How Do Kids See the World?

Lily Kravetz is a third-grade lead teacher at Success Academy Fort Greene. She graduated in 2017 from Penn with a degree in Visual Studies from the College of Arts & Sciences.

How do kids see the world? I ask myself this question every day as a third grade teacher at Success Academy, a high-performing charter school network in New York City. To answer it, I draw on my experience as a Visual Studies major at Penn, where I researched how design affects people’s day-to-day experiences and perspectives.

At Penn, I had the opportunity to explore visual arts through an interdisciplinary lens, pairing my major requirements with education and child development classes. My thesis advisors, David Comberg and Dr. Margaret Souders, helped me bridge these interests in a project focused on designing adaptable spaces to suit the diverse sensory needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The insights I gained from this project inform the choices I make about my classroom today.

One of the main reasons why I pursued a teaching career at Success Academy was the network’s emphasis on aesthetics as a vital part of creating strong schools. In a world where design has come to the forefront of so many every industries, it often falls by the wayside in education. Success Academy is a leader in this regard. Rather than adding visual elements to an existing room, each classroom is designed from the ground up with a consideration of the student’s perspective. From the “Lotsa Dots” rug embedded in the carpet, to the colorful pastel walls, every part of the room serves a purpose. Teachers are then given the flexibility to arrange the seating, library, and academic “anchor charts” according to the needs of their students. As a result, the classrooms — and the hallways! — are organized, inviting, and conducive to learning.

Of course, there is much more to teaching and learning than the physical environment. While I have drawn on what I learned at Penn to design a stimulating and nurturing classroom, I have also honed a new set of skills working at Success. The expectations for both scholars and teachers are incredibly high here, and in my first year I had to learn how to press my scholars for academic excellence. I embraced our mission of providing a high-quality education to all students and worked on bolstering skills that would push my scholars forward. In particular, I focused on data analysis. Thanks to the rigor of the school, I have developed an unexpected level of expertise in using data to problem solve. Each day, I closely analyze assessment trends and student work to identify gaps, and strategize with my colleagues to close them.

Working as a teacher here, and helping my students grow and mature into brilliant, independent scholars, has been a challenging and fulfilling experience. I feel lucky to be a part of these kids’ journeys and to pursue a career that makes use of all the skills, knowledge, and insights I gained in my undergraduate education at Penn.

Ryan Veterinary Hospital

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Bianca Owusu, COL ’20

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to work in the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory of the Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. I had originally been looking for a research assistant position for the summer. However, I did not have any true laboratory experience or the proper training to work in a research setting at the time. The veterinary microbiology laboratory offered me the chance to learn the skills I would need to be successful in an investigative laboratory. Taking advantage of this opportunity allowed me to explore my potential career options.  Pursuing a career in research is something I have always wanted to do. Since I did not have any prior exposure to the different fields, I was not really sure what discipline I wanted to be a part of. Although I had worked in the microbiology section of the clinical diagnostic laboratory, I was exposed to the other disciplines. Since many of the samples required various tests from these other laboratories, collaborations were very frequent. The clinical pathology and cytology laboratory was responsible for conducting hematological and cytological analyses. The parasitology laboratory was tasked with the detection and the identification of parasites in the animals we received the samples from. Requests for biopsies and post mortem examinations were sent to the histopathology laboratory. Luckily, I got to experience a sampling of what each laboratory section had to offer while working at Ryan Veterinary Hospital this summer.

            There was a daily routine for the clinical microbiology laboratory. Each day, we would walk in and put on our lab coats. One of us would have to check the CRISPR in the fridge for any samples that had been placed there overnight. We would also do rounds and make sure that the laboratory was stocked with all the necessary materials and media. Batch numbers would be double checked to ensure that the media was in good condition. Next, we would read the plates and record the findings. After recording the findings, we would confirm the diagnosis through a VITEK machine. This summer experience also taught me a lot about the importance of organization in laboratory management. I was trained to use the hospital’s accessioning system. This was helpful in keeping track of all the tests the laboratory was running, printing notes, taking notes, and sending final reports to the veterinarians.

The funding I received from Career Services allowed me to learn so much about myself and the field I eventually want to go into. Working in the laboratory was a major hands on experience. I learned a lot by working under the guidance of the laboratory director and my more-experienced coworkers. In addition to learning about lab procedures and diagnostic test running, I learned what it meant to be a part of a dynamic team. It was an open environment in which questions were encouraged and mistakes were accepted as opportunities for learning. I am very grateful I got to be involved in an eye-opening experience.

Finding Success at Success Academy

Rhea May is a kindergarten science teacher at Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1. She graduated from Penn in 2011, with a degree in Evolutionary Anthropology from the College.

I spent most of my childhood forcing my younger sister to attend what I dubbed “Rhea School.” Since my parents were both teachers, I’d steal their various homework assignments and attendance logs and demand she get to work. She eventually dropped out of Rhea School and I can’t blame her. Thankfully, I’ve progressed from drilling my sister on decimals to encouraging my elementary schoolers at Success Academy, a high-performing charter school network in New York City, to love science. I’ve been teaching here since 2013 and this year, the network honored me with an Excellence Award. I attribute this achievement not to my experience as a child running a one-student school, but to the knowledge and mindset I learned as an anthropology major at Penn.

To me, anthropology isn’t just the study of human cultures — it’s a way of thinking. Penn’s anthropology program taught me how to step outside of myself and examine not only the larger world but my own experiences through a different lens. Professor Heather Love taught me Queer Theory, and Jamal Alias gave me insight into the history of Islam. Both professors were engaging, authentic, and passionate about their subjects and both were devoted to helping their students shed self-centered views. I grew up in a small town in West Virginia and courses like these exposed me for the first time to other cultures. They were inspiring and life-changing. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to play a role in making sure kids got this kind of exposure earlier in life.

