Take a glance into room 100. Students in this kindergarten class sit on the blue carpet positioned in the center of the classroom.
Listen to the giggles and laughter of the five-year-old students as they count numbers. Their peers hold large red cards — each card has numbers one through ten — and they stand in front of the room.
Watch substitute teacher, Harriet Davis, telling the children sitting on the carpet to close their eyes. Students holding numbers three, six and eight face their backs toward the class.
“Boys and girls, you can open your eyes. Tell me what’s missing,” Davis said.
Quickly eyes open and students try to figure out which numbers are missing from the line up.
At Clara Barton Elementary, Principal Colleen Bowen said the school’s environment promotes an experience where kids can be kids. She described the school as a place where students can skip down the hallway and feel safe and secure.
With one pre-kindergarten and one autistic support class, ten kindergarten, ten first-grade and nine second-grade classes, the school’s population is 750 students.
Five years ago, Barton served grades kindergarten through eighth. However, the school became overcrowded. The Philadelphia School District made the decision to keep the large community, but create a campus of schools.
Barton — pre-kindergarten to second grade, Feltonville Intermediate — third to fifth grade — and Feltonville Arts and Sciences — sixth to eighth grade — encompass the Feltonville campus.
“All three schools work together. We all stay in communication with [each other]. Basically, we work well together. It’s nice for us because we can create an early childhood center in our school,” Bowen said.
In her third year as principal, Bowen accredits reading to Barton’s success in making Adequate Yearly Progress consecutively in 2010 and 2011.
“I think a strong foundation in reading is really what drives us in making AYP. Then, students feeding into Feltonville Intermediate made AYP. I think a lot of that has to do with the high caliber of students we’re sending up to them.”
Every floor has a “Clara’s Corner” which is a small reading center with books and a bench for students to read quietly.
“We use Children Literacy Initiative in our school. That’s just a real organic approach to reading and writing. They’re reading independently. They’re learning to stretch their abilities,” Bowen said.
At Barton, parental involvement is highly expected. In the beginning of the school year, parents sign an agreement to make sure their child is sent to school daily and that they attend parent-teacher conferences. There are two parent meetings a month. Bowen hosts one of the meetings and the School Improvement Support Liaison, Nancy Torres, holds a chat and chew. This meeting engages and informs parents on developments and programs at school.
“We have phenomenal families that work really hard with their [children]. We push them to read to them every night. We create high expectations that parents really step up because we can’t do it alone,” Bowen said.
With three children and four nieces and nephews who attend or have graduated from Barton, Evelyn Diaz said she likes the school environment. She explained the reason her family chose Barton.
“All my kids been here, the teachers are great. I can come see my child anytime and make sure they’re alright. They have a lot of staff that keep an eye on the kids,” Diaz said.
As she sat in the auditorium to watch the kindergarten winter concert, Diaz said she enjoys the concerts, graduations and meetings at the school.
“I’m aware of the dates for the after-school programs and what’s available for my child to better herself and her education,” Smith said.
Parents and family, like Diaz, packed the school’s auditorium to watch the classes perform songs at the winter concert. Each class performs a poem and a song. Some play the xylophone and others drum on plastic tubs and coffee cans.
“Every year we do a winter concert. It’s just an opportunity for the students to perform for their families. For them to come and participate in something positive, everybody participates and it gives them a source of pride,” Bowen said.
Music teacher, Nancy Francis, leads the concerts. Francis describes her experiences with students.
“I think it’s a celebration of the arts for them. It builds self-esteem for them. We have art and music. Our principal is very supportive of the arts. I feel very fortunate. I love my job,” Francis said.
“My music teacher is phenomenal. It’s amazing what she can get those kindergartens kids to do,” Bowen said.
According to Bowen, Barton teachers are described as super stars for their effort to teach and engage students.
“I have amazingly dedicated teachers. They are extremely hard working and they go above and beyond. They’re always trying to look for new ways to reach their students.”
In room 211, Solece Messinger’s second-grade class is encouraged to do acts of kindness toward one another. After reading the book, “How Full is Your Bucket?” written by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer, students fill a jar with a fuzzy ball for every positive action. Once the jar is full, students can have a popcorn party. However, if someone says or does something that is not encouraging to a peer, a fuzzy ball is removed.
Back in room 100, students finish the counting numbers exercise and prepare for the winter concert.
Gabriella Nunes said she enjoys playing games and singing the Gingerbread song in school.
“I like music class because I like to dance,” Nunes said.
Classmates, Ahoud Abdelrazzaq and Sanih Muhammad describe their favorite activities at school.
“I like ABCs, numbers and drawing,” Abdelrazzaq said.
“My favorite thing about school is shapes because I like how they look and numbers to learn to count,” Muhammad said.
