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Think Tank Connects Students & Professionals

Over the week-long Spring Break in April, when students could have been sleeping, working, or hanging with friends, a several students from the four Promise Corps schools were in a high rise in Center City Philadelphia presenting about issues affecting their neighborhoods and solutions that could be implemented to address them. They presented to a panel of Chief Executive Officers, senior analysts, program managers, and more.

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The idea behind Think Tank, as the event is called, is to connect young Philadelphians with professionals who can help them hone and implement their own ideas to positively affect their communities. Panelists ranged from those native to Philadelphia and those who came to the City of Brotherly Love from elsewhere. They included those who work in the public space – some in government and some in education. Many panelists are career changers. Though they have a wide range of experiences and backgrounds, all the panelists know what it is to work in public service. Because of the passion, each of them wanted to participate in this event to support students who are showing an interest early on by giving feedback to their presentations and advice for the future.

Students presented on various topics, including youth violence, human trafficking, alternatives to athletics in extracurricular activities, and the dearth of counselors in Philadelphia public schools. Their presentations of the issues not only included statistics backing up the magnitude of these problems, but also personal anecdotes making these issues feel tangible for those in the room. This was something the panelists all commented on as adding a sense of urgency and a call to action following the presentations.

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Solutions included creating a crisis and support center for victims of human trafficking, expanding extracurricular programs to give students a voice and to combat youth violence, and creating a program to increase the number of counselors and mentors in Philadelphia high schools.

The feedback to the students from the panelists was both constructive and insightful. Some of the feedback involved presentation skills, such as projecting their voices more, and some feedback included ideas for making their arguments stronger. All in all, the panelists were impressed at the amount of work that went into the presentations, and the amount of courage it took to get up in front of a room of people to present their findings. In addition to constructive criticism, the panelists shared advice with students as they start to think about life after high school and potential careers. The students were encouraged to take their time finding the perfect career and to continually build their skills – opportunity will strike at the right time. They were encouraged to keep participating in events like Think Tank, “because you’ll never know who you might meet and where those relationships will take you.”

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Their words were honest, too, and some panelists admitted they are still trying to figure out their own career paths. Having had a mind for public service since high school, one panelist told students new to the public sector not to be afraid to take risks, and to avoid letting others limit them.

Think Tank proved to be not only a way for students to get involved in their communities, but a venue for them to explore their future options in public service and gain experience as well.

Getting Things Done

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As I write this post, I am officially one month into my new position as a Site Supervisor for Promise Corps. In this role, I split my time between two of our four sites, Overbrook High School and School of the Future. I support our Promise Corps members in meeting benchmarks with their caseloads of students, meet with teachers and administration, and interact with many students on a daily basis. Previously, I served as an AmeriCorps member for two years. My impetus for becoming an AmeriCorps member was twofold – I have always been very involved in service and wanted to complete a year of service post college graduation, and I also had a desire to get experience working in a school. I had been a business major in college, but was always interested in education and had been thinking about becoming a teacher. I figured getting the chance to work at a school in a role working directly with both students and staff/teachers would be an amazing way to get hands-on experience to determine if my career path towards becoming a teacher was right for me.

The tagline of AmeriCorps is to “get things done.” If I had to sum up my two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer, that would be it. Sure, I had experience tutoring students weekly in college, but that was nothing compared to working in a school 50+ hours a week where I would also be in a position of authority with students. I quickly learned all the joys and stresses that come along with that role. I was instantly charged with making decisions that would affect the whole school. It wasn’t easy, but I had the support of my fellow five teammates as we navigated this experience together. When you step into an AmeriCorps role, you are immediately expected to rise to the challenge of your position and meet high expectations, just like any other employee working with you. You must be resourceful. You must figure it out. Having 400 students coming to me with questions I didn’t quite have the answers to was scary, but there wasn’t time to be scared. The high expectations set encouraged me to rise to them. Although in these two years of service I learned that teaching was not right for me, I realized my love for the AmeriCorps program, my students and coworkers, and working in education. I knew I wanted to collaborate with others to serve young people.

