English/Spanish teacher, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy
Master of Applied Positive Psychology, ‘21
Texas Christian University, Bachelor of Arts in Journalism ‘18
Growing up with a father who was an educator at Strawberry Mansion high school, notorious for being one of the most underserved high schools in the country, Frank Jackson, a student in the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program, never imagined that he would be drawn to being an educator; however, upon completing his undergraduate degree in journalism at Texas Christian University, he joined Teach For America because he says he was “drawn by its mission of equity.” Frank was no stranger to inequity, for in contrast to the underserved and underfunded education environment that he saw through his father’s work, he earned a scholarship to attend high school at the highly competitive, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. In the minority as a Black student there, he was aware of the good fortune he had for the opportunity, but also of the inequity in education.
Through Teach For America, Frank had the opportunity to teach English to freshmen at Justin F. Kimball High School in Dallas, Texas. In the classroom, Frank started thinking more about the effects of positive psychology. “Through the educational realm I think it shows up through social emotional learning. A lot of what I learned in Teach For America is that we focus on the kid first. We had a mantra that we would say, and I spray painted it on my wall,” he laughs, “I don't know if I was supposed to, but they didn't fire me for it!” The mantra was “You are smart, you are beautiful, you are strong, you are loved, you are enough.”
Unfortunately, while he was in Dallas, Frank’s father passed away. This loss allowed for a perspective shift and he says that after this, while reading about positive psychology, he noticed “that the pillars were things that had gotten me through all those times and were things I naturally had done and things I tried to spread to my students and my family members.” In fact, his relationship with positive psychology went back much further. He had also lost his mother at the age of nine; that loss “opened the doors” to having relationships with his four older sisters, and looking back, he now sees that through this perspective shift, he was utilizing positive psychology. It was then that he knew he “wanted to learn the science and the language behind being able to spread this type of work and this type of thinking.” When he saw the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at Penn, he said that, just as it had with Teach For America, the mission spoke to him: “I felt like it captured the essence of who I am and who I want to be in the world.”
Frank immediately made plans to apply for the program. He admits that the price tag was intimidating. He says that the time for deferring his undergraduate student loans “was dwindling,” so taking on new loans for graduate school was not something he looked forward to. He applied for the Christopher Peterson Memorial Fellowship, a funding opportunity that was created to honor Peterson’s life and his contributions to positive psychology and the MAPP program. Although he was granted admission to the program, he wasn’t initially granted the fellowship. Frank started the program and then he says, “by grace of God, I was able to receive the fellowship at the start of the semester. There was an anonymous donor and multiple people were able to get it this year, and so I was one of those people who got a late call in September saying that I was awarded.” He says receiving the funding has lifted a great weight off of his shoulders as it “allowed me to not think about that financial hurdle as I learn.”
Frank’s goal in joining the MAPP program is bringing the language of positive psychology to the Black community. “I definitely want to have the type of impact where I’m creating something specifically catered towards people of color—where we're infusing that positive psychology thinking.” In doing this, he hopes to end the stigma associated with clinical psychology in his community, especially for men of color. In the program, he says, “I've been encouraged by my professors to do research on that and given opportunities to work with Marty Seligman and others to get more information on people who look like me and how we fit into the puzzle of psychology.” Frank will have the chance to further pursue his interest in the role of positive psychology in his community through his capstone project this summer, which he titled “Our resilience: The History of Resilience towards Well-being for African Americans.”
The MAAP program has historically followed a hybrid education model, but for the 2020-2021 academic year, the program was fully remote. As a hybrid program, students would come to Penn’s campus one weekend a month for lectures and extracurricular activities. As a virtual program, the students have been brought together for movie nights, concerts, art galleries, and lunches. All of this is in addition to the lectures, guest speakers, and close personal advising.
One of the most impressive aspects about the program for Frank has been the sense of community that he has experienced despite being fully remote. He says, “It honestly started on day one with receiving a personal phone call by the director, Dr. James Pawelski.” Frank was pleasantly surprised by this level of personalization. “Everyone's available. We have Slack channels, WhatsApp groups, and professors have office hours. I could text James right now, or email Marty, and they would be available to schedule a meeting with me. Anyone you want to speak to is accessible from the top to the bottom.”