Abby Brown served at Germantown Friends School (GFS) for her 2014-2015 QVS year in Philadelphia, and has continued working in education ever since.
“QVS was asking us every week to be incredibly self-reflective, and in tune with our work and ourselves… [Topics] we explored in QVS in regards to power and oppression and race inform my work as a teacher everyday.”
At the end of the year, Abby accepted an offer to teach at her QVS housemate’s site placement, DePaul Catholic School. Two years later, Abby moved to New York where she teaches first grade at Immaculate Conception School in the South Bronx. “I wouldn’t have gotten that job without QVS because I was teaching at DePaul, and got some really good experience there. I knew DePaul was a special school because it was a QVS site placement. I networked into my current school because of the Catholic School network.”
Building Capacity That Lasts Beyond a QVS Year
During Abby’s QVS year, she co-taught a high school course on mass incarceration at Germantown Friends School (GFS). This connected to her studies the prior year at Haverford College, where she wrote her senior thesis on the history of inmate agency at Graterford Prison in the 1920s, and also took a Restorative Justice course at the State Correctional Institute outside of Philadelphia through Haverford’s partnership with Inside-Out’s Prison Exchange Program.
“I think the job aspect of QVS is really important. It wasn’t a dinky volunteer year. I had a job with expectations, and I had to be in a professional environment and grappling with social issues in a social environment.”
Germantown Friends School (GFS) offered Abby the opportunity to also serve part of the time at John B. Kelly School, a nearby public elementary school, as the volunteer coordinator. This role was created the prior QVS year at GFS. When Abby asked what they could most use volunteers for, they said they want their library to work, so she figured out how to make a sustainable system that’s not going to leave when she did at the end of the year. “To me, the most important work was the work I was doing with Kelly… I worked really hard to make the experience be about the school, the students, and what they need, from the restorative justice perspective, and this is how the library came to be.”
Abby was invited to return to Kelly School for a visit about two years ago, and when she saw the library up and fully running with a system of volunteers, she found it “rewarding and emotional.”
A Distinctly Quaker Experience
“I think doing QVS and learning about Quakerism — while I’m not a practicing Quaker and haven’t gone to meetings since QVS — it helped me reframe how I feel about spirituality, how I feel about faith and the role of community in religion. And, now that I’m working in Catholic schools… QVS helped me to work in these religious environments and see that there is something very valuable there, and something special and unique in Catholic schools. I now consider myself a spiritual person, even though I don’t consider myself a religious person, and QVS helped me find that.”
The Impact of Connections Offered During QVS
Outside of her site placement, Abby received support from educators to help her discern her vocation. This included conversations at Green Street Meetinghouse with JoAnn Seaver, a retired school teacher and local Quaker, who also served on Philadelphia’s Local Support Committee. This unofficial mentorship included visits to JoAnn’s house to learn about literacy.
“Without QVS I don’t know if I’d be a teacher. It wasn’t something I was interested in — but being in an elementary classroom I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is the part of my QVS site placement each week that gives me the most energy and the most joy, and made me feel like I was alive in work for the first time.’ I’d worked with kids before; but it was the first time it’d occurred to me that I’m interested in teaching.”
QVS’ goal is to provide entry points for young adults to explore a range of vocational paths. Fellows like Abby not only learn at their site placements, but are also able to learn from each other and see the ecosystem of service and justice work that they are a part of. Abby describes this experience, sharing: “Another facet was seeing my housemates doing nonprofit work, which was something I’d thought I’d go into. But I realized that was not what I wanted to do at all. I got a taste of the other site placements to solidify that education or teaching was something I’m passionate about and where I want to pursue work… QVS [also] taught me so much about myself and how I interact with other people. Living in community was one of the hardest things, and was not easy. But it taught me so much about myself and my strengths and my areas for growth.”
Although teaching during the pandemic brings its challenges, Abby finds the kids she works with bring her alive! She is also working on her certification and M. Ed. in Childhood Education at Hunter College. Abby loves plants and just moved from Harlem to Brooklyn, where she has been teaching remote summer school.
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