“I think the nurturing environment is what is so special about this school. We are truly a family,” Bowen said.
Based on the special admissions enrollment process, rigorous curriculum and school uniforms, Hill Freedman Middle School may appear as a private institution. Yet, this international baccalaureate magnet school has an array of academic achievements, class options and cultural awareness.
“We’re not a private school or charter school, but the best kept secret,” Principal Anthony Majewski said.
In October 2010, the school received its credit to become an international baccalaureate school. With this credential, the school follows a structure of having core classes of language A — a typical English class, language B — Spanish class, humanities/social sciences, math, science, technology, art, dance, physical education and music.
Academically with seventh- and eighth-grade PSSA scores, Hill Freedman ranked 13th out of 854 Pennsylvania middle schools in the 2010–2011 school year.
“If you look at our action plan, we’re pushing students. They look for advanced and proficient. We’re just looking at advanced. We’re pushing students to 85 percent advanced. That’s our goal,” Majewski said.
By encouraging strong academics, students are reading a year above their grade level. The sixth-grade is reading a seventh-grade curriculum. Seventh-graders read on an eighth-grade level. Eighth-graders are reading high school material and taking high school algebra.
Pamela Taylor Anderson, International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Coordinator and Special Education Liaison, says this school is special because students understand the type of instruction and learning they receive.
“For students, they know from the door what is expected of them and they just have that natural excitement for learning,” Anderson said.
Seventh-grader, Clarrisa Faustin says she enjoys the learning environment of Hill Freedman.
“The fact that we get such a unique education, we’re very lucky to be accepted into the school. It’s a very fun experience. It’s such a welcoming environment for people to learn in,” Faustin said.
Historically, there were two schools: Hill and Freedman. Hill housed the magnet school program and Freedman specialized in serving special needs students. Until a few years ago, both schools combined. Now, students interact with one another during lunch, at assemblies and in elective classes.
Every other week, students take elective classes with one another. Students learn from a range of subjects such as Spanish dance, cartooning, digital photography, baking, sport fitness and mixed martial arts. Majewski says the magnet school students will have an opportunity to communicate their opinions on the interactions they have when taking classes with the special needs students.
“We really need to have them reflect on what are they learning from that, what are they gaining from that? So they can see for themselves what the value is,” Majewski said.
Faustin takes a gardening class with the life skills class and says the students show her their passions in class.
“They have a love for animals and plants, and it’s really nice because you can interact with everyone,” Faustin said.
The school has three wings. In the A-wing of the school, Mike Towle teaches sixth-grade humanities. Here, students learn about constitutional democracy. The class uses Mac laptops for research and to complete assignments. Morlaye Yansaneh says he enjoys humanities because he can be creative.
“We do different things on the Learning Logs because he gives us questions and we can answer them in any way. It’s not really right or wrong,” Yansaneh said.
In Hope Glover’s science lab, the class learns about deposition. This is the process in which water can carry eroded sediments through a stream channel. Using basins, sand, rules, tape and plastic cups with a hole in the bottom, sixth-graders create their own process of deposition. Cierra Wallace, Shayla Smith, Trae McLean and Samirah Maven use the sand to create a mountain. The cup acts a flood and as the water falls, they observe that the mouth of the water stream creates a fan shape path known as a delta.
In the elective class of digital literacy, students are making music. These producers use Garage Band and Audacity to create different musical genres of action/adventure, love, documentary and even horror.
Eighth-graders Zaa’Raa Padgett and Tanyyah Paterson enjoy the digital literacy class.
“We get to interact with other students of the world, and we learn about technology,” Padgett said.
Within three days, Padgett and Paterson were able to create a horror song.
“It was the most fun and some people couldn’t pull off the horror thing. I like that we can express ourselves through technology,” Paterson said.
In Spanish, the class learns about the Mexican holiday, The Day of the Dead. Seventh-grader Jared Beswick enjoys learning about culture and using the language in his personal life.
“Well, my mom is Spanish, so when she goes into her Spanish mode, I can understand her better,” Beswick said.
The B-wing holds Margaret Haug’s music class. Violins are stacked in the hallway, but the classroom is filled with music books and keyboard. As Haug hands back tests, students listen to a classical song on iTunes, record specific instruments they hear and observe how the music makes them feel emotionally.
Valerie Van Pham teaches life skills students African, North and South American art. Within Pham’s 19 years of teaching art at the school, she says the most memorable experience about the school are the students.
“When they latch onto an idea, take it and create something new out of it. They make work that I wouldn’t have thought myself. Incredible originality,” Pham said.
In the C-Wing, there are three autistic support classes, two multi-disability classes and two life skills classes.
Currently, the school is still waiting on the approval for a new name for the school: Hill Freedman World Academy.
