Joseph Pennell Elementary School is in a period of transition as it has ushered in a new principal and mindset to help turn its fortunes around.
Jason Harris was recruited by to become the turnaround principal for the K–6 school. He brought with him enthusiasm, energy and encouragement for the staff and students.
“One month in, it’s been rewarding but challenging,” Harris said. “This is a school that requires a lot of structure and it really requires high expectations. So, my main goal here was to first access what do children believe about themselves and what do the teachers believe about the children.”
Harris shared what the chatter has been at Pennell.
“I can tell now that I’ve been receiving a lot of positive feedback from our greatest stakeholders which are our students and then certainly a lot of great feedback from our parents,” he said. “You know, with any kind of change, people have to adjust. One of the first things I said when I first came here is that it will not be business as usual; things must change and the students have to achieve.”
Trina Pemberton is a sixth-grade teacher at Pennell. She has taught there for six years and has noticed the difference in the atmosphere.
“It’s been overall positive. I’ve seen a big change this year, which is good considering how it was before. I’ve always liked Pennell. I think it’s a good school with a lot of potential,” she said.
In particular, she has noticed disciple, vision and higher expectations for the students.
“My experience is that the higher you raise your expectations, the better the kids will do. They will reach it,” she said. “They like it when you expect great things out of them and they really try to do it. They try to reach those goals.”
Debra Morrissey is a fifth-grade teacher and has been an educator for 22 years. She is in her fourth year as a teacher in the Philadelphia School District and shared what kept her in the classroom for all these years.
“It’s the opportunity to watch children shine and develop and to become their best selves. It gives you a great deal of satisfaction to know that you’re a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem,” she said. “It’s a part of who I am and no matter what the challenges are, you always have to remember why you’re here and that’s for the kids.”
She shared what she thought about the dynamic Harris brought to the school.
“Kids are definitely his priorities period,” she said. “He wanted to know about the kids. He doesn’t want you to come and say you have a problem. It’s more on how does it effect children.”
Andrew Walker, new to Pennell as a sixth-grade teacher, joined the consensus that Pennell is a school where everyone’s priority is the students.
“So far, so good. I really enjoy the staff. I like working with everyone. Everyone seems very committed to the students and they seem committed to each other. The students generally care about one another as well,” he said.
Walker also chimed in on Harris.
“He’s wonderful. You can see that he really has a passion for teaching. He really generally cares about the family and the community in here,” he said.
Jennifer Jones serves as Pennell’s school improvement support liaison. She spoke about how the student’s have responded well to the change in administration and faculty support.
“As far as the kids are concerned, they come to me with whatever their problem is; if somebody is bullying them. If they feel they don’t have any friends, whatever I can do to make them feel comfortable in school and make them want to come to school,” she said.
Jones also gave high marks to Harris for making her job easier.
“If you need something, he’s there for you,” she said.
“He’s not the type of principal that likes to sit around in his office because every time you look up, you see him.”
For Carmen Perez and her class of Kindergarteners, Harris has impressed the importance of college. He said it was never too soon to start preparing them.
“One of the goals is to expose them to what a college experience might look like,” Harris said. “Just engaging the children in a different level of thinking is the goal.”
Even though the smallest at Pennell may not quite be able to grasp college applications just yet, their teacher finds joy when they are able to point out shapes and recite the alphabet.
“I love kindergarten,” Perez said. “I particularly like kindergarten because it’s the beginning and I get to see them when they come in and see their progress. So being here eight years, I’ve actually seen the first class I had actually graduate because I really watched them grow throughout the years.”
Perez, who has been at Pennell for eight years, continued on why she has remained at the school and guiding the youngest students.
“I also like kindergarten because they’re just little people. They’re really funny. They’re curious and they keep me going,” she said. “They don’t know everything but they’re willing to learn.”
Harris backed that sentiment by calling upon parents to help out in the process.
“Parents are our children’s fist teacher and we can’t stress that enough. If a parent is not involved a child will not excel. After they leave us after six hours of the day, they need to see constant models of good behavior, good habits at home. They need to see mom and dad reading themselves,” he said. “Parents have a huge role in it. We can’t do it by ourselves.”
Walter G. Smith Elementary School has had to work around the minefield of budget cuts that has plagued the Philadelphia School District. The school has supplemented those lost dollars by being more creative and emphasizing the programs that they do have.
One of those programs is C.A.T.C.H., Community Acting Together Can Help Incorporated. It has been at Smith for the past 21 years and helps with students who have behavioral difficulties. The kids engage in one-on-one therapy or group sessions to help resolve their issues.
“I’ve seen kids grow in the sense that they’ve been able to maintain their behaviors within their classroom with the support of the program,” Joyce Span, the CATCH lead said.
