Project: FLIGHT

by 12 PLUS
Vetted
Vianca
Vianca

Ebony graduated from Temple this past May with a major in Adult and Organizational Development and a minor in History. Ebony is a photographer, people watcher, and museum hopper. Ebony is a former 12+ Temple Chapter volunteer, and she now comes to 12+ as a Fellow at KHSA.

Vianca offered the warmest welcome to the new Fellows at Kensington Health Sciences Academy. She was the first student I met at KHSA and since that day our relationship has blossomed. The foundation of our bond started with our mutual love for art. We share images we have captured, drawings, poetry, and creative writings. Gaining this bond with Vianca is just one of the many things I’d like to highlight about my journey as a Fellow. I interviewed Vianca about her experiences with 12+ and her involvement with the PLUS Center this year. During my interview with Vianca, I asked her to share as much as she was comfortable with. We also took a few pictures as we walked the streets surrounding KHSA.

So, tell me about yourself!
“My name is Vianca. I always wanted to have my grandma's last name, Cancel, but my dad said no! I love photography, drawing, poetry, and writing stories. I’ll be a writer one day. I love interacting with people! Like if someone needs help or advice, I love talking and helping people through personal problems. I think I get that from my dad. He is my biggest inspiration. He gets advice from his aunt all the time and passes her advice to me. I also want to learn Spanish, so I can talk to her.”

What are some of your long term goals?
“I know what my goals are but I’m experiencing one of my goals now. I never thought I would make it this far. I had some very eye opening experiences but I’m glad to be where I am now. Long term goals? College, of course. I’m going to be a writer! My dad started college but didn't finish. My mom struggled a lot in life. I want to finish where my dad left off. It’s like my dad started this path to college, and I’m going to finish. For the both of us.”

How has the PLUS Leader Program shaped your leadership qualities?
“I feel like the PLUS Leader Program just polished the leadership skills and qualities I already knew I had. It’s like an oyster. You know, the shell is shut until someone opens it, but the pearl is still shining inside. Just like my qualities and skills were in me, just needed help embracing them. The PLUS Leader Program opened me up and developed my skills. I knew I had the potential to be a leader, I just didn’t know how. Now since I’ve graduated from the program, I still use what I learned outside of the PLUS Center.”

What about 12+ do you enjoy this year?
“I really like the individuality between each Fellow. Everyone in the Center is so easy to get along with. When I see you all in the morning, it makes my day! Even if I am having a bad day, I know I can come in, talk to y'all and my day will get better. The relationships I have gained with 12+ from this year and years before has been awesome. I have this thing about positive people. People who make positive changes in my life hold a special place in my heart. That’s where 12+ is.” 

Any last words?
“I love having 12+ in our school. Being involved with 12+ has been a form of validation for me. Now, I know how awesome I am. Now, I know how strong I am. 12+ just confirmed and validated my goals for me, while helping me become stronger. Every school should have a 12+.”

Ebony, by Vianca
Ebony, by Vianca

Links:

Fellow Patriots Fan
Fellow Patriots Fan

Meet Frank: Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a major in biology, candidate for a masters in biotechnology, diehard New England Patriots fan, obstacle course racer, and Fellow at Penn Treaty.

 

So I’m finally sitting down to write this reflection. Ideas have been floating around in my head, but it took a while to confront the blank page before me. Perhaps the reason I’ve been delaying this moment is because, subconsciously, I haven’t been able to categorize and interpret everything I’ve come across thus far. It’s a bit unsettling. In the short month that I’ve been at Penn Treaty, I’ve seen students experience a spectrum of emotions, make amazing strides in maturity, and delve deeper into their own ambitions and insecurities than I have in the last 24 years of my life. 

On my end, it’s been daunting trying to analyze all the emotions I’ve felt.  Admiration, awe, guilt, frustration, pride, exhaustion, inspired, enthusiastic, driven, dejected, betrayed, humbled, respected, trusted, enlightened. (There are so many I can’t even keep my parallelism straight!) I won’t pretend to understand what this all means. Instead, I’d like to share the moments—the vignettes if you will—of students who’ve absolutely stunned me. 

 

A Proud Senior

When I first met him, I instantly pegged him as the class clown. He’s funny and charming, but also quick to walk away whenever confronted with anything serious. He’s overflowing with confidence and has no problem speaking to adults about his future. (Unbeknownst to him, he became my rock as I waded through the intimidating first week of school.) However, it wasn’t until I unintentionally sat in on his math class that I saw the cracks in this facade. 

It took some prodding and coercing, but we finally sat down together to look at his math homework. Within 5 minutes, the bravado and jest that I was accustomed to became humility and anger. Phrases like “Man I’m too dumb for this” and “This is why I ain’t goin’ to college” seemed like only clichés before this moment. But despite his outward aversion towards fractions, there was a hungry determination to learn. We persevere, another 15 minutes pass, and now it’s, “Do another, do another” and “See mister, told you I’d get it”. 

A couple days later I pop in his math class again, and he flags me down with a sheet of paper. It’s a 100 on his quiz. And there it is—pride, in its sincerest form.

 

An Ambitious Junior

It was around the 2nd week of school that I first spoke with him. His class had a substitute for the day so they were finishing their worksheets with 12+. We start chatting, and I’m suddenly floored by how much political and historical knowledge he has. He’s quoting statistics and facts as if he’s reading straight out of a textbook. After nonchalantly blowing my mind, he packs up and leaves for his next period. What just happened?

I catch him later that week during lunch playing chess in the PLUS Center. I peek over some shoulders and watch him play. He’s pretty good. The math teacher is starting a chess team so I recommend he join. Everyone around the table scoffs at the idea, saying that it’s social suicide, so I drop it. (It’s worth noting that these guys play chess religiously.)