Now, as a Site Supervisor, I am supporting two teams of Promise Corps College and Career Ambassadors in getting things done. Having joined midway through the school year, I can already see that they are. Promise Corps members are a known presence at their schools. They each have their niches. They have figured out how to use their strengths to go above and beyond what is asked of them as AmeriCorps members, whether it be coaching a sport, connecting students with professionals they know in careers students are interested in, and so much more. You name it, they’re doing it. They are showing me the ropes at the schools—passing on invaluable institutional knowledge. At the end of the day, my role as an AmeriCorps member, and now as a supervisor to members, has led me to deepen my commitment to national service programs because it has allowed me to experience the reality of AmeriCorps members getting things done.

– Kerry DiNardo, Promise Corps Site Supervisor

It’s All That and a Bag of Chips

“How do we get the kids to show up?” is a question I’ve been asked often when problem solving and event planning with my Promise Corps teams. Coming from working with elementary school students and now working with high school students, I can immediately see the concern for engaging high school students after school and even during the school day. Elementary school students are a captive audience. When you’re working with teenagers, school might be the last place they’d like to spend time in!

I learned that the determining factor of success for the West Philadelphia and Sayre High School teams is to engage students with FOOD!

Pretzels, popcorn, chips, water, juice, cookies (and occasionally a healthy snack)!

Offering a snack or food item has been a huge catalyst for seeing students more often and a great incentive for us to engage students in meaningful ways! Once students visit College and Career Ambassadors in the Promise Corps classroom, we can get a chance to truly teach them about what we do and how we can support them in planning their futures.

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My co-worker and I have started reaching out to local companies to request in-kind donations of food, gift cards, or other incentives that would benefit our students.
Our first response was a great local resource: Herr’s Chip Company! Herr’s donated four cases of chips to two of our sites to use in the Computer Programming after school program at Sayre, at Think Tank planning meetings, during modules, or while completing an Individualized Student Success Plan (ISSP) with a student.

It may seem small, but the students appreciate treats and it gets those who may have never come to show up, see what Promise Corps is about, and find out what we can do for them.

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As we used to say back in the day, “It’s all that and a bag of chips!”

– Leya Egea-Hinton, Promise Corps Site Supervisor

The Inaugural Blog Post!

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I recently told someone that without Promise Corps College & Career Ambassadors someone would’ve died. Someone would’ve actually died. Lost their life. We’re not just talking about failing math class. Dropping out of college. Not securing a sustainable career. I’m talking about death. Never, ever seeing someone again. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not being “extra” (as the kids say these days). I won’t assume how you’d feel but personally, knowing we’ve saved a life (at least one) in the short time we’ve been implementing the Promise Corps program makes me feel as if we’re doing SOMETHING right. If at bare minimum one of the 25 College & Career Ambassadors was in the right place at the right time – we’re lucky they were there.

My name is Bethany, I’m currently the Program Director for Philadelphia’s Promise Corps program. I’ve had the awesome opportunity of managing the Promise Corps program implementation since only a few days earlier than the first-ever College & Career Ambassadors started in 2015. It’s fitting that I write our first blog post even though I’m certain that my stories, my perspective and likely my humor – is certainly not as insightful or interesting as our College & Career Ambassadors themselves. They have the opportunity to tell their stories and jokes as well and we’re hopeful that you’ll be able to experience them through this blog!

My time managing this program has been an interesting paradox. We’ve been in operation for 18 months and it feels as if I’ve blinked and we’ve gotten ourselves here. Meanwhile, every day feels like a full school semester long and weeks feel like entire years. The responsibility we’ve taken on to support students in planning for their post-secondary life deserves as much effort and attention as we can possibly provide. This is both equally exhausting and energizing. Can you relate?

Check back often to follow us in our journey! In the meantime click the “get involved” tab above and feel free to reach out to me directly to learn more about Promise Corps!

Thank you for stopping by!

– Bethany Housman, Promise Corps Director