“Parents voted on that, students voted on that, alumni voted on that because just to be Hill Freedman, we felt that we needed to connect it to our IB program now,” Majewski said.
For more than three decades, the Franklin Learning Center (FLC) has been an award-winning school of innovation, high educational standards and a cultural hub with diverse students and staff.
Dr. Charles Staniskis and Frank Guido founded the high school in 1973. Guido was the original principal of FLC, but now Staniskis holds that position.
Spending a brief period at Philadelphia Girls High School as an assistant principal from 1990 until 1992, Staniskis has spent most of his career at FLC. In the spring of 2011, Staniskis was presented the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Distinguished Principal Award. Yet, he said his most memorable experience was when the school was recognized twice on the national stage.
The United States Department of Education recognized FLC as a Blue Ribbon School in 1992 and 2010.
“Many people don’t know about the secret we have here. It’s really a great school. There isn’t any violence. The cultural atmosphere is really great: Black, white, Asian, African, [and] and Albanian. They all get together and have a great time learning and supporting each other,” Staniskis said.
In her 10th year of teaching art in FLC, Christina Whitt said the diversity of students adds an element of educational value.
“The diversity in the room is really great. There are a lot of kids from different parts of the city, from ethnic backgrounds. It really gives them a snapshot of the world. They actually know more about each other since they’re outside of their neighborhood. Kids really know a lot from each other,” Whitt said.
Along with its local and national recognition and diverse population, the school’s grading system is unlike others in the Philadelphia School District. There are no grades. Instead, the school operates on a credit-based system. Students receive credit for units completed in class. When they have completed the required credits for that class, they can move on to the next class. Each credit earned represents a student’s competency of at least 80 percent (B) proficiency in that class. Students can receive 90 percent (A) or (*), which indicates that 90 percent or better was earned.
Within FLC, there are four smaller schools known as “mini schools” that focus on specific areas of education.
In the health science mini-school, course work prepares students with an interest in health occupations. Through medical terminology, Advance Placement courses, showings and internship programs, students receive college preparatory and work experience.
“We try to get all the students through the Nurses’ Assistant Training Program. So they leave the school with a certificate for a nurses’ assistant so that going onto college, they have another skill that they can fall back on for weekends or summers to make a decent dollar not just minimum wage,” Staniskis said.
Health science major students are also involved in extracurricular activities including Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA), The Red Cross Club, Science Fair Club and other leadership and summer workshops.
Eleventh-grader, Briana Stephens, is a member of The Red Cross Club and explained how her interest in health science developed.
“I want to be an obstetrician and gynecologist. When I was growing up, my mom used to watch the special delivery channel and I got interested in it and besides my mom had high risk pregnancies,” Stephens said.
Currently, there is construction going on in the school for renovations and add-on improvements for the future “health science suite.” FLC’s health science suite will support a mock hospital with six beds, doctor’s office and lecture area for students. According to Staniskis, construction should be completed by the end of this academic year.
Along with this project, there will be a new gymnasium floor with glass basketball backboards, an updated chemistry lab and a conference room equipped with white boards and wireless phones.
Students in the business technology mini-school are engaged in entrepreneurship, Advanced Placement computer science, Future Business Learning of America and internship opportunities. Additionally, students have the opportunity to obtain Industry-Recognized Certification as a Microsoft Office Specialist or in the International Computer Driving License Program.
For students who have an interest in the arts, dance, drama or music subject areas are apart of the Performing Arts mini-school. Throughout the year, there are dance recitals, musicals and art exhibits.
Senior, Andrew V. Cruz, played one of the leading roles as Radames in the school’s musical “Aida.” Last year, Cruz played the role of Aladdin in the school’s production of “Aladdin.” Despite his extensive experience, this actor has an interest in studying medicine and becoming a physical therapist.
“We have really good academics. That’s what attracted me to the school. I wanted to do acting, but I also wanted options just in case if I didn’t want to choose acting as a career option. I’m going to go to college for physical therapy. I wouldn’t have made that choice if I didn’t have the strong academic background from FLC,” Cruz said.
Not all students may know exactly which subject area fits them best. Here at FLC, there is a mini school called Humanities that allows students to explore various subject areas. However, this school focuses on SAT preparation, Mock Trials and problem solving activities.
Benabdellah Moueddene, also known as “Senor Ben”, teaches Spanish and French. Moueddene, originally from Algeria and a native French and Arabic speaker, has taught in the Philadelphia School District for 17 years. However this is his first year teaching at FLC. In Moueddene’s class, textbooks are not seen, but rather laptops, interactive websites and Rosetta Stone.
“We use technology all the time. [The students] are savvy also in technology. Sometimes they teach me something. It helps them focus and accomplish more than, you know, the traditional textbook,” Moueddene said.
