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Member Spotlight: Richard Vu

If you are reading this and you’re a recent graduate from college, someone wanting to engage in service, or simply searching for a life of meaning, this blog post is for you. Before becoming a College and Career Ambassador (CCA) for Promise Corps, I had been reflecting on where I wanted to go since I had graduated from Swarthmore College with a Major in Neuroscience. I’ve since come to realize that I crave meaning, purpose, and connection with others, and that this could only be satisfied if I could make a direct impact on the lives of others. For my job to become a calling, I must have the opportunity to nurture in others a love for courage and truth, and to support their quest for self-improvement and meaning.

Throughout my undergraduate career, I thought I was on the path to graduate school, a doctorate degree, and becoming a researcher in the neurosciences. I was on this path until my senior spring. The doubts I had about graduate school had bubbled to the surface, and I realized that while the process of learning and doing research was interesting to me, it did not provide the sense of connection and meaning that I craved. Yes, I learned about the brain, the neurochemistry behind the impulses we have, how hormones affect animal and human behavior and physiology, and a whole host of other fascinating topics. But these academic activities did not satisfy my desire for connection nor my desire to make a difference in the lives of others directly.

 

This is where Promise Corps comes into play. For me, Promise Corps represents that opportunity to foster connection, courage and truth, and a love of learning in myself and those around me. Over the past two months, the connections I have formed have helped me continue working even when things got challenging. Lucas, an experienced CCA, has been the wise Yoda of our group. He has taken the time to encourage us, guide us through the processes of planning different trips, and has actively sought to go beyond the surface-connection of academics and into the lives of students. Haley has spearheaded our efforts to maintain great relationships with our organization and the other members of the school community. Shae has been the calming and consistent, yet humorous force, that provides stability to our classroom. And last but not least, a former member, Ms. P., continually motivated me to do better, to focus on the positives, and to remember that what matters most is our students.

Thanks to the effort we’ve put in as a team, we have had numerous special moments that I hope will continue to happen. We’ve had impromptu dance and sing-offs with students, math competitions where we excitedly raced to see who could finish a problem first, and candid talks where we’d unveil our vulnerabilities to the accepting support of our peers. No matter whether it’s these fun-filled moments, or the tiny moments of victory when our students are able to keep pushing through tough classwork, I know that we are making a difference.

Having had these experiences, my future is no longer so clear cut. No longer is graduate school my set-in-stone answer to the question, “What are your next steps?” Instead, the pathways to education and to service have opened up. I’m excited to see how the rest of this year will influence my future. Until then, see you! rv.jpg

– Richard Vu, College and Career Ambassador at Sayre High School

A Celebrity Visit At Future

Seniors at School of the Future had the privilege of having a guest celebrity speaker come in and talk to them about the importance of setting life goals and turning their dreams into realities. Kevin Savage, who is as an actor and model, encouraged the Future seniors to not only think about their dreams and life goals, but to chase them as well. He spoke about the steps it will take to attain their dreams and life goals, the adversities they will face, and the lessons they will learn along the way. He told his story, which is one that so many students are silently going through.

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Through his story, he showed students that even with the odds stacked against him, he persevered. Like most students from School of the Future, Kevin was born in West Philadelphia, and he graduated from West Philadelphia High School. So, although he is an outsider to Future, he isn’t an outsider to the students. He connected with them so well – he understands their plights and struggles. It was amazing to see the seniors engaged, attentive, and enthralled in Kevin’s speech.

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The fact that students wanted to stay after school on a Friday afternoon to talk with Kevin showed the impact his speech had on them. What made the day even cooler was that Kevin took time to watch and critique a student who wants to be an actor. The student was brave enough to perform in front of Kevin, and even braver to accept criticism from a professional actor, who is on the hit TV show The Quad on BET. Kevin even reenacted the improv! It was an honor for all of us to see his craft in person and boy, was he impressive!

