Lighting Up High School Hallways

Most freshman students feel some level of anxiety about their first day of high school. However, imagine walking down hallways lined with over 94 security cameras at a school repeatedly ranked among the most dangerous in America. 

Known for poor graduation rates, low academics, and elevated neighborhood crime, Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia, PA had a stretch of years where it seemed to consistently make the news for violence in the community, lockdowns, and fights. 

However, things at Strawberry Mansion have been turning around, due in no small part to the bright light that is school counselor Ameera Sullivan, MA ’14, CAGS ’16. By building strong connections with her students and committing to stick with them, Ameera is helping students graduate and get into college, trade schools, and impactful careers. Her positive impact even drew the attention of several Philadelphia Inquirer articles and an Action News crew from 6abc. (Watch the news video feature.)

“The most rewarding part of my job is helping students work through some of their greatest challenges and witnessing them grow up to become productive members of society,” Ameera shares. 

That’s not to say that Ameera’s journey has been easy. “When I first started working at Strawberry Mansion, the school was almost everything the media made it out to be,” she recalls.

“Most of the staff from my first year left and moved on to other schools. I made a promise to my freshman seminar students that I would stay at Strawberry Mansion and be here to give out their diplomas.”

Over the years she has interacted daily with stories that break her heart. Many of her students struggle to make it to school because they have to work to feed or provide for themselves.

“The most difficult part of my job is watching the students act out due to misplaced anger,” she explains. “Over 50% of our students have IEPs, and that’s not to say that they are incapable. They were never taught how to properly cope.”

Despite the heartbreak and frustration she often feels, Ameera is encouraged by the positive changes she has seen over the last several years. “It feels good to be the last standing teacher/counselor since the 2016 regime and to know that I kept my word to my first group of ninth graders. A familiar face goes a long way to students.” 

Ameera credits her graduate program at Eastern with wonderfully preparing her for her current work. She earned both her MA in School Counseling and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies from EU.

“Going into grad school, I wasn't sure what to expect, but my experience at Eastern provided me with so much more: my purpose,” she shares. “The prayers and support from my professors and classmates really got me through the program, and that is something I try to do with my students and coworkers.”

The fluorescent lights in Strawberry Mansion hallways are bright, but Ameera’s light is brighter. She walks those hallways with purpose, courage, and conviction – and the rays of her impact reflect far and wide.

This article was originally featured in the Spring 2020 Edition of Eastern Magazine. View the full magazine here.