So I set to work researching high-performing schools that were committed to providing children with a broad and expansive education. I landed on Success Academy, drawn especially by their distinctive science program. As a kid, I always thought of science as an abstract set of facts that I had to memorize. I remember a requirement to learn the water cycle by heart as a second grader and thinking, “Why do I need to do this?” At Success, my scholars are learning to be scientists through hands-on exploration, not textbooks. Instead of diagramming a water cycle on paper, we pour water into beakers, apply heat, and watch and document the process of condensation. The water cycle isn’t an abstraction — it’s real and my eight-year-olds find it gripping!

My first year of teaching was tough. I struggled to find a work-life balance. But I learned invaluable lessons from the training and hands-on experience Success Academy provided me — lessons like how to effectively manage a classroom. I didn’t need a degree in education to realize that learning to be a good teacher, like any other skill, is a process. I had to trust that process and rely on what my courses at Penn taught me — to think critically about the unique needs of others. This mindset greatly improved my ability to assess my teaching methods and pinpoint solutions I wouldn’t have ordinarily considered.

Toward the end of my first year teaching, I ran into the mother of one of my kindergarteners. She told me that her daughter couldn’t stop talking at the dinner table about our class unit on the science of bread. “Mold doesn’t get on white bread that much, because it has a preservative shield. So don’t eat too much white bread,” the five-year-old reportedly instructed her family, “because eating too many preservatives isn’t healthy.”

It was then that I realized the huge impact I was having on my scholars — helping to spark a passion that could lead them to become real-life scientists, doctors, or teachers. I am grateful to Penn for inspiring me to pass the torch of critical thought and study to my scholars. It is so clear that the perspective I am passing on is helping them flourish!

Summer Nurse Extern at HUP

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Hue Minh Truong, NUR ’19

Over the course of eight weeks this summer, I had the honor and privilege to work with the wonderful nurses, patients, and staff at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania as a student nurse extern. In addition to developing professional connections and building rapport with other nurses, I established incredible friendships with the patients who had been on the unit for a long time. One moment that really stayed with me happened on my last day. It was my first time caring for this patient, but everyone on the unit raved about what a sweetheart he was. Nothing particularly interesting happened that day and I went about my daily tasks: taking vitals, observing medication administration, and answering call lights. However, whenever I was in his room I would be at his bedside to talk to him, pretty much about anything and everything. About halfway through my shift, it felt like we were lifelong friends.

When it was time for me to head off the floor, I made my rounds, saying goodbye to my patients and thanking them for allowing me to care for them. When I got to him, we were both pretty emotional. He said something that made all the emotional exhaustion and frustration worth it: “I couldn’t have asked for a better nurse, and I wouldn’t have wanted any other nurse”. Reflecting back on that instant now, I’m tearing up a bit! I know that nursing isn’t about receiving praise, but this externship helped me understand just how difficult and taxing being a nurse actually is. I would come home after 12-hour shifts with aching feet and a heavy heart but seeing the difference a couple of jokes and heartfelt conversations made, forever changed the way I approach nursing. The examples my nurse preceptors set allowed me to experience the compassion, heart and love nurses put in the care they provide.

The VPUL Career Services Summer Funding gave me those friendships, connections and life-changing experiences. Without the generosity of the donors, my time in Philadelphia would have been marred with fears of financial constraints. More importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to allocate all of my focus on my time at HUP and to my patients. To the donors: thank you for the role that you played in helping me establish my identity as a future nurse. Words can’t properly describe how grateful I am for the opportunity and for the aid. This externship has been one of the most rewarding yet humbling experiences of my nursing career, and it wouldn’t have been possible with VPUL!

Taking Stock

The end of an academic year is a natural time to take stock and evaluate. As a student, you are probably thinking about all that you have accomplished this year such as completing degree requirements, learning all kinds of new information, achieving successes with student or volunteer activities, or simply reflecting on how you’ve grown and changed as an individual. You are likely looking forward to new endeavors this summer including perhaps completing an internship, taking classes, traveling, preparing for graduate school, or starting a new post-graduate job.

Some of you may still be finalizing your next steps and that’s okay! Industries have a wide range of hiring timelines and some simply don’t hire far in advance of when they need an individual to start working. Career Services will remain open all summer and we are happy to schedule appointments with students and alumni either in person or via phone if you have questions about your next steps. You can easily schedule these appointments in Handshake. While you are logged into Handshake, don’t forget to take a look at the job listings! We have had almost 80,000 opportunities posted this year for Penn students and alumni on Handshake and new ones are added every day.

The Career Services staff has also been busy taking stock of how we can most effectively serve Penn students and alumni moving forward. As our long-standing Director retired last summer, it was the perfect time to assess our programs and services. To that end, we invited three external reviewers to campus in January who met with nearly 100 individuals including faculty, staff and students across Penn. Thank you to everyone who took part in these important discussions. The visit culminated with some excellent recommendations for us to consider. As we move into the summer, we will be drafting a strategic plan that will draw on these recommendations and align our priorities over the coming three years. We already have various initiatives planned for this summer and the next academic year including finding new ways to connect with students earlier during their time at Penn, implementing new career exploration tools and services, starting a Peer Career Advisor program, enhancing our website and other communication channels, and continuing to conduct outreach to a diverse set of employers. Stay tuned for more! Even though this academic year is drawing to a close, we are excited for the new things to come in 2019-2020.

Good luck on finals and best wishes for a wonderful summer from all of us in Career Services.