In Whitt’s art appreciation class, an introduction class for ninth-graders, students infuse ancient Egyptian culture in their artwork. From the school’s production of “Aida,” students had the option of creating a parody using Egyptian art as inspiration with modern elements, a self-portrait of putting themselves in Egypt or doing a reproduction of an Egyptian art piece. Other classes made art that was used for the play.
Students learn drawling in perspective, portrait drawling, digital imaging, animation using iMovie and mural painting in other art classes.
From its history, national recognition, diversity, academic standards and options, students and staff praise the ability to learn and work in the educational environment created at FLC.
As part of its Holiday Caravan Charity Campaign, Lowe’s Home Improvement Company presented Rudolph Blankenburg Elementary School with a $15,000 gift card.
Store Manager Joe Crescenzo, from Lowe’s Store 2378 located on 1500 North 50th St. in Philadelphia, presented the gift to the school.
Principal Malika Savoy-Brooks explained how important it was for Blankenburg to receive the gift.
“The award meant a lot to us because the connection we have with the community. Businesses giving back to the students and the community helped with enhancing the instructional climate,” Savoy-Brooks said.
According to Savoy-Brooks, the gift card money was allocated for outdoor landscaping improvement projects, shelving and organizational materials for classrooms.
“We want projects that we can include kids in, completing the landscaping portion near the playground so, it can have a lasting impact on them,” Savoy-Brooks said.
The Blankenburg administration wrote a proposal to the Philadelphia School District to approve these projects.
“The kids were very excited. The staff was appreciative giving ideas of what we could do to improve our building.”
Gospel singer and Praise 103.9 radio personality, Yolanda Adams and Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Hughes were also in attendance for the presentation.
After the gift card presentation, Lowe’s volunteers and Blankenburg teachers presented crafts such as, Build & Grow, to the students. Students assembled holiday ornaments in the gym.
The Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School sets the bar of excellence in the School District of Philadelphia with test scores at the highest level within the Pennsylvania System of Statewide Assessment. It is an accolade that both the middle school and high school do not take lightly.
Their goal is “Dare to Be Excellent” and Masterman’s principal, Marjorie Neff, continually encourages her students to keep pushing themselves. Neff has been leading the school for the past six years and oversaw President Barack Obama’s visit to Masterman last year. He delivered the televised annual Back to School address at the school.
“It’s been fantastic. I was an elementary principal for 10 years, so it was a big adjustment for me to move and work with middle grade students and high school students, but I have a tremendous, tremendous staff here. The kids and the families are just amazing to work with,” Neff said.
Neff acknowledged that it was daunting for her when she began her tenure at the college preparatory school.
“It was somewhat intimidating. I came from a very small elementary school with only 300 students and Masterman has a fine reputation. I think what I knew going in is that I’m not as smart as, nor will I ever be as smart as, many of the students here or the staff,” she said. “But I brought experiences as an administrator that I knew could support them. I was excited about the opportunity to support academically really talented kids to see what they could achieve.”
The past week saw Masterman welcome prospective parents for an open house program. The highly competitive school even has their own eighth-graders reapply for admission into Masterman’s high school.
“It’s a very rigorous, fast moving classroom experience for kids and so it’s not for the faint at heart,” she said.
“… this school is specifically designed to meet the needs of kids who show academic talent. So, we’re able to accelerate the curriculum. So, maybe kids who weren’t moving as quickly as they could in their previous school are now challenged to do more.”
Masterman has a relationship with Community College of Philadelphia, which is directly across the street from the school. A class of 21 seniors takes a high-level math course at the college. The ability of the students has enabled the teachers to do more in their classrooms.
“Many of the kids, they’re proficient students, but that doesn’t mean they have the same level of interest or the same level of support or challenges — but for the most part, they’re all good at being students. They know what that means. They know how to stay organized which is a challenge,” Brent Gray said.
“You spend so much of your teaching life thinking about that — but you don’t have to think about it as much here. So, you have to think more about which content they’re really absorbing, and ‘how do I go from here?’”
Gray is also in his sixth year at Masterman and teaches science and math.
“It’s all driven by the kids. They will pull you as fast as you can go,” Gray said.
“It’s the best place ever.”
John Lee has taught at Masterman for 21 years and gave credit to the students for his endurance and enthusiasm.
“I really like teaching and the kids make me feel young. I’m 63 now and still feeling like 40,” Lee said. “The students are so enlightening.”
Genielle Parham, in her fourth year as a science teacher, echoed the sentiments.
“As a teacher, I find it refreshing because instead of having to deal with a lot of discipline, you actually get to teach. I get to communicate to my students about my love of science,” Parham said. “As a school, [we have] great kids, great staff; just a great community. We really are a family and I feel very blessed to be here.”
