Blog

Spotlight on our Promise Corps Coaches: Nijah Lewis

This week, I took the opportunity to chat with my colleague and friend, Nijah Lewis, one of the four Promise Corps College and Career Coaches serving at West Philadelphia High School this year. Nijah and I talked about the experience of serving the wonderful students at West, what inspires her outside of her work, and her advice for future Promise Corps Coaches! A special thanks to Nijah for taking the time to participate in our Promise Corps Blog! Go West!

Q: What is your favorite part about being a Promise Corps College and Career Coach?

Nijah: My favorite part about being a Promise Corps College and Career Coach is working with the students. These are trying and unprecedented times that we are in and I am grateful to be able to help guide them on their journey. They are a daily source of inspiration for me.

Q: Do you have a moment this year that has been very memorable?

Nijah: Our indigenous people day professional development was a memorable moment for me. It was the first time I had experienced the authentic history of this country in a professional setting. I also learned a lot about the culture of indigenous people.

Q: What advice would you give to someone interested in serving with the Promise Corps next year?

Nijah: Do your research. Learn the population that you will be serving and how your role within the program works. Take advantage of the networking opportunities that you are given. Be open and flexible.

Q: What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

Nijah: Outside of work I enjoy reading novels and writing poetry. I often walk trails and I enjoy listening to music. My grandmother has recently gotten me into crocheting.

Q: Do you have advice for students who are combating Zoom Fatigue right now?

Nijah: Fill your atmosphere and space with things that are aesthetically pleasing. Consider burning candles and putting up led lights. Play lofi hip hop or sounds of the ocean in the background while you’re in class. Take as many breaks away from the screen as you need. Drink water!

Q: What is a source of inspiration for you?

Nijah: One of the greatest sources of inspiration in my life is young people. My mentees inspire me on a daily basis. I am also inspired by the girl on tik tok that makes videos informing her peers of the current state of politics. The student that takes care of his younger brother and sister while his mom is working also inspires me. No matter what’s going on in the world, at the end of the day I go to bed with the understanding that “The kids are alright” and that pushes me to do all that I can do to better myself so that I can be a resource and support for the youth.

Harry Levant, College and Career Coach at West Philly High

Scholarship Workshop at School of the Future

     It’s about that time for seniors in high school to start getting their college acceptances! With the excitement of solidifying the next steps and getting ready for postsecondary success comes the logistics of going to college: money. While most seniors have filled out FAFSA and PHEAA, some students may be experiencing some anxiety around still being able to afford tuition, housing, and transportation. This is where scholarships come in!

     Even though the workshop was during lunch and held for the full duration of the period, there was a great student turnout in the end. The coaches at Future considered the event a success, with Ms. Olivia adding, “[our] students were actively engaging and excited about planning for their postsecondary careers.” From the student perspective, they got formal information in an informal workshop. One senior who attended said, “I’m glad I decided to join the workshop because I didn’t even know where to start with scholarships, there’s just so many and it really helped.” 

     The cost of college is on a lot of seniors’ minds as acceptances start to roll in. Students are making their decisions for their future, and in considering the cost of school, they are looking at multiple sources to help fund their education. Scholarships are the best kind of money (because it’s free money!) and there are plenty out there waiting to be found and applied for! 

Sierra Serna, College & Career Coach at School of the Future

MLK Day, a Day ON

Monday, January 18, 2021, The United States of America observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To honor his memory, people are given the day off from school and work and many all across this country choose to be of service to others in need. Americorps observes this day with its members not as a day off, but as a day on. 

The West Philadelphia Promise Corps spent the morning reflecting on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King and the impact he has left on this world. Later that day, Promise Corps partnered with Turning Points for Children to host a virtual event for the families of the community. During the event, Promise Corps coaches read these three short books to the families attending about embracing and loving oneself:  I Love My Hair by Nataha Anatasia Tarpley, Happy in our Skin by Fran Manushkin, and Unique and Wonderful by Dee Smith. 