New to the school this year has been the inclusion of City Year, an AmeriCorps program. Tutors and mentors have entered the classrooms to help provide extra support to the students and teachers.
“It’s been great. It’s been great to be able to have an impact on the children from my own community and it’s been great trying to push them to get more out of themselves,” Sean Hill, a City Year helper, said.
He is a regular fixture at the school four days a week as is Katie Breiter.
“So far, so good. There are some really amazing students at Smith. They’ve been great to work with and I’ve had a really wonderful time,” Breiter said. “It’s enjoyable more so than overwhelming.”
The arts are also being highlighted. RAS Mikey Courtney, who has been working with the Philadelphia School District for the past 10 years, came to Smith to persuade some of the students to get involved in his Arts initiative that takes place after school.
“We’re really working towards art integration, meaning showing not only the community but the students and the parents and the teachers how the arts are an integral part of the students development and ultimately, that’s what we try and share with the students,” he said.
Courtney continued, “It seems like art is the thing that people are willing to just let go of and focus more on other aspects of education as opposed to the arts but ultimately the arts are a part of our cognitive development; a part of how we will ultimately express ourselves as creative adults,” he said. “If we don’t have the arts as a part of our foundation then somehow generally we’ll lack that ability to be more expressive when that opportunity comes. It’s not just about learning how to read , write academically but also knowing how to apply this information.”
A constant as always, is the faculty. Principal Rachel Marianno has made it a priority to keep the students encouraged.
“What’s interesting is that kindergarteners and pre-K students, they are so enthusiastic about learning whatever you want, they’re willing to do and we’ve got to continue to nurture that and it’s sad that by the time that child gets to fourth-grade, that enthusiasm has dwindled,” she said. “Unfortunately, we being the ones that educate, sometimes play a major roll in that and I want to get rid of that. I want to eradicate that so that that same enthusiasm is carried all the way through.”
She explained some of the factors that led to an enthusiasm gap.
“A lack of hope. Children in kindergarten don’t full realize all the negativity they’re surrounded by and I think because they don’t fully realize that, they overcome with their enthusiasm some of the negative attitudes that we as adults, educators, put upon them. So, as the children learn more about the negative things that might be surrounding the community in which they live, as they become more aware of it then they come in a little less hopeful. As they move forward, those problems are magnified more in the classroom,” Marianno said. “It’s about believing that despite the difficulties that come with an urban environment, children can still learn and It doesn’t matter how old they are. Or how long they’ve been exposed to that. We still have a right to teach them and to believe that they can learn and excel.”
Carolyn Morgan, dean of students, has worked with Marianno previously at a different school. She found her to be just the right fit for an evolving Smith, which is making the best of what it has.
“She’s energetic. She’s dynamic .She’ll go over and above to provide the children with a safe environment, sound educational practice and a lot of outside activities,” Morgan said.
As an educator with more than 29 years of experience, Morgan was also prepared to do her part.
“If I can reach one person, one child, and turn them around then I feel as though that my job has been done. Do I want to do more? Yes, but I have to have one that I have made an influence on and I know that it takes a lot of hard work and you have to have a tough skin when you work with children because often they say things that they really do not mean,” Morgan said.
She also shared how teachers could get through to some of the students. “I think what happens is that when you look at your class, you look at your class as a whole, but in front of you, there are 20 individual children sitting in front of you,” Morgan said.
“Twenty to 30 individual children and you just have to know that one thing about them to make them feel as though that they want to be here to learn.”
The term “neighborhood school” is sometimes used to suggest it is inferior. However, Anna H. Shaw Middle School personnel refuse to be defined that way.
Under the leadership of principal Kwand Lang, Shaw has done its best to heal its reputation. The school and Lang were even highlighted by MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. Lang was denoted a classroom innovator. He felt he brought a renewed sense of energy.
“Energy. I can tell you that, a lot of energy and a focus back to the basics [and] a focus on structure. I spend a lot of time on modeling and mentoring around how to reach the whole kid,” Lang said. “Our new motto over the last couple of years has been ‘The new Shaw where every kid counts.’”
Lang has bolstered this motto by keeping track of the students’ academic progress.
“We run data on every single kid in our building. Every kid, we identify according to PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) performance, academic performance, report cards and things like that,” he said. “You’re going to find this in a lot of neighborhood schools, but most of our kids were below grade level when I got here. You find in a lot of good schools, what they do is … try to find that bottom 10, 15 percent of students and they’re trying to find something to move them up. They spend a great deal and energy trying to boost up that 10 or 15 percent,” he said.
“My thought was, ‘Why can’t we do it for every kid below grade level?’”
This led to the concept of the Achievement Team, which is an individualized learning plan for each student.