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– Shaquana Gantt, College and Career Ambassador at School of the Future

Member Spotlight: Lauren-Ashley Wood

Lauren-Ashley Wood is a College and Career Ambassador professional working with Promise Corps. An alumna of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Lauren-Ashley majored in Political Science and double minored in Hotel Hospitality, Tourism Management, and the French Language. Lauren-Ashley worked for The Philadelphia Eagles Organization as a Game Day Staff Member for two football seasons. She is the former President of the College Democrats of America at Cheyney. She also worked as a volunteer for Hilary Clinton’s campaign. Lauren-Ashley has a passion for public and constituent service in the Philadelphia community. As an AmeriCorps member, she provides high school students with college and career access through advocacy within the school setting. Since the 2017-2018 school year has started, Lauren-Ashley and her team at Overbrook High School have provided 10th, 11th, and 12th graders through mentoring and motivational assistance, which they will continue to do for the remainder of the year.

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With a background in politics, Lauren-Ashley was very interested in helping support the recreation of Student Government at Overbrook High School. The students took to the idea like moths to a flame. Both school administration and the Promise Corps team promoted the idea of non-partisan campaigning to the students and… Boom! The Promise Corps classroom became a mini campaign headquarters. Multiple students were working on their campaigns after school simultaneously. The high school seniors were creative while campaigning, giving their speeches, and debating one another. What was most exciting was when the commissioner’s office came to Overbrook High School to promote voting and even registered some 18-year-old seniors to vote. Lauren-Ashley and the rest of the Promise Corps team will reveal the winners any day now. Members like Lauren-Ashley are reasons why the Promise Corps program is a critical key component in college and career success within the Promise Zone Education Initiative.

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– Lauren-Ashley Wood, College and Career Ambassador at Overbrook High School

Promise Talks: College Access

This past Monday, West Philadelphia High School held our first of five modules for the year. We decided to call our module series “Promise Talks,” referencing the widely-known Ted Talks. Our first Promise Talk was focused on College Access. I invited my longtime friend Kerrivah Heard, who is a fourth-year student at Drexel University. She will be graduating in 2019 with both her Bachelor and Master of Science in Communication. She wants to work for a publication firm with a strong digital and social media presence. To prepare herself for life after college, she created her own website and launched a blog that profiles Black youth. She has also gained experience with 6abc, CBS, NBC10, WHYY, Philly.com, Comcast NBCUniversal, CHOP, and more.

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We started off the program with an icebreaker and asked students what their dream college or university was. A few students listed HBCUs, state institutions, and other places not too far from home. We also asked what they would want to major in. Majors from Criminal Justice to Neonatal Nursing were mentioned. After the icebreaker, we jumped right into the discussion. Kerrivah and I gave our personal experiences regarding the entire college application process. We first discussed the colleges we applied to and how we made our final decisions. I stated how at first, I was apprehensive of going to a big campus, so I settled for a small junior college in rural Maryland. There, I was able to properly get acclimated to the college lifestyle. After that year was over, I transferred to West Chester University to complete my degree. Kerrivah and I spoke about how we applied to many schools out of state because we did not want to stay in the city they grew up in. We both applied to Howard University and got accepted. Kerrivah applied to Clark and Drexel as well. In the end, she chose Drexel because they gave her the most award money.

Next on our agenda was to explain what it was like to apply for student aid. We both had similar experiences where we did it all on our own. Our school counselors had been very overwhelmed. We both recalled late nights writing essays for scholarships and chasing our parents around to get their part of the FAFSA done. We encouraged the students to get their FAFSAs completed as early as possible, so that they will be able to secure the maximum amount of aid possible. We ended our “Promise Talk” with some words of advice for the students: to do as many internships as possible, and to NEVER SAY NO!

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– Dionna Sanders, College and Career Ambassador at West Philadelphia High School

Collaborating for Student Success

On August 17 and 18, Leya and I joined our colleagues from all spectrums of college access and success at the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable Conference.  From school counselors, to college admissions counselors, to other programs focused on students in high school and helping them develop a postsecondary plan, educators gathered to engage in the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable’s 25th year of “courageous conversations,” as the conference was aptly named.