However, just like the other schools in the district, Masterman has been dealt the same budget woes.
“As are many of the Philadelphia schools, we are subject to the same budget cuts all of the schools are subjected to. It means that the class sizes are a little bit bigger than they were last year,” Neff said. “It means that the range of courses that we were able to offer last year are fewer than they were before. The dual enrollment opportunities are much more limited this year.”
She gave an example: “The district just recently informed us that they couldn’t support middle school athletics centrally except for football and field hockey, neither of which we have here for middle school,” Neff said. “So, I’m trying to figure out, within the confines of our very limited budget, how I’m going to continue our six middle school sports.”
Nonetheless, Neff was insistent that the cuts would not lower the school’s bar of excellence in not just academia, but the whole student. She stressed that they would dare to do what they are capable of.
“We’re looking forward to another great year,” Neff said.
Jonas Crenshaw Jr. moved from Mississippi to Philadelphia to assume the responsibilities as principal of Tilden Middle School. With one year under his belt, the consensus is clear that he has already achieved high honors.
“He’s supposed to be here. He’s the person, I believe, [who] is ordained to be here,” said Nancy Golden, assistant principal. “This is his season to be here and to impact the lives of these children.”
Crenshaw, now in his ninth year in administration, brought with him to Tilden a high level of enthusiasm that has been infectious. This past summer, he rallied the faculty and some students to help edify the school.
“One of the things I noticed last year was that there was not a lot of school spirit here when I got here. So, definitely, we’ve been working to make the school a place students are proud of physically and aesthetically,” he said.
Crenshaw’s positive outlook and desire to be proactive has created a cause and effect that is hard not to notice or be in awe of.
“He’s a wonderful, wonderful person. He’s really committed to our children. He loves our kids,” said teacher Jodan Floyd. “He loves the school and the community. He’s trying to bring the community into the school and the school into the community with wonderful innovative things.”
The creation of the C.A.R.E. bucks has really motivated the students to be on their best behavior.
“That’s an incentive for students to do the right thing, follow the rules, be engaged in the educational process, take responsibility for their learning and that kind of thing, be respectful and when we notice that the students follow the rules, they’re able to receive these bucks and at the end of the week, they can redeem them for some wonderful prizes that we have,” Golden said.
Above all else, the 400 students that attend Tilden know they have a principal who walks the hallway and cares. It is a support that is supplemented by the staff.
“Our school motto is Team Tilden, one community achieving global success, and the idea is that we have to work together as a team. And so, I work very hard to build a team with the faculty, the parents, finding ways to show the faculty that they are valued and so what we are now is a family, and I’m excited because it’s very rare that you go to a school and teachers enjoy each other,” he said.
“We enjoy hanging outside of school together. We work together on projects. We roll up our sleevesand get things done around here. And so, I just think that’s amazing that we have a tram that’s so committed to our students.”
Russ Maxemaw, dean of students, echoed the sentiment. He said everyone was moving in the same direction.
“We’re like one big huge family. Everybody has each other’s back. So, if I need something, I can go to anybody and they will help me out. So, I’ll do the same for them,” Maxemaw said.
“I always say that I have four kids at home. I have 400 and something here. So, I technically have over 450 kids.”
Oct. 6 will be Tilden’s back-to-school night, but parents have already weighed in on the difference Crenshaw has made.
“He honestly cares,” Pamela Mack Edwards said.
“He’s walking the halls. He’s interacting. He’s doing things more for the kids.”
Deborah Brewer added.
“The school didn’t look so clean and it was loud and rowdy when I had to come,” Brewer said.
“But it’s quiet when you come in now. You don’t hear students hollering in the room. You don’t see them hanging in the hallways. I think the school has really improved.”
Crenshaw was happy to give of himself, including spending long hours at the office, if his students ultimately benefit.
“What I want my students to understand is that whenever they go out representing the school, they’re going to be first-class students and I want to give them all the experiences that they would get in any other school,” Crenshaw said.
“I want Tilden to be the premiere middle school in the school district, and so it’s that expectation that we offer to the students in creating school spirit.”
Middle Years Alternative School (MYA) has special admissions, small class setting, relatable teachers and engaging class assignments where students are supported to reach academic excellence.
“We believe that all children have the ability to achieve,” Principal Kathleen Fitzpatrick said.
In her fourth year as principal, Fitzpatrick explains the philosophy of MYA and how its environment prepares students for future endeavors.
“We also believe that they come to us with a fresh start. Regardless of past failures, other issues, we believe that this is a fresh start in a new place. We want to move them forward. We want to prepare them for high school. We want them to leave us fully prepared to go to a challenging high school and be successful in a very challenging program,” Fitzpatrick said.
