on graduation day marching across the stage to proudly accept their diplomas. That certificate, clutched tightly in their hands, encompasses so much more than the words incribed on it. It is a symbol of their indomitable spirit; it represents their refusal to allow their surroudings to interefere with their dreams. Take Yamaira for example, who grew up in a single parent household under difficult financial circumstances that forced her to frequenly move from home to home. In fact, she had to switch schools three times in the span of one year without warning, leaving her little choice than to pick up her things and quickly adjust to difficult, unfamiliar environments. In spite of all this, Yamaira graduated as valedictorian of her class, and in the Fall, she will begin her journey to become a physical therapist at Arcadia University.
The diplomas handed out on graduation -- while certainly beautiful keepsakes to cherish -- are more than just loosely wound pieces of parchment. Hidden within them are incredible, inspiring stories like Yamaira's, of students overcoming great adversity. Adversity certainly threw everything it had at them this past year. Students across Philadelphia returned from the summer to schools facing unprecedented budget cuts, leading to fewer teachers, less resources, and uncertain futures. Yet despite these obstacles, 12+ worked closely with the teachers and staff of our partner schools, who demonstrated an enduring commitment to educating and empowering our students. We are proud to announce that we have not just "gotten by" this year; we have lifted the level of student engagement and achievement to new heights.
We see this elevation all throughout our schools. We look to our graduating seniors at Penn Treaty -- PT's first ever senior class -- who will be attending universities ranging from Penn State to Temple. We look to our recent Achievement Day at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, when we honored our PLUS Leaders who demonstrated 12+'s core values of Believe, Act, and Inspire. There are exciting things happening here in Philadelphia and these are examples of just what is possible when we endeavor to make a difference, together.
To date, over 400 people all over the world have generously given to Project: FLIGHT to raise a staggering total of $34,093! With these donations, 12+ has served nearly 1000 students across schools in underserved communities in Philadelphia. We have funded scholarships and college visits, along with massive school-wide culture events and engaging after-school activities. We have supplied teams of dedicated 12+ Fellows to serve and address the daily individualized post-secondary, academic, and social needs of our students. We have helped improve the overall college enrollment rates at our partner schools from 11% to 75%. And finally, we have continued to build a positive culture within our partner schools that empowers each one of our students to fly.
We cannot thank you enough for all your support. Without you, none of this would be possible; and because of you, the diplomas our graduates will take to college will serve another purpose: to remind them that they are not alone in their journey.
Warm regards, The 12+ Team