We attended different workshops ranging from retaining at-risk students, FAFSA completion strategies, helping students who will be the first in their families to attend college develop a roadmap, and so much more. We were able to see one of our former CCAs, who is now working for another program that supports high school students.

We heard from two amazing keynote speakers – Sara Goldrick-Rab and Uva Coles. The first speaker, Sara Goldrick-Rab, had a research center in Wisconsin that focused on the issue of college students facing homelessness and food insecurity. She is now opening a research center based out of Temple University. She shared that the real debt crisis is that many students leave college in debt, but without degrees. Uva talked about college access and success professionals being the links in the chain that lead students to success. Uva is the Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Strategic Partnerships at Peirce College. Peirce recently launched a workforce training program for parents and their children, taking a two-generation approach to providing both job and life skill readiness.

Throughout all the sessions and speakers, a message that was echoed was to start both the conversation and preparation for postsecondary planning earlier. The sooner students get the message to start planning for life after high school, the better. We worked on strategies on how to implement this urgency with students, and came up with actionable steps we can all take in our respective fields- whether they be in the high schools, in after school programs, colleges and trade schools, and career-readiness programs.

Perhaps the best part, for me, was the relationships I was able to both strengthen with colleagues I have previously met, as well as creating new relationships. It was so encouraging to collaborate with others who work for the same mission. At the heart of all of our conversations was putting students first. We do this work so as to share knowledge and not to reinvent the wheel. That is the goal of the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable: to provide tools, resources and opportunities for discourse; support leadership development in the field; and seek to bridge the gap between policy, research and practice in the area of college access and completion.

It was a jam-packed two days full of productive work that has us starting the year with great momentum.

– Kerry DiNardo, Promise Corps Site Supervisor

The End of A Journey

On June 13, we held a graduation ceremony for our 20 CCAs. After giving so much of themselves to their respective sites and students, this day was to celebrate the work they have completed over the past school year (or two years for our two peer leaders!).

All weeks are busy for CCAs, but the weeks leading up to graduation felt especially so. They were filled with checking students’ grades, attending classes, checking in with teachers – doing everything to ensure their students were on track to move up a grade or graduate. There were field trips, end of the year parties, and graduations. What I’m saying is it didn’t seem like CCAs had a quiet moment to reflect on the end of their chapters with Promise Corps. Even as this day came, I’m sure CCAs’ minds were thinking about their two final days at school, which would be filled with more graduations and goodbyes with their beloved students.

We heard from a member of the community regarding the importance of volunteerism and the role our CCAs have had in West Philadelphia over the past year(s), and will continue to have no matter where they choose to go. This weight of this role was magnified when members took the AmeriCorps pledge, when they stated (among other things) that, “Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.” Our members have lived out these ideals in their work as CCAs. It is not always easy to get students to buy into the program or trust our members, but CCAs were creative in taking action to address this. They found common ground with their students, as well as teachers, school staff, and partner organizations. They fostered relationships that allowed them to dig deeper and support students beyond the surface level.

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Awards were given to members who dedicated the most hours of service to the program, coached the most students through the program, and those who quietly led by example.

Despite the multitude of events and emotions leading up to and surrounding this day, graduation did allow for a beautiful moment that prompted members to reflect on the journey they have had as CCAs. Two members were elected by their peers to speak on behalf of the twenty CCAs, and they offered accounts of where they started, where they are now, how they got here, and what they feel looking forward. In the grand scheme of things, ten months is a very short time, but because of the great amount of time and effort members put forth during such a short time frame, these ten months can have a profound effect on not only one’s future career path, but their personal values and mindset as well.

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In their speech, a tone of optimism and humility was ever-present, with an emphasis placed on important relationships cultivated in their time as CCAs. The two speakers closed with a beautiful quotation that was reassuring to CCAs – some of whom know what their next move was, and still some who are not sure, “There is no straight path from your seat today to where you are going… Your career and your life will have stops and starts and zigs and zags. Don’t stress out about the white space – the path you can’t draw – because therein lies both the surprises and the opportunities.”

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