Previously, MYA was housed on 49th and Chestnut Streets. However, with weak infrastructure, the building was no longer safe. Therefore, decisions were made that MYA and Parkway West High School would share a building, where the schools are currently located at 47th and Fairmount Avenue.
There was still another issue. Sulzberger Middle School was at this new location. In order to make room for MYA and Parkway, Sulzberger students were disbanded to other schools in the area.
“A lot of people in the community had very strong ties to Sulzberger. Sulzberger has a lot of history in the city. Community members felt that the eighth-graders in particular [should] graduate at Sulzberger,” Fitzpatrick said.
Despite location changes, MYA is focused on academic achievement. According to Fitzpatrick, the success of making Adequate Yearly Progress consecutively since 2003 was to make students aware of their PSSA standings.
“We say all the time, ‘instructional time is protected time.’ Nothing can get in the way of classroom instruction. The teachers are very focused. They make the kids very goal orientated. We talk about data all the time and we make the kids aware of the data,” Fitzpatrick said.
“It’s not just about making AYP, it’s about learning. We don’t want to focus on the number, we want to focus on what kids retain throughout the year.”
With approximately 300 students, 23 staff members and 14 teachers, MYA provides an intimate community of educational focus.
“It’s difficult to run a school by yourself. In recent years, everyone here has a piece of what happens at MYA and we come together and put it all together,” Fitzpatrick said.
Staff member Betty Garner keeps students in line and peace throughout the hallways. She knows students’ first names and greets them as they walk to class. As a grandmother, she said she sent her grandchildren to MYA because “students are well behaved” and of the “small school atmosphere.”
“I like to check out the schools. I like the idea of the school. I liked it for my grandkids because it keeps them focused and we have some good teachers,” Garner said.
In Veronica Clymer’s information technology class, students learn practical skills when looking for a job. Students learn to research information about companies and write resumes and cover letters. She teaches students to be confident and prepared for interviews. Jokingly, Clymer laughs with the class about the statements made by people who are unprepared for job interviews.
“I had a student a few years ago and I said to her, ‘Listen.’ She had problems with her speech. I said things to her like, ‘Look. You can come to an interview and be completely dressed well, dressed for success. Your résumé, your cover letter, your references are all there and then you sit down and you open your mouth and you kill the whole interview,’ Clymer said.
She tells the eighth-grade students to think about their high school interviews. Clymer teaches students to be mindful of the language they use in a work place environment.
“Every time she spoke, it was always as though she was back in the neighborhood with her friends. I said to her, ‘You have to learn to turn that off.’ I’m not saying it’s not good to speak that way because if you speak that way with your friends and family, that’s fine,” Clymer said.
Eighth-grader, Raheem Naughty listens attentively in Clymer’s class as he takes notes. Naughty spends his time at the Kimmel Dance Center and local church. He is also a member of the MYA drumline and school band. Naughty said he is prepared for high school because of the efforts of his teachers.
“My favorite part about this school are the teachers because they really help us out a lot. Whenever we need them, they help us,” Naughty said.
“I like the teachers because a lot of them are young and relatable,” David Redmond said in seventh-grade science class.
“They give me a lot of opportunities to do better, to do good and the [school’s system] helps you stay on track and do all of your homework.”
Anjane Woolford said she is looking forward to learning new “stuff” in Cheryl Bryant’s fifth-grade class.
“I like Ms. Bryant and how she teaches stuff in different ways,” Woolford said.
Bryant is a first year teacher at MYA and a novice in the middle school environment. However, she was a reading specialist for several years in various Philadelphia elementary schools. Bryant said MYA students’ eagerness to learn is impressive.
“The children are very enthusiastic about learning. They love learning. They have a thirst for knowledge. They want to learn more. That inspires me to want to do more,” Bryant said.
“I try to meet the needs for each student. Whether giving them enrichment or support, they actually help each other a lot. That helps me when they want to help each other.”
As Woolford works on her State Fair project, she opens her textbook to find information about the state bird, flower, history and special attractions of New Mexico. Each student in the two fifth-grade classes is responsible for making a poster of their assigned state.
The fifth-grade class does several engaging assignments. Bryant said her favorite project was when students drew their shadows. In the morning, students drew their shadow and made a prediction if their shadow changed when they drew their shadow again during the afternoon.
“When they got out there, they were just so excited. I think it was one of the most exciting projects they have done this year. They were just excited about seeing and finding out the fact that if those things really did come true, what they had predicted,” Bryant said.
“I’m challenging them more. I look forward to giving them some more challenging work and hopefully some more excited projects.”
Music teacher Alex Cifelli and his team of hardworking students will be sharing their rendition of Annie! Students have been working hard putting this fabulous performance together. We invite all our fellow school district employees and their families to see Annie, Daddy Warbucks and the mean but laughable Miss Hannigan!