“My expectation is, my teachers know they need to know their kids better than I do,” he said. “If there’s anything that makes us different, I think it’s our achievement team initiative. Everything about that is just teaching and learning, and that’s changing people’s mindset of Shaw.”
The staff members at Shaw are more than happy to do their parts in helping the school excel beyond expectations.
“As the assistant principal of Shaw Middle School, it’s been an exhilarating experience. Most of my career was in suburban schools. When I came over to the urban school, it was totally different from what I was used to,” said Bruce Benton, assistant principal.
“But it’s great. It’s something that I enjoy. I love coming to work every day because it’s always a different kind of challenge.”
Benton also spoke of what an honor it was when MSNBC decided to put Lang and Shaw in the national spotlight.
“That was a great honor, because it lets the world know what we’re actually doing in Philadelphia. There’s always horror stories coming out of the urban area, but this is sure example of success that can come out of a urban setting with limited resources,” he said.
“We are the best-kept secret in Southwest.”
Ashley McGrath, who teaches science at Shaw, is in her fourth year at the school.
“It’s been really good since we have so few kids in the building. We can really develop a really good relationship with all of them because we only have seventh and eighth grades. I really know all the kids. I know their history, I know what’s going on and I can really connect with them,” she said.
“Our kids have a lot of difficulty. They come in with a lot of achievement issues in the past, but they end up doing well. We really do a good job of using our data and seeing where they’re weak and where we need to make improvements and push them forward.”
David McFadden instructs seventh-grade math and shared his experiences from the past three years.
“Every year is different. I’m growing as a teacher. I’m learning from the kids as they learn from me,” he said. “I try to keep it more about the kids and less about them listening to me.”
Catherine Brownlee has taught at Shaw for 17 years and credited Lang with helping to turn the school’s morale around.
“He’s made a lot of differences,” Brownlee said. “He’s very proactive in making sure our children get what they need regardless of the situation.”
Brownlee was also delighted to see Shaw recognized by MSNBC.
“I’m glad to see that our children are being noticed on a national level,” she said. “The old Shaw is not what we subscribe to. Our kids are good kids. Our kids are learners. We can compete.”
Jere Tobias, the school counselor, encourages the students on a daily basis to think of their futures.
“I tell my students that you can get into any school that you’re interested in if you meet the requirements. It’s really that simple,” Tobias said. “Our students know that when they come here, their needs are going to be met. Academically, emotionally, socially and physically.”
Budget cuts may have decreased some programming initiatives and the number of students at Penn Treaty Middle School, but education continues to be the school’s focus.
Through various grants, classes are equipped with Promethean boards and laptop carts.
“Students get interactive lessons,” Principal Sam Howell said.
As classes are infused with technology, every student receives keyboard and guitar lessons in Bethany Cann’s music class.
“I think the best thing is when they’re all excited and doing it. Whatever it is — guitar, xylophone, keyboards — when they’re all excited and they all want to learn it,” Cann said.
For the first time, one class has an opportunity to get acquainted with the functions and sounds of the keyboard. Khadijah Robinson and Naseera Williams share a keyboard. As the girls giggle while learning the notes for the song “Every Breath You Take,” Robinson admits she has tried to play the violin and xylophone, but her interests are in other areas.
“I’m in the modeling class and I just like to cook,” she said.
In the special education class, Krishanna Jenkins, Miracle Morrison and Carmen Rosales discuss the various subjects that interest them. All views were different, but each student said she enjoyed learning.
“I love art and reading,” Rosales said. “I like art because you get to be creative. I get to express different ideas.”
During an eighth-grade math class, students learned to read food labels and understand serving sizes. Each month in Brooke Hoffman’s class, students are engaged in the “Read About Math” project. Through these assignments, students make connections between math and daily life. As David Dickerson calculates how many servings are in a box of Trix cereal, Hoffman walks around the classroom offering help to students.
A 2010 student survey conducted by the School District of Philadelphia found that 78 percent of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students agreed that there was at “least one teacher or adult who does extra to support them.”
Eighth-grader Kiara Camacho is active in both art and music. As a singer, drummer and guitarist, Camacho said she always had a passion for the guitar when watching her uncle play. She also said the teachers at Penn Treaty are always willing to help her develop skills in her areas of interest.
“Teachers are nice, they know how to explain things. If we need individual help we’ll stay after school. I like it,” Camacho said.
Eighth-grader Rahsaan Scovers said he enjoys reading and likes Penn Treaty because the teachers are preparing him for the high school he wants to attend next year.
“They don’t discriminate against other people. They take you in,” Scovers said.
In relation to the survey, more than half of the students reported being “academically engaged in their coursework.”
Meleah White, eighth-grader, says the coursework at Penn Treaty is preparing her academically for a high school curriculum.
“They talk to you a lot about it. They prepare you for it because in class they give us ninth-grade homework,” Meleah White said.