Following the reading, the families participated in an arts and craft hour led by the staff at Turning Points for Children. During the arts and craft hour, the attending families were taught about the art style of cubism pioneered by the artist Pablo Picasso during 1907. Cubism uses three-dimensional geometric shapes to abstractly display images in a disintegrated form to suggest multiple viewpoints. After learning about the Cubism movement, the families were tasked with a project to create a self-portrait using cubism. By the end, each kid created a beautifully made self-portrait in the style of cubism infused with their own personal style. 

The event was a complete success! Promise Corps and Turning Points for Children were so grateful to have spent MLK Day with the fabulous families in our community!

Arianna Coleman, Overbrook High School College and Career Coach

Career Spotlight

This week we are highlighting the career of SOCIAL WORK! Normally, when people think about this career, they automatically think of someone working at the Department of Human Services in Child Welfare removing children from abusive homes and placing them in foster care. While that is a route a Social Worker can choose to go, there are SO MANY more options for someone who chooses a career in Social Work. 

What do Social workers even do? Social workers help individuals, families, and communities combat difficult or stressful life situations. They work in rehabilitation centers, schools, hospitals, hospices, and correctional facilities, and often cooperate with professionals in other social service programs. They may help children with behavioral disorders, families in poverty, or victims of domestic abuse. Social workers are different from counselors, although some of their roles are similar. Counselors help individuals manage a specific issue such as alcoholism, divorce, or depression. Social workers provide a wider spectrum of services to a larger and more diverse clientele. In addition to one-on-one counseling, social workers help their clients access social services like recovery programs, financial assistance, or hospice care. Social Workers can work with individuals, families, groups, and can even be in charge of different policy changes within a community. 

After graduating from high school, someone interested in pursuing a career in Social Work will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college in Social Work (BSW), which will take a minimum of 4 years. It is possible to become a licensed Social Worker without getting a BSW; however, it will take longer, you will miss out on learning the necessary basics early on and in the long run you will have spent more money. After obtaining a BSW (or another bachelor’s degree), the next step is to enroll in a Master’s program (MSW). This is where obtaining a BSW saves you time and money. If you successfully complete a BSW program, you can enroll in an advanced standing Master’s program, which means you can obtain your MSW in a minimum of 1 year! For someone who does not have a BSW, the time to complete an MSW program will take a minimum of 2 years. In many states, in order to practice more specific forms of Social Work, such as therapy, you need to be licensed. In the state of Pennsylvania, in order to become a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) you need to pass the state exam, and in order to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) you have to work in the field for 6 years as an MSW or beyond, complete 3,000 hours of full time experience under an LCSW and pass the state exam. There are a handful of opportunities as a BSW, but as you move up the ladder and obtain more credentials, more opportunities and money become available. 

If you are drawn to social justice, interested in feelings, behavior, and overall mental health, this may be a career to consider! Maybe you survived difficult circumstances and now want to help people in similar positions. Maybe you have insight into what motivates people, you know that people’s lives change when they are empowered, and you find the work of helping others rewarding. If so, Social work may be for you! 

Promise Corps 2020 Reflection

Happy New Year! As we welcome students back “into” school this week please join me on a walk down memory lane to reflect on the past few months that kicked off the 2021 program year for Promise Corps. I want to keep this reflection on a happy note, but we must address the elephant in the room; COVID-19. Many of us had high hopes that this virtual start and this virtual space would’ve ended by now, but here we are. I am proud to say that we remained resilient and undefeated!  2020 turned out to very rough and challenging for many; some say a wake-up call. With the civil uprising and civil unrest, this year provided us with an opportunity to reflect on our societal values, beliefs, entitlements, and privileges. Many of us reflected and took a stand against inequalities, inequities, and injustices. We acknowledged the impact on many local communities of color, specifically black and brown individuals and families who continue to feel underprivileged, underrepresented, and oppressed.

Making the question of the year, what is your power, and how will you use it to identify what part of history will be made?

Our coaches have specifically stepped up since starting in August. Here are some highlights!