James Rhoads participates in Green Schools Program
The Recyclebank Green Schools Program encourages students and faculty to get involved and take action to green our school and community. Recyclebank rewards residents for taking everyday green actions, such as increasing household recycling and reducing energy use. Those rewards, or Recyclebank Points, can then be redeemed for discounts at hundreds of businesses, or donated to help fund “green” projects in local schools — including West Philly’s very own James Rhoads.
Each semester, the Recyclebank Green Schools program awards environmental project grants to schools in Recyclebank communities. Together, these schools, their students and their communities work together to encourage residents to donate points that Recyclebank transfers into real dollars for schools — thereby turning a community’s green actions into funds for a local school. Since 2007, Recyclebank has granted close to $350,000 to more than 100 schools.
President of the Home and School Association, Nikita Porter is leading the efforts at Rhoads. The school and community have until March 15 to collect points and two-liter bottles that will help students build a green house. Students will garden fruits and vegetables and donate the produce to elderly and local community organizations.
Alexander Adaire receives grant to promote healthy initiatives
Alexander Adaire Elementary is excited to announce that they received a grant for $2,400 from the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association. Titled “Fuel Up to Play 60,” the grant will help the school promote healthy initiatives. Seventh-graders who attended the Healthy You Positive Energy (HYPE) Leadership Initiative in the Fall brainstormed with Principal, Jenette Oddo, advisor Christina Long, and Alyssa Smith, School Wellness Coordinator from the Food Trust, to develop ideas to improve health and fitness at the school. After interviewing the staff, school nurse, physical education teacher and food services, the students decided on applying for funds to teach fellow students how to pack healthier lunches and to pay for KINECT X-Box games to get kids moving during in-door recess.
Dr. Tamara Thomas-Smith not only became a new mother again this past summer, but she was appointed to replace Edward Hoffman as principal of Russell H. Conwell Middle Magnet School.
He served in the capacity for many years, and under his leadership, Conwell became the number one middle school in Philadelphia.
Smith acknowledged that she was following after a legend, but said she was more than ready to begin her imprint on the school. She first had to tackle the budget cuts, which greatly affected schools across the city.
“I worry about the stuff I can change. I can’t change the budget cuts,” Smith said. “But the stuff I can change, that’s what I put most of my energy to.”
Her focus has been to make sure the school and its students do not rest on their laurels.
“I feel when I walk through the doors every day that I have to work just as hard and put just as much effort and actually request the same of my staff, because every parent has at least one kid in this school who’s special to them, and if that one kid isn’t in that group that’s proficient or advanced, there’s work to be done,” she said. “All of our children should have the option of going to college. That should be their choice. If they don’t go, it should be because they chose not to go, not because they’re not qualified or prepared to do so.”
Smith feels strongly that the students should not get comfortable, but should reach beyond the standard of excellence that Conwell is known for.
“We don’t want our students to get to a ceiling where they stop. We want them to excel,” she said. “I know it’s easy once students get to that point where they’re advanced or proficient to just say they’re independent learners and they can go on. They still need our encouragement.
We still need to make certain that they get just as much attention as the students who may still be struggling.”
Smith rose through the ranks of the School District of Philadelphia as a substitute teacher, expressive arts teacher, dean of students, athletic director and basketball coach. “I think all of those different jobs in the past have prepared me to take on this challenge,” she said. “You have to be willing to do what you’re asking the others to do. Or at least have done it.”
The mother of four has already received honors from the faculty.
“I like her a lot. She really has an open-door policy. She’s there when you need her,” said Michael Rocco, a seventh-grade social studies teacher.
“I think she’s really brought the staff together in the transition. A lot of us were really loyal to Mr. Hoffman, but really … it’s the building itself where you need to be, and the job itself, and she’s continuing that. She’s pushing us forward.”
Erica M. Green, the assistant principal, shared her admiration.
“Dr. Smith and I have a great partnership, which makes it really good. She is really focused, has a clear vision and she makes sure what the vision is,” Green said. “She’s somebody who knows what’s on the cutting edge of education.”
Green elaborated on Smith’s commitment to upholding Conwell’s reputation as a top-notch school.
“We’re celebrating the Conwell spirit, which consists of stellar students. It consists of the committed staff members. Our young people here have a certain je ne sais quoi,” Green said.
“They have a certain charisma to them. There’s something about them, that they have their own leadership qualities that set them apart.”
Nicole Leone, who teaches seventh-grade reading, added her view.
“I think she’s come in with a lot of different ideas. It’s a new leadership style, definitely, that she has, but I like the way things seem to be going,” Leone said. “I think it’s a good school with a lot of hard-working teachers who really care about the students and try to really help them to be successful.”