“We have such an awesome mix of kids, ethnically, culturally, religiously,” Howell said.
In his seventh year, Howell said his most memorable experience was when Penn Treaty made Adequate Yearly Progress in 2010.
“I love being here,” he said.
Other than being the school’s principal, Howell takes on many other responsibilities. When students or parents need to talk to him about various issues, he is available to offer assistance.
“When I’m in my chair, I’m a principal. At the table, I’m a counselor,” he said.
The first and most important step that parents can take to protect their child from a home fire is to be there.
That’s because children under the age of 5 are more than twice as likely to die in a home fire than the general public.
According to Joseph Muhammad, president of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF), “If a fire starts, children need immediate help to quickly escape. Also, many fires are started by children playing with matches and lighters because they are unsupervised.”
African-American children are at a higher risk of dying in a fire, accounting for 38 percent of all children killed. As part of its No Child Left Alone campaign, the IABPFF recommends the following steps:
• Teach children not to hide from firefighters, in closets or under the bed. Instead, tell them to get out of the home quickly and call for help.
• Minimize temptation. Young children are curious and will play with most items left within their reach, including matches, lighters, stoves, candles and fireworks. Keep all these items in a locked cabinet, away from the reach of small children.
• Designate a “kid-free zone.” Keep children at least three feet away from any area where hot food or drink is being prepared or carried, such as an oven, stove, grill or turkey fryer.
• Teach stop, drop and roll. Show children how to crawl low on the floor, below the smoke, to get out of the house and to stop, drop and roll if their clothes catch fire.
• Get fire alarms. Equip your home with both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms or dual-sensor smoke alarms, which contain both ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors.
Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement.
• Teach children what a smoke alarm sounds like. Tell them what to do when the alarm sounds.
• Create and routinely practice an escape plan. Plan two ways to exit each room in the home and establish a central meeting place outside the home.
For more information and to order free materials, visit www.iabpff.org.
There’s a new bank coming to Germantown. In case one may think it’s means there is yet another bank merger, think again. It is a new student banking program at Germantown High School Promise Academy.
The “Paws in the Money” program will create the so-called Germantown Bank, sponsored by The Business Center for Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise and PNC Bank. The program’s name reflects the fact that Germantown High’s mascot is the bear. Information also reflects the schools colors of green and white.
Over at the secondary school located on Germantown Avenue between Haines and High Streets this spells good news. Assistant principal Sherin Philip Kurian is quick to point out that this is just one of the programs in the school’s Career and Technology Education program. Germantown teacher Patricia Harrell the Business Center’s educator Henrietta Hadley helped the students set up the program.
The Germantown Bank will officially be unveiled today. It will be with much fanfare and revelry as every freshman, sophomore, junior and even the graduating seniors will have the opportunity to open their own bank account. With as little as $5 and their identification in hand all are eligible—and for some this will be the first bank account they’ve ever had.
“We have a strong Career and Technology Program here,” said Philip-Kurian. “Under this umbrella are three programs. We have culinary arts, business administration and graphic design. This is an opportunity for students to acquire real life skills. They all have a double period of their major subject. We have about 250 students enrolled in these programs.
“I think it is important to give students the opportunity to get practical knowledge. We realize that not every student is going to go to college. So having them hear the manger of PNC Bank talk about that business or a chef come in from the Culinary Art Institute, they learn about opportunities. This bank, for instance, will open up the students’ eyes.”
Philip-Kurian added that those students on the college preparatory track are excelling alongside their counterparts who may opt not to go on to higher education. This is indicated by the rising scores at Germantown on the PSSA and SATs. There has been a recent “30 percent increase” in the scores, according to Germantown’s assistant principal.
To further stimulate the students they are all involved in enrichment programs. This includes robotics, filmmaking, aerobics, and other courses related to the creative arts, engineering or language. Every nine weeks the students change the course that is offered the next to the last period from 1:39 to 2:35 p.m. So, every student has a chance to experience four enrichments courses a year. “They do tend to rotate and explore all the disciplines,” Philip-Kurian said.
Much of the energy at Germantown High recently has been focused on the banking program.
Germantown Bank and learn more about business. Students like 16-year olds Barry Boyd and Shanae Thomas are among those who are actively participating in the program. Boyd, who lives in North Philadelphia, is a sophomore. Thomas is a junior from Logan who has had the opportunity to pen much of the promotional materials and correspondence distributed to staff, faculty and students about the banking program.
The students have already put together the banking paperwork. They have deposit and withdrawal slips. There is a way to track interest, balances and the type of deposits. The student tellers even have a space for their initials.
