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My students push through negative stereotypes every day to ensure they receive their education

During the 2018-2019 school year, I had the opportunity to be the site director for 12PLUS At Kensington Health Sciences Academy. 12PLUS is  a non-profit focusing on linking high school students in underserved schools with college and career options for after graduation. Throughout the years that 12PLUS has partnered with KHSA, we have pivoted our student and school needs by expanding our programming and embedding ourselves into the school’s culture.

This past school year, we supported our ninth graders in collaboration with our ninth-grade success team through 12PLUS’s RAISE programming. Emphasizing the importance of attendance, hard work, and goal setting as well as the understanding of credits and GPA, RAISE helps freshmen get acclimated to high school. At the end of the program, students wrote letters to incoming freshman, which can be found throughout my photo essay below.

Our 12PLUS team hosted two culture events throughout the past year —  College Week and Career Day. College Week was full of informational sessions from colleges and trade schools, college-related games created by our staff, post-secondary pathways research, and alumni panel sessions. Our Career Day hosted ten professionals from various occupations who students were able to engage with to ask questions about their professions and educational pathways while discussing their own career goals and aspirations. 

Our KHSA team also supported the classes of 2019 and 2020 by hosting college and trade school informational sessions from schools such as Holy Family University, Indiana University of PA, Kutztown University, La Salle University, Community College of Philadelphia, Job Corps, and more. Additionally, we hosted over 20 workshops focusing on post-secondary and college fit research, financial aid and scholarships, college campus resources, and resume building.

While a lot of our work is centered around creating programs and events, listening and embracing our students is a huge and necessary component of our  work. This looks different for each student. Sometimes, it involves taking a walk down the block with a student and allowing them to vent while listening to their stories. Other times, it may look like chaperoning trips to celebrating the end of senior year, college acceptances, and starting a new chapter in life. 

Though we identify as a post-secondary non-profit, the friendships and bonds we create are greater  than that. Throughout this photo essay, I wanted to capture the hope and joy that prevails within our students. Each of them has so much potential and pushes through the negative stereotypes and stigmas associated with them to ensure they receive their education. It has been amazing to witness our students blossom throughout the years and accomplish goals many did not think were achievable.

KHSA freshmen wait to be dismissed after eating lunch in the 12PLUS lounge at KHSA. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
John, a rising junior, talks with a 12PLUS partner school alumni during 12PLUS’ annual college week. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
A KHSA alumnus shares his post-secondary experiences with current KHSA underclassmen during 12PLUS’s annual college week. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
John, a rising senior, poses in front of a DYI 12PLUS logo during 12PLUS’ annual college week. Each triangle has a goal students set to achieve during the 2018-2019 school year. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
A 12PLUS alumni panel shares their journey through post-secondary institutions with the Class of 2019 seniors during 12PLUS’ annual college week. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
Kayla, a rising sophomore, enjoys a strawberry smoothie for breakfast in front of the 12PLUS center. 12PLUS staff greet students out front of the 12PLUS center every morning and hands out lunch passes. Kayla always stops by with a smile and a story. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
John, a rising senior, finishes some work during his lunch break in front of the 12PLUS senior wall, where every senior’s picture is on display. John’s picture will be there next year. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
Colin, a rising junior, tries his hand at 12PLUS’ “interview and career question” Jenga game during his lunch. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
Cyara Wongus, a rising senior and Philly slam league all-star, poses in the hallway for a picture. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
Miguel, a 2019 KHSA alumni, poses in his Kensington Tigers hoodie during a walk to the corner after school. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
Miguel, a KHSA Class of 2019 alumni and youth leader for Youth United for Change, discusses what Kensington means to him. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
Destiny, Shyheim, and Synayah enjoy the 2019 College Signing Day at Temple University. The School District of Philadelphia has participated in National College Signing day for the past three year as apart of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
KHSA students engage with some professionals during the annual 12PLUS career fair. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
Class of 2019 alumni enjoy their last few days together during their senior boat trip. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
Kayla, a KHSA class of 2019 alumna, looks on as her classmates joke around on their senior boat trip. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
Lex, a KHSA Class of 2019 alumna, engages with her peers during their senior boat trip. (Photo by Ebony Welch)
The 12PLUS Class of 2019 pose for photo to end their annual senior boat trip. (Photo by Ebony Welch)

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Editor: Siani Colón / Story Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese / Translator: Kristine Aponte