Day in the Life: Teacher at Success Academy Charter Schools

Ever wondered what it’s like to teach at one of New York City’s top-performing public elementary schools — in Harlem? Join alumna Paloma Saez ’11 on Tuesday, April 8, when she tweets for @PennCareerDay. Learn about Success Academy, the unique network of public charter schools that Paloma works for. Success Academy has been nationally recognized for its robust curriculum, degree of parent involvement, extraordinary professional development program, and commitment to “joyful rigor.” The organization serves mostly high-risk, low-income, inner-city kids admitted by lottery, and yet its schools rank in the top 1 percent in New York State in math and the top 7 percent in reading. It has not only closed the achievement gap, but by several measures it’s actually reversed it.

paloma saez bio photoPaloma teaches third grade at Success Academy Harlem 2. For her, being part of such an organization is inspiring. “When I learned about Success Academy, I fell in love with the model,” she says. “I loved the aesthetics. I loved how organized everything is and how supported the teachers are. The environment immediately felt social, intellectual, and stimulating in all ways. And the people I met were the kind of people I knew I wanted to be working with.”

She didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher, though. When she started at Penn, she aimed for a career in chemistry, or, she thought, a combination of chemistry and art. Another option she considered was law, in particular juvenile justice. “The prison-to-school pipeline always fascinated me,” she says. But then she had a realization: “I though it would be better to focus on helping kids stay in school than on moving them from prison to school. That’s when I decided teaching was the way to go for me.” Saez taught for Teach for America for a year after graduating, and then started at Success Academy. The best thing about teaching third grade? “Seeing students succeed academically is great, but the moments that matter the most to me are when one student sticks up for another, or when students help and support one another. At this age you really see them becoming part of a team, and that’s an amazing reward.”

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Bring on the Career Joy!

By Barbara Hewitt

We recently added a new addition to our household – Carmen, a cute Shi Tzu/Yorkie mix (who knew they were called “Shorkies”?) from a local animal shelter. It has been fun having her around, as can be evidenced by the very happy picture with one of my daughters below!

CarmenDuring the weeks since Carmen joined us, we’ve come into contact with a variety of individuals who have chosen careers working with animals and I’ve noticed how much they all seem excited and engaged by their work. The workers and volunteers at the shelter from which we adopted Carmen were incredibly upbeat and thrilled to welcome prospective adopters to their shelter. The atmosphere was a little crazy, as it was rather crowded with prospective adoptive families and volunteers along with (as you might imagine) lots of barking dogs. Even in the hectic environment, the staff took plenty of time to answer our questions to ensure that the transition went as smoothly as possible for Carmen and our family. The staff followed up a week or so later to make sure everything was going fine. I mentioned to one staff member how impressed I was with the entire upbeat environment, and she smiled broadly and said “Yes, we love our animals!” Clearly she had found her passion.

A few days later we took Carmen to a groomer and again I noticed how incredibly positive and excited about working with dogs the staff was there….Same thing when we visited the vet for a check-up a few days later. The vet and assistants were happy to meet our new addition and again spent lots of time getting to know Carmen and even let my kids check out her heart rate with the stethoscope. We’ve enrolled Carmen in a training class and the instructor is an incredibly energetic owner of two amazingly well-trained boxers…she is wonderfully enthusiastic about her work and the opportunity to meet and work with new dogs on a regular basis.

I can’t imagine that any of these individuals chose their professions because of  huge paychecks, but rather because they love the work. While we all consider the benefits and “perks” we receive when considering a new job (the pay, the benefits, a short commute, flexible work hours, etc.), the most important thing to consider is the intrinsic nature of the work – do you like most of  things you will be doing on any given day? Does it give you energy instead of leaving you drained? Many individuals find “mission-oriented” work extremely fulfilling, when their work is aligned with a cause that is important to them, often in a nonprofit setting. But I’ve also spoken with plenty of individuals who find deep fulfilment in other sorts of work, depending on their individual values. I’ve spoken with students who interned in consumer product marketing who have told me they find it incredibly gratifying when they are at a store and see someone purchasing their product ….and I’ve also had students tell me that they realized they were in the wrong career entirely when they came to the realization that they couldn’t care less if more consumers bought the new potato chips they were promoting. It all boils down to what is important to you as an individual and what you most highly value. Pay close attention to what makes you tick and brings you joy….there are plenty of career clues embedded in that joy.