Germantown pupils also filled out a banking project survey. The form asked whether they had a bank account, at which bank, and whether they save money regularly. It also inquired of them whether they had a checking or savings account as well as would they be willing to open a new or additional savings account at the new Germantown Bank. Furthermore, students were recruited to work at the school bank and were asked how much per week did they anticipate they would deposit in it.
The School Bank Program encourages students to take an interest in saving and banking. Usually the PNC initiative targets elementary and middle school students, so the Germantown Bank marks the first time that the financial institution is doing a larger scale partnership at a high school. PNC branches and their Community Development Banking Department staff collaborate with schools like Germantown to do financial education.
“This will help students learn about responsibility first hand,” said Boyd “By working here and making deposit transaction you learn a lot. This is something positive for our school. We’ve been looking forward to May 15 because there are going to be raffles, giveaway of gifts and a lot of excitement. We’ll have the chance to tell the others about what baking is about.”
Thomas agreed. She said that as a precursor to the Germantown Bank’s grand opening she went on a trip excursion to the Federal Reserve Bank. There, she said, she learned about the banking position beyond simply being the teller. “I thought it was interesting how they had to be (diligent) about shredding certain papers because before I went I never really thought about that,” Thomas said.
One staff member who is working closely with the students is business teacher Harrell, who is a Germantown alumnus herself and a longtime Germantown resident. She said that since there are students at Germantown who already have part time jobs and some are anticipating working in the summer, having way to open a bank account at school is an educational it itself.
Harrell said that after the survey results were compiled one trend was that only a small percentage of students even had a bank account. “Some students come from backgrounds where they are just not familiar with the banking culture. They know about check cashing places and never thought about the importance of having a bank account or how this relates to their credit,” she said.
Hadley from The Business Center also teaches courses at the school. She assisted the students in making a pitch as to why get involved in the Germantown Bank. She said that students want to learn about banking and even want to take leadership roles in the Germantown Bank.
“This is going to help teach the students about financial literacy,” Hadley said. “They learn that banking is a growth industry. Many of them will be entrepreneurs and they need to understand banking. This is kind of our pilot program that was launched last December. Son we plan to take it to Overbrook and other Philadelphia School District high schools.”
That’s not all that is going on at Germantown High School either. The Associated Alumni of Martin Luther King High and the Germantown High Alumni Association held a fundraising basketball program on Friday, May 11. Proceeds from this benefitted various departments including the CTE, athletics and even provided for scholarships for students. The event was held at King, 6100 Stenton Ave. in East Germantown.
When a fire began in the kitchen of a West Oak Lane home, six-year-old Terrell Reel saw a blaze on the stove, ran outside to warn his mother and she called emergency dispatchers.
“It was a fire and I called 9-1-1,” Reel said. “Get out. Get help. Call 911.”
Reel is a student in the autistic support class at Julia Ward Howe School. He was on the second floor of the family’s row home working on the computer when he smelled a pot burning on the kitchen stove. As the blaze engulfed the kitchen, Reel ran to his mother. Successfully, he alerted her of the fire because he followed a script practiced in his classroom during a life skills lesson.
Reel’s mother, Myriam Estriplet, says she was amazed that Reel knew how to handle this emergency.
“I didn’t even know he knew,” Estriplet said. “He says, ‘Myriam, Myriam. It’s a fire. Mrs. Mona said that when there’s a fire, you cover your mouth with the blanket and you call 9-1-1. Tell them that the fire is flammable. Tell them our address for them to come.’”
Reel’s teacher, Mona Cohen, is one of the life skills instructors at Howe. In class, students frequently work on social simulations — opposites, money, colors, shapes, emotions, what to do as a friend, what to do in emergencies and emergency signals. Each student also writes their name and address on large index cards, and they recite the information several times. The repetition helps students to remember.
“I was just so proud of him. He just did what he learned in here which was pretty amazing because a lot of adults couldn’t do that,” Cohen said.
Cohen says when Estriplet told her of Reel’s heroism, she could not believe that he had done what was practiced in school. Cohen says some students surprise her of their growth because some are not responsive in class.
“There have been times, when the students have read something fluently and I just cried. They’re like ‘Oh my God, she’s crying again.’ Kids who maybe weren’t talking too much or a student who sat here for almost a year and didn’t say anything and one day recites everything that she had been hearing,” Cohen said.
“But, really, the capper was Terrell and the fire. That blew me away that he did that.”
Before attending Howe, Reel was enrolled in various programs that assisted autistic children. With issues of behavior and Reel not talking, his mother now sees him as a “brand new child” with the help of Cohen. Estriplet says Cohen is “patient,” “pleasant” and praises her efforts for helping Terrell become a better student.
“She is the best. I know where Terrell was, and when he’s with Mrs. Mona, she does a magnificent job. He was at 46 percent. Now, he’s reading kindergarten books and first-grade books. She’s one of the teachers that every parent should have. Let her teach your children,” Estriplet said.