While preparing them to be outstanding College and Career Coaches, we ensured that orientation and professional development sessions were intentional and diverse. Many local leaders and professionals provided us with training in leadership, engagement, cultural competency, education reform, protective factors, active listening, and self-care. In addition, LGBTQ+ Competencies, team roles, presentations, Trauma-Informed Care, Vicarious Trauma, Civic reflection, and the goals and strategies of the MacArthur Foundation. All taught during a pandemic! I am sure that there were many aha moments. One of mine was when Brandon Brown came in to teach us about active listening and what that truly means. These sessions provide us with an opportunity to get to know one another better, from personalities to attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives; Showing us that even in a virtual space, we can still have a human connection.

 Speaking of connections, let’s talk about the dedication demonstrated by our coaches in preparing to support and connect with our HS students! The hard work put in provided Promise Corps with the opportunity to support over 640 students. Giving up was not an option, countless emails were sent to educators and students and 100’s of calls were made to connect with families. Although it has been challenging, we have provided coaching support to many students and completing over 862 one on one coaching sessions. Additionally, becoming an essential resource and support to over 20 school leaders and educators, creating a strong presence at School of the Futures, West High School, Overbrook High School and Sayre High School.

     Our coaches have grown so much in their team roles, from participating in the social media and engagement team to supporting the family engagement team. Many stepped up and took on a leadership opportunity in our newsletter committee and the community building committee. Furthermore, I liked to think we have mastered the art of being flexible and adaptable. We have done the best we can managing the many unprecedented challenges outside of our control. Through it all we have persevered and upheld our Promise Corps Values. I hope to keep that same energy this year, as we continue to connect with students and set them up for success.

Zoraida Cordero- Promise Corps Manager

Promise Corps December Professional Development & 2020 Reflections

For December’s professional development session, Promise Corps coaches learned about the history of racism in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system, were trained in mentoring Black youth, and ended the day with a virtual holiday party, bringing the corps’ 2020 to a close with some cheer. Though this school year has brought numerous challenges in the virtual setting, coaches have still found ample learning opportunities both in professional development and in their Zoom classrooms, and have been able to forge connections with each other and their students.  

The day began with a session by Shebani and Albert from the MacArthur Foundation, in which they discussed the school to prison pipeline and how criminal law has impacted communities of color throughout the country’s history. In Philadelphia specifically, they spoke about the racist legacy of Mayor Frank Rizzo and the firebombing of the MOVE complex in 1985.  

In the afternoon, the coaches were trained in mentoring Black youth in a session titled, “Knowing Thyself – Must Know ME to Build and Effective WE.” In this session, the coaches learned about how their own lived experiences and identities bear an impact on the way they interact with students, even if it is not always explicit. With the objective of moving from cultural competency to critical consciousness, the coaches participated in activities and a discussion that had them analyze the way their personal identities intertwine with power dynamics within their student-mentor relationships.  

As an African American woman working in education, School of the Future coach Olivia said, “[This] is a topic that is near and dear to my heart and passion behind why I became an educator in the first place. It was very informative and I believe we all took something away from it.”  

To end the day on a lighter note, Zoraida had planned a virtual holiday party that included a festive costume contest, a mystery door puzzle, and an imaginary gift-giving extravaganza led by Bethany (gifts ranged from a private island to instant college degrees). The front door challenge, in which coaches had to try to guess which door belonged to which colleague based on a single hint, posed an interesting exercise for the coaches, most of whom have never met in real life!  

“We haven’t even met in real life yet, and I can recognize everyone’s front door,” said Emma, also from Future, laughing. Emma’s observation speaks to the coaches’ ability to form connections with each other despite the challenges of COVID.  

With the calendar year coming to a close, Future coaches also took the chance to reflect on the lessons of 2020. Emma said she learned the importance of cutting herself and others more slack and being patient. 

 “Everyone is struggling because of COVID,” she said. “Maybe in different ways, but we are all struggling.” 

Olivia also highlighted how the pandemic has called for a heightened sense of patience and adaptability.  

“Because of COVID I had to change my routine and the way I do things on a daily basis,” Olivia said. “It has taught me to slow down and that I don’t always have to be busy or stick to a routine.” 

Kaitlin Junod- College and Career Coach at School of the Future