Propel America is Like Family
by Taryn Fletcher, Ed.D, Executive Director, Propel America New Jersey
When I left high school, all I wanted to do was “start my life.” I liked the idea of independence and getting into a career early. I was eager to fulfill my goals.
A lot of our Propel fellows are like this, too. I see that part of myself in them. I see the eagerness I felt, the determination. I remember feeling that excited and hopeful about my future. The ambition to just go begin knocking down your goals. I completely get why they want to start now.
I did not have a program like Propel, but I was lucky that my path had supports similar to those that Propel provides. I got the chance to launch my career right away, have strong mentors, and to get paid while I learned.
Right out of high school, my first job was working as a teaching assistant at the daycare center at Asbury United Methodist Church in New Castle, Delaware. It was across the highway from the development that I lived in. My cousin, Keara, had been working there for a few years, and we ended up in the classroom together — she was the lead teacher and I was her assistant.
Keara was my mentor. She was modeling the way for me. She introduced me to the team members. Because they respected her and she vouched for me, I was able to quickly gain their trust. I also learned by watching her. She was a great teacher. She was always thinking about the way to make things more enjoyable and engaging for children. She modeled a continuity of care for children and she pushed me — she’d encourage me to talk to a parent, talk with our boss, do the things I was afraid of. When I didn’t feel comfortable, she had confidence in me.
One thing that I love about Propel is that our fellows learn on the job, just like I did, and they get mentors, too — people that are in the very same job they have entered, but who have more experience. Not everyone can have their cousin show them the ropes, but our fellows get to work with someone who is knowledgeable, kind, and who is willing to push them and support them early on in their careers, perhaps in the same way a family member would.
When I went off to college, I decided I wanted to continue on the path to becoming an educator. I worked as a summer school teacher each summer, and I also worked as a student teacher my senior year. Just like our fellows, I was getting paid while I trained. Back then, that was quite unusual for the education profession, but lucky for me, my summer school teaching jobs provided space networking and building relationships that would then turn into a job opportunity. Then, I applied to be a full-time teacher after college.
Now, after all these years, I am still an educator. Those strong early experiences made me feel not just that I wanted to continue but that I could. When a young person’s first experiences in a field don’t go well, they may feel they don’t belong. I am grateful for the chance to make sure that our Propel fellows know that they not only belong, but they can thrive. This is not to say that they won’t struggle — that is a part of learning. But at Propel, we are committed to making sure our young people know that they have a team by their side, and coaches who have been through it, just like they are.
We believe that our fellows can and will “make it” in the field of their choosing. We also believe that their career goals may continue to expand. That’s why we also set them up to have tuition reimbursement after six months at the job, so that they can continue to learn and grow professionally by going back to school if they want to.
Whatever they choose, we are here for them. Keara believed in me. I believe in our fellows. And I believe in the mentors and leaders they will be tomorrow — their little cousins are watching them, too, ready to follow where they lead.