Smith pledged to be with Conwell for the long haul to help extend its success.
“I’ll go for as long as they’ll have me,” she said.
Hearing the pitter-patter of dancers’ feet, the harmonizing sounds of vocalists and seeing the clay covered hands of students in ceramic class are some of the activities going on during a normal school day.
“Living the experience,” says Principal Johnny Whaley, is what sets the Philadelphia School of Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) apart from other public high schools in the district. Performing is not the school’s focus, but rather academics and an introduction to college expectations.
“I’m always amazed at the fact that people don’t realize — and parents don’t realize — that we are essentially a college preparatory program with a focus on performance. People tend to think that [because of] the name of the school, the focus is on the art piece, but it’s really not. There are people in the district that don’t understand what we do,” Whaley said.
Jacqui Stallworth is the graphic design and commercial art teacher. Within her five years of teaching at CAPA, her most memorable experience is when alumni visit and share experiences of their college education. Jokingly she said that former students tell her that they teach classes.
“A couple of our kids say they’re actually bored in class [in college] because they knew how to do all the stuff the teacher was teaching [them]. I said, ‘Good, well I’m sorry you’re wasting your money, but I’m glad that I prepared you for that,’” Stallworth said. “That’s ultimately my goal, to make them ready to leave.”
According to the 2010 High School Student Survey Report conducted by the district, 81 percent of CAPA students “feel their classes are preparing them for future academic and/or job success.” More than half of the students felt they are “being challenged in their coursework” and 82 percent of students agree that there is “at least one teacher who does extra to support them.”
Buzz. The bell rings and students have three minutes to get to class. As lockers slam and sneakers screech into classrooms, Whaley genuinely interacts with students knowing them on a first-name basis.
On the second floor, the mixed choir class auditions for the Harvest Vocal Recital. Freshman vocal majors, Sylvester Felton and Ashley Catanzaro sing “No Air” by Jordin Sparks, a duet featuring Chris Brown, for their audition. Both say that their experience at CAPA is rewarding because the dynamics of peers and teachers allows them to express their individualism.
“I can be myself here, because if I went to Frankford, my neighborhood school, I would have to change myself to fit in, but here I can be [myself],” said Felton.
“I like this school so much because nobody judges you here. You can be so open with yourself and free. Nobody is harsh and judgmental, so it gives me a chance to express myself,” said Catanzaro.
With similar sentiments, the student survey reported that peer influence has an impact on students. Seventy-two percent of students agree that, “their friends are committed to working hard in school.”
Walking past the choir room, the flute players rehearse in the hallway. Here, upperclassman Danae Savage, Dionne McCrae, Shonna Washington and Kimberly Granato figure out the tempo for the five-four time signature of “Rhythm Dance” as freshman flautists prepare to play.
Freshman flautist Keyshawna Robinson said she enjoys time with friends at lunch, rehearsing during second period, English class and learning playing techniques from upperclassman, especially the dynamics of a song, “like how to play louder or softer,” said Robinson.
CAPA students can major in six areas: creative writing, dance, drama, instrumental music, vocal music or visual arts. Approximately 150 students have a major and minor, but teachers encourage students to manage audition major first. Instrumental music majors must read music, and vocalists learn to perform in Spanish and Italian. Some students learn to perform in five languages.
In preparation for the winter performance season, dancers, vocalists and instrumentalists are rehearsing for the nation’s oldest Thanksgiving parade, the annual Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade. Other performances include the Harvest Vocal Recital, Holiday Dance Concert, Winter Instrumental Music Concert, Winter Vocal Concert, CAPA Caravan, Second Year Actor’s Play, Student Choreography Show and the African-American History Program.
As part of the various extra-curricular programs available to students, CAPA offers sports, as well. Partnered with South Philadelphia High School, students can choose from basketball, cross-country, softball, tennis and volleyball teams. This year, the Girls’ Volleyball team advanced to the District 12 AA playoffs to contend for the Public League Championship.
The school also houses “United Writers and Artists,” a literary magazine staffed by CAPA students. Here, students design layouts, create artwork and publish original poems, fictional and non-fictional stories. Students can pick up a free copy almost every month. Creative writers also have opportunities to use their skills at The Painted Word, the school newspaper, and with the yearbook.
There is a high level of competition and demand to get into CAPA. Yearly, about 3,000 applicants will apply, 1,200 will audition and 185 will be accepted into the high school.
“I tell parents we offer what you call, the reality-based dream. The reality is that there are unfortunately a lot of starving artists. We have students that come to us thinking they’re going to be the next star on the stage or screen because they been that way at their middle schools. We use that passion they have for the arts to motivate their academic development,” Whaley said. “You’ve heard of scholar athletes — I have scholar artists.”