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Outside of the OCR Box

By Athena Burkett, Wh, ‘13

When junior year came along, I had all the same fears as everyone else. “Where will I work this summer?” “How will I find an internship that guarantees me a job next year?” “What does it mean if I don’t get a job through OCR?” These questions and so many more wailed through my head as I relentlessly studied Case In Point and researched companies I had no real interest in working for. Being a Whartonite, I felt I needed to get a job through OCR, or else my schooling and work thus far would be for naught.
I was trapped in the OCR box, and was seeing the wonderful things inside it, but completely neglecting the opportunities outside its walls.

Deep down I knew that this wasn’t the path I wanted to take. Consulting and banking are great jobs, they just weren’t great for me. That summer I took an internship with PennSEM (a Penn non-profit internship program). It was a wonderful opportunity to do quality business work with a non-profit agency. I learned a lot that summer, the biggest thing being that I liked using my business knowledge in non-traditional settings. Just because I wasn’t working in banking or consulting, that didn’t mean I wasn’t using all the valuable knowledge Wharton gave me.

teacherComing into senior year after that summer, I knew that OCR wouldn’t be my focus. I wanted to find a teaching job, so I decided to look through all the doors that Penn opens for its graduates. I scoured websites, went to Civic House and Career Services panels, attended NGO-Government Career fairs, and reached out to everyone I knew. Anything that came across my plate with the word “teach” or “non-profit” in it, I stopped to check it out. I placed myself on all the career list serves, and applied to a lot of teaching and non-profit leads I got through these sources. There are an incredible amount of resources available at Penn, but the key is to start early. It’s harder to do the research (there isn’t one nicely compiled database), but the process is the same – application, interview rounds, and (hopefully) offer. It’s well worth the work to find a job you really enjoy.

I had come across the Urban Teacher Center program at an NGO fair in the spring of my junior year, and I saw it mentioned again in a lot of Civic House and Netter Center list serves. The program combines a dual masters degree with real time teaching experience, and it sounded perfect for me. I applied to their first deadline, and accepted an offer in October. Just like many of my peers, I could finally stop worrying about what I was going to do next year, and enjoy my senior year.

I think the most important connection for me was realizing that just because I was in Wharton, it didn’t mean I had to succeed through OCR or be a failure. A different path was just as valid, even if not as popular. There is a great deal of stigma attached to those who don’t get a job through OCR, as they are often believed to have lost a competition. But it is important to understand that those of us who choose not to participate in OCR are not straying from the Wharton path, we’re simply choosing to use our powers for a different purpose. If you’re questioning whether or not consulting and banking (and thus, OCR) are right for you, I encourage you to resist the pressure to stay in the box. There are amazing opportunities outside those four walls, and I promise that one of them is waiting for you to seize it.

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The Path Towards an Education Career has Many Routes

by Elizabeth Leonard

Anyone who regularly reads the New York Times will tell you that law schools have gotten a bad rap recently. It seems like every week there’s another article about how law school is overpriced, graduates have very few “real world” skills and a JD is no longer a fool-proof path to a lucrative career. I disagree.

As someone who practiced law for a measly two years after graduating from Penn Law, I seem to be a walking example of everything that’s wrong with law school. But, I argue (once a lawyer, always opinionated!) that Penn Law taught me a wide range of skills that are useful on a daily basis as I develop The Blue Bridge Project, a small educational company that provides service learning opportunities for high school students.

I started Blue Bridge Project because it is obvious that students who have international exposure are better prepared for professional success. Many high schools are integrating internationally focused classes into their curriculum like “Modern Islam” or “Comparative Political Systems” but classroom attention is not enough. Students who have the opportunity to travel develop a range of skills that cannot be taught in the classroom like: how to exhibit cultural sensitivity; how other people view the American lifestyle; and how political processes impact everyday people. Blue Bridge’s mission is to expose students to these issues so that they develop a more nuanced and well-rounded view of the world and start on the path to becoming global citizens.

