Hometown: Sequim, WA
Minor: Poverty Studies Minor
Why did you apply for this particular internship? I love working with adolescents, and this internship provided an all-encompassing program to work with high school students. It went well with my psychology major and let me get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run a non-profit.
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L? I was able to use both my psychology major and poverty studies minor daily. My internship took many things that I have learned about in class or read in books and put them into real life situations. How do you deal with students struggling with grief and chaos in their life? How are you supposed to break the cycle of poverty? How does the strength of attachments formed early in life effect their abilities later? Not only did this internship reiterate many things I have learned, but also it taught me things that cannot be portrayed in a book. It showed me the power of hope, and that one person can truly change lives. TAP has given me a lot of experiences and information that I am using to shape my future plans and career goals.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Alliance experience? I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up for this internship. It far surpassed my expectations for what I would learn. However, the most unexpected thing was how chaotic an environment could be. The Chester Upland School district, as I talked about in my piece, is a work in progress, which was overwhelming at times. Trying to keep track of all the TAP kids and give them individual attention while running another program and organizing the non-profit was all very chaotic. However, I learned how to work with it, how to have patience and prioritize, and how to keep going even when I thought I had nothing left to give.
Favorite Class: Pursuit of Happiness, the religion version taught by Professor Kosky. It took a very interesting approach to what is happiness, how you get it, and why we should not chase it.Advice for prospective or first-year students? Find something that you are truly passionate about and pursue it. Do not come in and do as much as you can, because then you will give little effort to all of the activities. Instead, take time to try out things and pick a couple to invest yourself in. The skills and experiences you will gain will far surpass those endless activities listed on your resume.
Have you ever heard a gunshot? What a strange question to ask. This came up during a session of The Achievement Project's summer program, my placement for the Shepherd Internship. For me it was strange because I never had, for the kids it was strange because everyone has. Chester, Pa., is a place of past prosperity and big hopes for the future. Chester has quite the reputation following it around. Even though it used to be a thriving city for ships and the automotive industry, in the 60's the town lost prestige in these industries and a mass-exodus left the town in shambles. In 50 years, it lost half of its population and strife replaced the thriving past. Now Chester is known for many things, including having the worst school district in the state (out of 501 districts), one of the highest murder rates in Pennsylvania, a median household income wavering at the poverty line and an unemployment rate of about 12%.
Even though many say that they have everything against them, dozens of non-profits working in collaboration in Chester have a vision of a better future. This summer I had the opportunity to work with Ms. Nicola Tollett Jefferson at The Achievement Project (TAP), a non-profit that stands as an all-encompassing program for about 20 students in a four-year program. TAP's mission is to help young people succeed in high school, get into college and arrive at college with the capacity to succeed there. TAP helps students plan for higher education and gives them the encouragement, motivation, support and guidance to enable them to reach those goals. During their four years, these students attend TAP educational classes during the school year, as well as a six-week summer program. The three pillars of success are Academic Achievement, Social Awareness and Collegiate Identity. This means that not only do they prepare academically, but also socially. Ms. Jefferson is constantly exposing these kids to new experiences, foods, opinions and ways of life. She breaks them from the Chester bubble and shows them a whole world of opportunities
For me, this summer included the preparation for and running of the TAP summer program, creation of the TAP operation manual, and a surprise upon arrival--another summer program that TAP was involved in. As the part of the consortium for a grant given to the Chester Upland School District, TAP helped run an enrichment portion of a summer program for 6-8th graders. Needless to say, it was a busy summer.
My main priority was the TAP summer program, which mostly dealt with preparing the TAP kids for their second round of SAT testing and getting them on the road to college planning. It was so refreshing to see the kids' vision of their future, and how passionate they were about it. These kids were truly remarkable. For them, college was a way out, and there would be nobody to stop them. Some of their future career aspirations include being a lawyer, a neo-natal nurse, a psychologist, a small business owner, an accountant and so on. Even though many of them do not have family members that have gone to college, through this program they have realized their potential.
As part of the summer program, we had SAT prep, goal workshops and other academic enrichment. Because of the poor educational system in Chester, many students are not properly prepared for the SAT. The average score is in the low 1000s. The average SAT score for Washington and Lee University is about 2700, to give a comparison. At the beginning of this past school year, Chester High School had classes of over 40, many classes with no books, and no math teacher. By the middle of the year, they had run out of money, and teachers were no longer being paid. In a nationwide news story this past year, a Chester High School teacher and the School Board President (still in office) engaged in a physical fight. They both left in stretchers, during school hours, in the high school. This story absolutely shocked me! How could a school district punish students for fighting when this is the template set before them? Because of the struggles in the education system, four of the current TAP students are enrolled in a cyber-school, while many others have moved to live with relatives or travel to different districts. Nonetheless, they have a huge advantage over other kids in Chester, as they are constantly inundated with SAT vocab and grammar, and partake in local University preparation classes. This academic advantage alone makes TAP a worthwhile program.
However, TAP is an encompassing experience, and this summer the TAP students engaged in an Equestrian Camp and cooking classes at Rushton Farms, as well as various other field trips. For Ms. Jefferson, it is about having new experiences and learning socially as well as cognitively. It was during these times that I had the chance to get to know the students on a personal level. For sake of their confidentiality I will not give details of their lives, but these kids have experienced things I cannot even imagine: watching a friend die right in front of you, being beaten by a gang, losing family members, giving their entire savings to pay bills at home, cyber bullying, teenage pregnancy--and the list goes on. While we were riding the horses, or picking the berries, or whatever we were doing, they let themselves be kids again. They were forced to grow up at such a young age, but in these times, they could let themselves experience life in a completely freeing way.
This summer I learned more than I thought possible in an eight-week span. The students taught me the power of dreams and that someone believing in them makes all the difference. Working with the school district showed me the need for structure and organization, and how the lack of this causes chaos in the lives of the kids. Ms. Jefferson taught me what busy really meant. My list of tasks was always overshadowed by hers, as she truly gave her entire life to her TAP kids and the fight to revive Chester. I learned the sweat, blood and tears it takes to run a non-profit in this city; most importantly, I learned why it is all worth it. Organizations all over Chester, including The Achievement Project, are changing the lives of individuals and giving them hope. With this hope, these kids have the power to take on the fight for success.