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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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Pathways to Alternative Careers in Education

Some people join Promise Corps thinking they want to be teacher. Some have no idea what they want to do, but want to get some experience in education. It doesn’t take long for members to figure out if they want to be teachers or not. If they do not, some still know they want to stay in education, but with so many pathways to a career in education, it can be daunting to figure out which way to go. Especially when there are so many little-talked-about careers in the education world!

So, we rounded up experts in all various fields of education to participate in an “Alternative Careers in Education Panel” event late this May, as members were in the wake of figuring out which career step to take next.

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Panelists ranged from teachers, to school administrators, to those who work in behavioral health and housing. They were asked questions such as what advice they had for people just starting to plan a career path in education. Panelists encouraged people to embrace their strengths, as well as always being on the hunt for new ones. They recommended to be humble and get comfortable accepting criticism, as it’s a great way to find problem areas and quickly address them.

All the panelists emphasized the importance of people skills. They urged new educators to network and connect with as many people as possible. This advice helps bring confidence into the interview process. Talking to more people allows you to feel comfortable with being yourself and communicating who you are as a person, which is the best strategy in an interview. The panelists all frequently interview new people for positions at their schools and organizations, and they wanted everyone attending the panel to know that it’s easy for them to tell when someone is being inauthentic. They also offered that it helps to do your research beforehand and assure your interviewer that you are familiar with the organization and their mission.

Finally, the panelists stated that learning to forgive yourself and knowing that you are worthy of a fantastic job opportunity builds confidence, which will show in your interview. Additionally, going outside of your comfort zone will not only expand your horizons, but it could potentially earn you valuable new skills, as well as showing your work ethic.

After the formal part of the panel, there was time for networking. Attendees had time for more personal conversations with panelists and more directed advice based on their individual interests and situations. All in all, it was a successful event that we are hoping to continue in the future!

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