Reel walks to a board in the class and points to the flammable sign. Knowing that the sign signifies fire danger, “Flammable,” Reel said.
Estriplet is no stranger to autism. In 2006, she left her nursing job to become a full-time mother for her four children. Other than Reel, she has another son who is three-year-old with autism. With the attention from home and school, Estriplet says she sees the development of her sons.
“For him to say that much, I was shocked. I didn’t even know they taught him that in school.”
Since the fire, Estriplet says now her family has an evacuation plan in case of fires or other emergencies.
At Julia Ward Howe School, class is taught from “bell to bell,” reading is emphasized and subject material is relatable. There are partnerships between the school, parents and community organizations and recognition of students and staff is frequent. Rigor, reading, relevance, relationship and recognition are the five core values that drive the school.
From kindergarten thru fifth grade, two classes per grade, there are approximately 293 students who the principal calls her “children.” In her fourth year at Howe, Principal Docquin Jessup says, “Everyone has a voice.”
“I have a beautiful bunch of students, and I have a dedicated staff that put forth the effort and make a difference. We work together as a team. I couldn’t ask for more,” Jessup said.
By acknowledging the accomplishments of her students and staff, Jessup has a long list of possible awards that are given out each month, week and day. Based on academic excellence, attitude and respect for peers and administration, staff will select students who meet these requirements.
Monthly, one female and one male student from each class are chosen as “Student of the Month.” Weekly, Howe’s teaching staff votes on the “Class of the Week.” Additionally, there are math and literacy terms known as “Words of the Week.” At the end of the week, the school’s student safeties go to classrooms and ask students to recite the word and its meaning. The first person to answer gets a prize. Gel pens, pencils and books are some prizes given out.
Fourth-grader, Zoreyeah Tolbert says she enjoys getting the book prizes.
“I read everyday, when I read stuff, I learn. I like reading stuff because it might have facts that I don’t know.” Tolbert said.
Daily, students can earn “Howe Pride Tickets.” These small tickets are given to students doing well academically and with their behavior.
Fourth-grader, Chyna Taylor said she knows what teachers look for in order to get a ticket.
“How you interact with students and how you respect adults,” Taylor said.
By 2:45 p.m., students will bring the tickets to the main office. Jessup will shake the “little yellow bucket,” choose four winners and announce their names over the loudspeaker.
“It’s something we’re doing every day, every week, every month just to celebrate and show that I’m acknowledging their efforts,” Jessup said.
As students itch to go to lunch, James Bieak teaches one of the fourth-grade classes decimals. Recently, Bieak’s class received the “Class of the Week” Award. Within his eight years at Howe, Bieak says students really understand the initiatives set in place at the school.
“I think it’s something to look forward to. Trying to set a positive environment rather than having students interrupt doing the wrong behavior. I think it helps [students] to check their behavior themselves and model behavior for the younger students,” Bieak said.
According to the 2010 Annual Student Survey conducted by the School District of Philadelphia, 82 percent of fifth-grade students says there is a “level of academic and personal trust between them and the teachers at their school.”
“We learn [a lot] of stuff and the teachers really help us and we get more education from them,” Tolbert said.
Every week, teachers are recognized for their efforts. Teachers who have the most perfect attendance in their classes will get a certificate. At the end of the month, the teacher with the highest attendance record will receive a $20 gift card to Office Depot to buy supplies for their class.
Encouragement is a continued theme seen in Mona Cohen’s autistic support class. As the class of five students read out loud, Devon Smith encourages his classmate when they successfully complete a passage.
“Good job, Terrell,” Smith said.
“We’re a family. We look out for each other. The children are kind. To see them making progress, to see them talking, to see them thieving is just amazing to me. We don’t sit still,” Cohen said.
“That’s one of the wonderful things about us because it’s just the kindness of each other and we support each other and help each other. It’s great. I love my job.”
This year the class is studying animals. Field trips including, the Philadelphia Zoo, a farm and PETCO, will educate students about animal habitats, feeding and care. In order to pay for transportation, each month, Cohen’s class has a fundraiser selling bake goods.
To engage students in technology, Cohen uses the Photo Booth program on her Mac computer — which simulates students riding a roller coaster or swimming with fishes as they take their reading tests. Additionally, Cohen uses an iPad and has downloaded various applications for students to use to help with their development of skills.
“Students who are really not engaged otherwise, the minute that iPad turns on, they are just laser focused,” Cohen said.
Students at Howe learn the value of dependability. Fourth- and fifth-grade students have the opportunity to be a school safety. Tymnir Hatch, Jeffrey Jordan, Sanaa Durham and Kayla Wright are a few safeties at Howe.
Fourth-grader, Kyla DeVaughn says she likes the responsibilities as a safety.
