Achieving her Dream
At 14, Rasheedah felt directionless. Today she is a lawyer and helping others find their way.
Rasheedah Phillips was recently featured on MSNBC's Education Nation.
By 9:00 most mornings, Rasheedah Phillips is already at her office and deep into her daily juggling routine. The staff attorney for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia has a to-do list that could wrap around the Liberty Bell. Luckily, Phillips handles multitasking like an artist handles colors. Her experience as a teen mom finessed her command of time management. For years, she’s had to manage attending classes and studying, while working part-time jobs and squeezing in time with her daughter.
But 12 years ago, before representing small businesses and helping homeowners who are dealing with foreclosures, Phillips was a pregnant and confused teen on the verge of dropping out of high school. It was then she found support from a program for teen parents administered by Communities In Schools of Philadelphia. In keeping with the mission of Communities In Schools to surround students with a community of support, site coordinators reached out to Phillips to make sure she had access to needed support and resources. In addition to providing her with adequate basic services, such as health screenings and counseling, they made sure she had access to targeted services, those designed for students with specific needs. Phillips was connected to a program called Education Leading to Employment and Career Training (ELECT). She credits the program and Communities In Schools for keeping her in school, helping her graduate and putting her on track to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer.
“ELECT was like a sanctuary,” said Phillips, 27. “I was a confused teenager with all the problems that teenagers have, plus being pregnant on top of that. With ELECT and Communities In Schools, I had counselors I could talk to and a place where I could eat healthy food. And I didn’t feel so isolated.”
The Communities In Schools administered program, a partnership between the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare and Department of Education, launched in 1992 to bring outside services and resources inside schools for students, so they can stay focused on schoolwork and attendance, and be encouraged to receive their high school diplomas. Mother and baby wellness classes, career and job-readiness training, and access to childcare and transportation are some of what’s offered at a number of high schools within the school district of Philadelphia.
“The service is definitely an integral component for student achievement,” said Marcus Godfrey, assistant director of ELECT at Communities In Schools of Philadelphia. “Our goal is to help meet their academic and social service needs. And we do that by providing easy access to support and building a rapport between staff and students.”
Even as 14-year-old pregnant teen, Phillips saw a future with limited career choices.
“It was a difficult time,” she said. “I was depressed, discouraged. For a while I thought this was the life that I was going to have.” But she did want a better future for herself and her daughter. “Something snapped, and it got me back to being the student I had been, the one who studied and got good grades.” A year after missing most of the ninth grade, Phillips was enrolled in a new high school, and with the help of ELECT counselors, recommitted to her education.
“The Communities In Schools counselors were very instrumental in helping me,” she said. “They recognized my abilities and encouraged me – they didn’t let me quit.”
Phillips got her high school diploma and, armed with scholarships, enrolled at Temple University. But the hard part was not over yet. Taking 18 credits a semester and attending summer school, Phillips had to arrange her schedule to fit in studying and mommy time with Iyonna, now 12. She confesses to more than once thinking about wanting to give up. But she thought about her daughter, about breaking the cycle of teen pregnancy in her family and about the stability a career as a lawyer represented – and pushed on. Phillips completed her college studies and graduated with summa cum laude honors in only three years. Then it was on to Temple’s Beasley School of Law to complete the last step in fulfilling her goal of having a professional legal career.
Phillips is the first in her immediate family to graduate from college, but has inspired her younger brother, who is also on the path to higher education.
“I always tell young parents to use their circumstances as inspiration, as an excuse to do better,” said Phillips. “Yes, you have to work hard, and you have to find a support network. I know that I’m doing a good job. I’m as capable as my colleagues. Don’t internalize the stereotype messages that you hear. You can’t allow that to hold you back.”
Phillips, who is a member of the recently launched Communities In Schools Alumni Network, has also added community service to her list, making time to give back by speaking to teens and teen parents, offering advice and an encouraging ear, and sharing her inspiring story. Her experience is one example of how Communities In Schools can mean the difference between failure and success in the life of a young person.
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