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
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
It's hard to believe a year has passed since we first launched Project: FLIGHT--an entire year full of memories and victories and incredible success stories that you made possible with your donations. It's often difficult to truly capture the impact of your contributions, but allow us to try by offering you this news: 100% of all Project: FLIGHT scholarship recipients remain ON TRACK to receive a college degree!
One such recipient is Stephen, a recent high school graduate and 12+ alumni, who just completed his first semester as a freshman at Penn State. His enrollment alone would not have been possible without the scholarship that you helped provide, not to mention the powerful motivation he found through your steadfast belief in him. Like many students coming from the Philadelphia public school system, his initial transition to college was bumpy. Right from the beginnning, he found it challenging to keep up with the daily rigors of a college education, especially having to start so far behind. Despite this, Stephen refused to give up. He believed he deserved to be there. With the help of the team at 12+, who kept in contact with Stephen after graduation, he was encouraged to look forward, offered useful tips like taking advantage of office hours, and directed to resources available to him on campus such as the student tutoring center. By the end of the semester, Stephen's grades dramatically improved, and now, he feels more confident than ever about accomplishing his goal of becoming a pharmacist. As our new class of seniors anxiously await for their acceptance letters, we are reminded of the class preceding them, the one responsible for the launch of Project: FLIGHT. Whether it's Elise, who just finished her first semester with a 3.72 GPA, or Yalissa, who finally believes she's found her home at Millersville University, and of course, Stephen, our future pharmacist, the message of Project: FLIGHT has endured long after our students traded their high school graduation caps for college ones: All our students can really fly. Thank you for your support of our work at 12+. We hope you will continue to partner with us and help us create another year full of amazing stories of flight. Warmly,The 12+ Team
The summer has passed and a new school year has begun. But before we go into full swing, we celebrate our amazing graduates from the class of 2013, sending them off to their respective colleges to bravely continue their post-secondary education. In turn, we also celebrate the collective effort of their teachers, administrators, family, 12+ team, and all of you who helped make their dreams possible.
Not only did your contributions lessen the burden of our students' tuitions, they helped remove the hidden barriers that prevent many of our students from continuing their education. Whether it was paying for an enrollment deposit, or subsidizing transportation to freshman orientation, or even purchasing books for fall semester, your scholarships sent a powerful message to our students that they are not alone in this journey and that nothing will stop them from obtaining a quality education.
Take Elise for example. Once a student who often skipped school and felt disengaged in class, Elise finished her senior year without missing a single day. Today, she is enrolled at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania studying to become a nurse, looking forward to her future. However, if not for the scholarship she received from Project: FLIGHT she may not have been able to fill the gap in her tuition and financial aid, much less pay for the books and supplies that are needed as a freshman student. Thanks to you, these barriers have not stopped Elise from pursuing her goals.
This year, we have the privilege of launching our 2ND PLUS CENTER at Penn Treaty High School and extending our reach to 400 new students! On TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24 between the hours of NOON to MIDNIGHT, we partner with GlobalGiving once more, along with Microsoft's Give For Youth, to RAISE FUNDS FOR OUR NEW CENTER. During that date and time, all donations will be MATCHED DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR, thus DOUBLING your impact! We hope you will join us once again on the 24th at http://www.giveforyouth.org/projects/morethanaroom and help make more stories like Elise's a reality.
As always, thank you for your generous contributions to Project: FLIGHT and your ongoing support. We couldn't do it without you.
Warmly, The 12+ Team
In just a few weeks, our seniors will proudly don their caps and gowns and cross the podium on graduation day with a high school diploma clutched in their hands. That diploma represents much more than the words printed on it. It's a symbol for our students' refusal to succumb to a world full of tremendous adversity; it's their powerful message that they firmly believe in the value of an education; and for many, it represents only the beginning of something truly great.
For the past six months you've joined them in their journey through your generous contributions to PROJECT: FLIGHT. Here's a glimpse of what we've accomplished together at our flagship school in Philadelphia:
As our seniors enjoy their final days in high school, many have already begun to look forward. One such student, Yalissa, captures it best in the personal statement she submitted for college:
"I am confident now more than ever that I am ready to conquer anything that comes my way. I have dreams and ambitions and I look forward to making them become a reality. I believe in the need for a good foundation in order to construct a strong house that will stand no matter how big the storm...Going to college means taking the next step in building that house. I see college as an opportunity and with education comes success"
Defying all odds, Yalissa, along with her peers, will begin the next chapter of her life this Fall. Thank you for being a part of our students' remarkable success stories.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.