“Every Wednesday we get to clean out the library and make it better,” DeVaughn said.
Howe students also have the opportunity to get engaged with various community organizations that visit throughout the year.
Through the Einstein Medical Center under the sponsorship of the School District of Philadelphia, Howe is an active participant in the Eat Right Now program. Speakers educate students to make healthy food choices. Using the Eating the Alphabet program — which begins with the letter A through the letter Z, and children have a taste of a healthy food, learn information about the food, and do a craft.
CADEkids — changing attitudes, decisions, and environments for kids, also goes into classrooms to show videos and instruct students on making good decisions to avoid conflict, violence and drugs.
There is plenty of positive energy going around at the John B. Kelly School in southwest Germantown. It’s not hard to figure out why the school that extends from kindergarten through eighth grade has made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) again and again. With an interactive reading initiative, ballroom dance classes, and middle schoolers adept on Apple computers, these Northwest Philadelphia youngsters are clearly getting a well-rounded quality education.
When The Learning Key caught up with Principal Fatimah Rogers, she didn’t want to sit and chat. She felt it was better to show rather than tell why students at the building located at 5116 Pulaski Ave. earned the AYP for the past three consecutive years she has been at the helm. Yet it was the students who were most vocal about their educational environment.
Fifth-grader Jeremiah Montgomery was sprawled across a beach towel on the school’s front yard reading to kindergartener Rakiyah Burrell. This is part of the school’s “Day at the Beach” where upper classmen share their love of reading with those who are just being introduced to the art.
“It can be fun reading to kids in kindergarten,” said Montgomery, who was reading books like “Old MacDonald” to his younger reading partner. Five-year old Burrell agreed. “I like someone reading books to me and sometimes I try to read to him,” she said.
Kindergarten teacher Lori Brager and fifth-grade teacher Kara Scartelli supervised the open-air classroom setting for the Friday morning. “It’s a fabulous way for the more mature fifth-graders to role model both reading and behavior for the younger ones. It just works out beautifully because whenever we do this we never have any behavior problems whatsoever. So, it’s a great way for the kindergarteners and the fifth-graders to learn together,” Scartelli said.
A trek through the rear yard revealed more groups of students sprawled across blankets listening to their teachers read to them. Through the back door one enters a hallway leading to the gymnasium, where instead of the sound of reading it sounds like New Orleans’ French Quarter. This is where teacher Mark McLeod is having fifth-graders warm up before they engage in swing dancing followed by a tango and even a merengue.
McLeod gave specific instructions, including how to hold one’s thumbs when preparing to dance to the boogie-woogie-style music in the background. The boys easily swung around the girls, who with opened “jazz hands” shake them to the music’s polyrhythmic beat. The smiles on their faces demonstrated their enjoyment.
“Before this program came to the school the students would not even touch each other,” said Rogers. “They didn’t know anything about these dances. Their body language showed (resistance). Now they love it and will be performing in a show soon.”
Dancing is not the only cultural art that Kelly students have mastered. Fourth-graders in teacher Nicole Khan’s class were writing cinquain poems for Mother’s Day. Each one colored the form they were given.
Among those coloring butterflies and creating artwork in one classroom are 10-year-olds Diamond Riley, Simiyah McNeil, Jordan Dennis and John Fansworth. While Riley is quick to point out the poetic words “loving and hardworking” to describe her mother, McNeil describes her mother as “pretty and loving” and always “cooking and cleaning and working.” Dennis, an aspiring professional draftsman, calls his classmate Farnsworth “the class” neatest artist.”
Among the mothers who received hand made artwork was Tanya Cleveland of Germantown. She serves as the Kelly Home and School Association president. Linda Scott is vice president, Denise Tillery is secretary, and Charise Jackson is treasurer. Cleveland’s three children, 9-year-old Amari, 7-year-old Cameron and 6-year old Hassan are all Kelly students.
“We really have no problems at this school,” said Cleveland. “We work well with Ms. Rogers. Our board comes up with ideas and we all are able to put it together with the help of the staff. Rogers works well with the teachers, so this is a place where no one is hesitant to share ideas. If we have questions about anything, they are always answered. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Teacher David Gross has a theme lesson on “Charlotte’s Web” for his third-grade class, while teacher Anika Collington is giving out “Collington Cash” rewards for the students who go the extra mile in her class. Another third-grade teacher, Michelle Izzard, had her students bring in stuffed animals to share why they chose it and to hold during reading time.
Community members are also involved in enhancing Kelly’s educational lessons. Among them is Dennis Barnaby, who has lived in Germantown for more than 40 years. He is a board member of the nearby Hansberry Garden and Nature Center. Students take walking tours of the garden and gardeners come into the school and create special projects.