  1. Confidence – A significant part of starting my own business was having the confidence to leave the security of a full-time job and quite literally, follow my dreams. In the first week of Civil Procedure, I was asked “what kinds of cases do federal courts hear?” At that point—and I am not kidding—I didn’t know the difference between the federal and state court systems! Despite not knowing the answer, I survived. Plowing through the toughest days of 1L year and enjoying the remaining two years of law school (yes, it’s true, I liked law school!) gave me the confidence that I could build this business. I continue to tap into that confidence during the most challenging times when I feel defeated and frustrated. There is a real emotional component to running a business and I developed an emotional endurance in law school that has really helped me.
  2. Critical thinking – Law school taught me how to thoughtfully sort through a lot of information and quickly distill key points. As an entrepreneur, I utilize this skill daily. On any given day I am thinking through the pros and cons of various insurance packages, writing web content, negotiating with service providers and drafting business contracts. This is not dissimilar from the experience of preparing for class during all three years of law school. I spent hours at the library sorting through cases and concepts; in order to preserve my sanity (and maintain a social life!) I learned to efficiently synthesize all of this material. I could not get through my to-do list every day if I hadn’t honed those skills in law school.
  3. Crisp writing and concise speaking– Law school taught me how to write clearly and speak concisely. I practiced these skills during legal writing seminars, mock-trials in clinical settings and on issue-spotting exams. I use these skills daily in my work as an entrepreneur, whether I am drafting a one-sentence blurb for BBP’s homepage or on the phone with a parent. The ability to clearly and concisely express yourself is critical to disseminate your message and this applies universally, whether you are advocating on behalf of your client in a mediation or making a presentation to parents about summer programs.

While my path towards building an education organization is untraditional, I have acquired so many skills along the way. Each person’s decision to pursue a graduate degree is highly personal and I am certainly not advocating that law school is the perfect choice for people who don’t want to be lawyers. But for me, I have no regrets about my JD and use it to my advantage on a daily basis.


JDandEducationElizabeth is the Founder and President of Blue Bridge Project ( BBP is the first international travel program to partner with local non-profits and offer post-trip guidance to help high school students apply their summer experience to their individual goals and future endeavors. Elizabeth has worked in high school student travel for over 8 years and has led students on trips around the world. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, where she majored in International Relations and Spanish, and Penn Law School where she pursued public interest law. Elizabeth was the first recipient of the Penn Public Interest Fellowship and used her funding to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities as an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.

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This Week: Sustainability, the Environment and Your Career

This is an exciting week for Penn students with interest in sustainability and the environment!   

First, on Wednesday February 27th, we’ll have several distinguished graduates presenting as part of the “Careers in Cleantech” alumni panel, open to all UPenn students with an interest in sustainability and related career paths –  click for more details on the panelists and to reserve your seat!

Wondering what is “Cleantech”?  Cleantech covers fields as diverse as materials, biofuels, energy, recycling, transportation, water, nuclear, solar, and wind, among others, and roles within Cleantech organizations range from business to technical.  The term itself refers to new technology and related business models that offer competitive returns for investors and customers while providing solutions to global challenges.

Second, on Friday March 1st, Penn will once again be partnering to bring you the All Ivy Environmental & Sustainable Career Fair!  Now in its 10th year, this fair is the premier event through which Ivy League students and graduates can meet with representatives from organizations in the private, non-profit and public sectors across a multitude of industries focused in sustainability and the environment.  A sampling of represented organizations includes but is certainly not limited to:

  • Anchor QEA
  • Arcadis
  • CleanEdison
  • Department of Environmental Protection
  • ENVIRON International
  • L’Oreal
  • MTA NYC Transit
  • Peace Corps
  • Sefaira
  • Terra Cycle
  • Tetra Tech
  • United Wind
  • and more!

For full details on all organizations as well as several related educational programs that will be represented at the All Ivy Environmental and Sustainable Career Fair please visit

Lastly, candidates interested in researching careers in this space and others would be very well served to check out the multitude of resources offered not only through the Career Services Resources-by-Field-website, but also the Lippincott Library’s Research Guides – with access to highly relevant and valuable information (like the expansive Cleantech site, a comprehensive resource for alternative energies including research reports, companies, investors and more, under the “Energy” Research Guide) as well as info on other industries and career areas.

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