“What is a PLUS Leader?”
Often I hear students ask this, wondering what exactly a “PLUS Leader” is and what is the process of becoming one. Well, according to our programming description, a PLUS Leader is someone who internalizes our core values of Believe, Act, and Inspire through workshops, college visits, and service projects. They join a community of leaders on campus to assist their peers in the pursuit of postsecondary education and help cultivate college-going culture within the school community. But honestly, it’s so much more than that.
I don’t think my words can fully illustrate the impact of the PLUS Leader program, or describe just how much I love watching my students grow as individuals and as leaders. So here are some words from some of my recently graduated PLUS Leaders:
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a PLUS Leader would have to be: Never doubting what you feel. Never fearing who you are, and being content with the decisions you make. What being a PLUS Leader means to me would be that I know myself, I can create an impact on others and their decisions, keep them from being the wrong ones. It means having the courage, the heart, and confidence to know I can help whoever it is that needs a push forward. I can help others and I should do so with no shame. I want to pass on what it is I’ve learned from being a PLUS Leader to younger and fresher minds. I want to have the opportunity to let future PLUS Leaders know that they should embrace who they are and they have the potential to do so much more than they see around them. I want to be the person that brings out the best in them.” - VO; 11th grade
“The biggest lesson I have learned as a PLUS Leader is that anybody can be a leader. A leader is just a person that shows its best effort at something. Not only is it effort but willingness to try new things. To grow as a person and show a good example. To be a PLUS Leader is a challenging thing but a possible goal. As a PLUS Leader you see what really needs help and what is the most important weakness in someone. As a PLUS Leader I was able to know how I can help everyone because most people don’t let other people help them. A leader is not always an outstanding person but a person that never gives up. Also, someone that can get back on track when they fall off. As a PLUS Leader I was able to help myself grow as a leader in general… I want to show other people how to embrace their leadership. I want to show them what helped me to become a better leader. Also, I would tell all the next PLUS Leaders that 12+ is a perfect place to help you grow as a student and leader.” – JZ; 10th grade
As we get ready to interview and accept a new cohort for the Spring semester, I find that I can’t quite contain my excitement. As I look over this semester’s applicants I see determined and passionate students that want to make a difference in our community. I’ve seen some of them soar towards the top of their classes. I’ve seen some of them overcome academic obstacles. I see some of them with a drive to help others. There’s so much untapped potential within these students, they have yet to realize it, and throughout the semester, I have the opportunity to watch them grow through working with them in our workshops and personally, through building relationships. Over a period of a semester, we’ll explore topics such as personal narratives, leadership styles, social issues, and service. In our time together, the students will be challenged to consider what it means to take these things and use them to impact the community around them. Having seen how much my PLUS Leaders have grown over the past few months, I can’t wait to know this new cohort of PLUS Leaders and see how they’ll impact our community here at Kensington Health Sciences.
As we approach the holiday season we take stock of the many reasons we are thankful at 12+. Here are four:
1. Our new PLUS Center. We're only weeks away from launching our brand new PLUS Center at Penn Treaty! Our team has been working from a temporary space for nearly a year, but after a long and extended process, the construction and design for the new space is finally in its final stages. We can't wait to share it with you.
2. Our supporters. You made this happen. You gave generously and sent countless words of encouragement and believed in our work. You have helped us create something special that will serve over 600 students in Philadelphia, provide countless resources, and serve as a symbol for the transformative culture we hope to foster in our schools.
3. Our schools. Penn Treaty is a school that is shaped and defined by the people inside it. From the teachers to the administrators, there are so many people who work tirelessly for our students despite facing endless obstacles along the way. They are daily, inspirational reminders of selflessness and courage.
4. Our students. More than anything, our remarkable, awe-inspiring students remind us daily why we do the work that we do. As Julia, one of our Fellows, stated recently, "they are the reason I am excited to get to school every morning, and they are the laughter, love, and life that fill my days."
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and we wish you the warmest of holidays!
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