Grant helps add on 12 Plus alumni program

Organization has big plans for $40,000 grant received from the Penn Treaty Special Services District

Coming together: Selena Caruso helps a student with his college applications. PHOTO: 12 Plus

By Lindsey Nolen

Entering high school in Fairfax County, Virginia, Raymond John knew he was expected to work hard in the pursuit of gaining admittance to a great college. Yet, since moving to Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania 12 years ago, he recognized that not all public schools produce this same mindset.

To help change this, he founded the nonprofit mission, 12 Plus, and has been seeking to intervene in Philadelphia area public schools, currently including more than 1,500 students from Kensington Health Sciences Academy, Hill Freedman World Academy and Penn Treaty High School, to help bolster student post-secondary readiness and success. The Penn Treaty Special Services District awarded the organization a $40,000 grant in May which will be applied to 12 Plus’s newly established ASCEND program.

While the primary focus of 12 Plus is to extend education beyond 12th grade, and thus where the organization’s name stems from, ASCEND is designed to assist with the transition into a post-secondary pathway, as well as provide aid to postsecondary students.

“The [ASCEND] alumni program was designed to watch these students transition and persist into a post secondary pathway,” John, the organization’s CEO, said. “In helping transition graduating seniors, we want to help remove the hidden barriers such as paying the enrollment deposit or registering for classes. We also want to be able to help current post-secondary students in ways including helping them to renew their financial aid.”

John explained that having an alumni-portion to the organization made sense because 12 Plus focuses its time on building individual relationships with each student to ensure they are being set up on the best, most fitting educational track for their needs. He continued it’s important to determine whether a student is best fit for a big four-year school, community college or vocational school to achieve this result.

“We become a trusted entity that they’re familiar with because we spend so much time working with them while they’re in high school,” John, 30, said. “We will also be working with previous alumnus from our high schools that may have taken a break or that may have had to drop out because of struggles, but who are now looking to re-enroll.”

The $40,000 grant from the PTSSD has enabled 12 Plus to introduce these additional services. Extremely grateful for the donation, which comes after PTSSD awarded 12 Plus a prior grant which allowed it to open its first “Plus Center,” the funds will be used primarily to hire a program director.

In addition, funds from the PTSSD grant will also go toward space for alumni consultations, emergency grants (used in cases such as when a student doesn’t have money for the trip to attend college orientation) and laptop computers. Like all of 12 Plus’ programs, ASCEND is named for its association with flight, because the organization plans to use it to essentially project participating students forward educationally.

“Many times recent high school graduates need one-on-one guidance from experienced people outside of the traditional guidance counselor and family environment. 12 Plus is specifically designed to provide that level of one on one support,” Rich Levins, vice chair of PTSSD, said.

Levins added as other nonprofit organizations do, 12 Plus simply submitted a request for this grant, and PTSSD was so impressed with its program that it was selected to receive the funds. Furthermore, with its one-on-one support, he feels it is a much-needed service within the educational community.

“In the future, we also want to build partnerships with community colleges in Philadelphia to develop an even stronger pipeline,” John said. “Through this, we would be able to offer some college-level classes in high school and increase students’ chances of success. Essentially, we want to create the mindset that they’re supposed to go on and pursue post-secondary education.”