The following week we started asking for nominations for the PLUS Leader program. I ask the group playing chess if they think they’ll be nominated. He brushes it off and says, “Nah, that’s not for me. I just like to chill and get my [stuff] done in class.” Fair enough. However, I think he’d be a great candidate and hunt him down after lunch to talk about being a PLUS Leader. We peel away some of the excuses for why he doesn’t want to apply and eventually he reveals that he doesn’t feel like he fits the mold. He knows some past PLUS Leaders and feels like he’s not what we’re looking for, despite having a lot of the characteristics we value in applicants. We talk about the qualities that make a good leader, and he admits he’s a bit self-conscious about standing out. But after some encouragement and pestering, I get him seek out a teacher nomination. A few days later we deliver our PLUS Leader applications and when I hand him one, he seems eager. I think he’s ready to start showcasing his talents.

 

An Aloof Senior

We had met last year when I stopped by to volunteer for a day. We talked a bit of football and left it at that. Now, months later, I’m scheduling a senior advising session with him. He doesn’t respond to the first appointment slip I deliver. That’s OK; I should probably ask him face-to-face. 

Just my luck! I pass him in the hall, except he adamantly insists that I’ve got the wrong guy. After a few minutes (he’s got me unsure at this point), I ask to see his student ID. It is him. Ha ha, funny. Anyway, we schedule a time slot for after his class, but again, a no-show. The next week I see him in the halls again and as I walk up, he jukes around me and sprints to the other side of the building and down the stairs. This guy’s impossible. I decide to catch him during class (nowhere to run) and discover that I’ve pushed too far. I call out his name, and he snaps back at me that I “can’t make him go to 12+” and that he “ain’t got nothing to talk to me 'bout”. 

Defeated, and a bit bitter, I ask around about him. It turns out he has plans, big plans. But he hasn’t quite figured out how they’ll come to fruition and how 12+ fits into his journey. I enlist the help of a friendly face from last year and eventually get this wily senior into the PLUS Center. He’s curt and distant at first, but we start talking football again and we find that we’re both huge Patriots fans. That softens him up a bit. We keep bouncing back and forth between college applications and the New England backfield dilemma, his transcript and our patchwork secondary. When it’s time for him to go, I can’t say that he left happy, but he seemed surprised at how painless (and possibly enjoyable?) our meeting was.

 

Like I said, I can’t quite put into words what these moments have taught me. But I do know they’ve challenged me in ways that classes and previous jobs never have. It’s a flurry of emotions every day, but I relish every second. I hope that by the end of this year, I’ll have grown as much as these students do every day.

First acceptances!
First acceptances!

Links:

Senior Wall
Senior Wall

About a week ago, our Senior Wall went up. Covering the entirety of one wall in the PLUS Center are the faces of each and every senior, with space for their accomplishments this year. Students came in all day, and the day after, most screeching when they saw their pictures. “Miss, why did you put that one up?” “I’ll find you a better picture, let me just go on Instagram!” and “That’s it, I’m tearing mine down,” were the most common reactions. I’m used to this. Every picture we take demands a re-do. Especially if we trick them into smiling. Even their senior pictures, for which they were proudly prepared and in perfect lighting, were met with collective horror when they saw the results.

Despite their self-conscious outcries, I know how excited they were to receive this tribute to themselves. (Just as they not-so-secretly loved showing us their senior pictures knowing we would quite sincerely ooh and ahh over each one.) I know they’ll be even more excited when they see their accomplishments, from completing their senior projects to receiving college acceptances, marked for everyone to see. So much of senior year for our students is about racing to the finish line that they don’t often stop to appreciate their accomplishments on the way.

As a Flight Fellow, one of the most satisfying aspects of my work is the chance I get to not only push students towards those achievements, but also to celebrate them. From the beginning of the year, I’ve read and reread personal essays, teasing out real and moving stories from students convinced they had nothing to share. I’ve seen those same essays elicit college acceptances and scholarships, and I've been the person yelling in joy when they show me their acceptance letters. I’ve seen students scramble to the PLUS Center in packs to tackle a giant project, labor over it with them for weeks, and been the only one to celebrate its completion (they’ve moved on to the next one at this point). Even smaller moments – an English concept clicking for the first time for an ESL student, finishing an outline for their senior project where before they hadn’t even known where to start, or hearing a speech for their English class get better and better – these are all moments I celebrate.

As the end of the school year rapidly approaches for our seniors, they feel the clock running out. In the beginning of the year they might have stopped to appreciate what they had done a second longer, but now they race past to the next big goal. As the Senior Wall becomes studded with achievements and reminders of their work, I hope they stop and admire themselves and each other a bit more. I know I will. Whether they stop to do so or not, I know their photos up on that wall will do more than give our seniors a pat on the back. The Senior Wall will remind me of what these students can and have accomplished. It will give a face back to the hours of work we do at Kensington. And most importantly, it will remind KHSA juniors, sophomores, and freshmen of the road ahead and, hopefully, inspire them to reach for their own goals.

Links:

College visit to University of Pennsylvania
College visit to University of Pennsylvania

“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.

PLUS Leader graduation
PLUS Leader graduation
PLUS Leader workshop
PLUS Leader workshop

Links:

Dustin, 12+ Fellow
Dustin, 12+ Fellow

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

Students at Penn Treaty PLUS Center
Students at Penn Treaty PLUS Center

Links:

 

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Organization Information

12 PLUS

Location: Elkins Park, Pennsylvania - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.12plus.org
Project Leader:
Raymond John
Elkins Park, PA United States
$87,548 raised of $95,000 goal
 
1,434 donations
$7,453 to go
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