“The students are learning what it means to go green,” said Barnaby. “We have had the kids help us plan and plant beds in the back. Last year they had crops, and some were able to market them to raise funds for the school. This is all about learning how to make the world a better place.”
Rogers is quick to add that students regularly go on excursions. Besides exploring the Germantown community, they also go on traditional school outings to places of interest in the Delaware Valley area. Additionally, they bring the community in for arts programs like their “Dance in Philly” show on Friday, May 18 and their upcoming musical “Alice in Wonderland” which will feature over 100 students from grades K to 6 on Friday, June 8 at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 9 at noon.
Sharon Crombie, the instructional school liaison, said Kelly teachers cooperate in larger programs and are receptive to professional development. Whether the teacher has been at the school for a long time like Crombie, a 17-year veteran, or is fresh out of college, they learn from each other. “I work with the teachers who are experienced and succeeding and with those who are struggling though workshops,” she said.
The Philadelphia Eagles Eye Mobile was on hand to give vision screening and to help the student population select eyeglasses. The green and white van visits Kelly, as well as many other Philadelphia School District schools, about twice a year, according to Rogers. “We have so many things here to help our children, and we are very proud of the job we’ve been doing so far,” Rogers said.
Six years ago, there was only one high school for Kensington. Due to a large student population, Kensington divided into four campuses — Kensington Creative and Performing Arts, Business and Finance, Urban Education and Culinary Arts.
At Kensington Culinary Arts (KCA), some students aren’t cooking, but some are measuring up to new standards. Now, more health and science related classes are offered to students.
“We have developed different programs to reflect the health sciences, which we’re very proud of,” Principal James Williams said.
Now, students can chose between the dental program and health related technologies — which includes studies of anatomy, physiology and epidemiology.
“It’s an opportunity we never got before. It’s not in most schools and we get this, what other people never did,” ninth-grade dental program student Christine Bowser said. “All the teachers here are nice and they’re firm with us, but they teach us as well so, we respect them for that.”
Ninth-grader She’lae Dollard-Dukes said the new programs offer her a motivating atmosphere in which to learn.
“It separates us from the foolishness and people that just don’t care. It brings positive energy and it helps,” Dollard-Dukes said. “This school gives you more opportunity, and it gives us more stuff to do.”
Two anatomical correct medical manikins laid on two separate gurneys in the health related technologies classroom. Covered with bed sheets, the manikins are used during instructional periods.
Michael Rothstein has worked as a nurse for over 20 years and has taught health related technologies classes for a decade. Rothstein said he likes the drive of KCA students.
“[There’s] a lot more motivation here,” Rothstein said.
For an upcoming epidemiology class, students will learn about food borne illnesses. Rothstein has four teacher volunteers — acting as patients — read scripts and students have to interview them to determine which illness was present in the patients.
These new classes have led to the school’s proposed name change, Kensington Health Sciences Academy. According to school administration, the name change will be implemented for the next academic year.
“With the focus of changing the name of the school and increasing the relationships that we share with our community partners to provide more of a language that you’ll here with our upperclassmen, the word we constantly use is options. We want our kids to have options in terms of what they can do and whatever they opt to do we want them ready for that experience,” Williams said.
In his fourth year, Williams called KCA students “the difference makers.” He said the relationships with students make KCA special.
“We’re a smaller school which is a great benefit. We know every kid in the school. We know their families. There’s a certain rapport we have that is apart of the culture of the school that allows us to raise the academic bar,” Williams said.
“The thing that makes our school unique is the fact that just about everyone here has bought into our vision of how a school should be. We feel we have a mission as opposed to jobs. We’re going to bring about a good education for these kids and to enhance their future,” Dean of Students Ed Green said. “I think my job is to change lives.”
In a pre-calculus math class, seniors Quram King and Flor Melendez reviewed their homework. Both students had high PSSAs scores and took AP government and AP English courses.
“The AP classes really prepare you for college. In terms of enrolling, they really help you with every single step and the counselors are good and help you apply,” King said.
He is interested in majoring in music production and theater in college.
“Mr. Williams is always trying. They really want to give you a challenge and right now, there’s a push,” Melendez said.
She has been accepted into Penn State Berks.
During a health class, students discussed factors of the obesity issue among Americans and how to combat this problem with proper nutrition. Health and physical education teacher, Brian Zufolo had students watch the 2004 Morgan Spurlock documentary, “Super Size Me.”
“There are some things that catch their attention. In nutrition, we talk about things like fast food or things kind of related to them and their pretty interested in it,” Zufolo said.
In his fourth year, Zufolo said he likes teaching health and physical education because it is practical and relatable to students.
“I enjoy teaching my content. I feel that this is something that they can all relate to. This is information that they need everyday. These things they need for life. This is basic living skills. So I feel like I have an important job,” Zufolo said.