Cook-Wissahickon School has various school activities, a small class setting, relatable teachers and engaging class assignments where students are supported to reach academic excellence.
“We have really good teachers at this school,” said 6th-grader Delanie Franczyk. “They really care about us and they challenge us — both academically and personally. They not only want us to succeed in the classroom, but they also want us to succeed as a person. If we need help with something they are right there willing to help. As a student, it’s always good to have a teacher that really cares about you and wants to help take you to the next level, academically.”
Located in Roxborough, Wissahickon is a K-8 school. The school’s mission is to maximize each student’s potential through academics, activities and programs.
“My experience at Wissahickon has been fantastic,” said 7th-grader Rozime Lindsey. “We do a lot of extra-curricular activities and the academic program is great. I’ve learned so much since being here. Before, I wasn’t really getting challenged in school, but as I went up a level I have been doing really well. They’re not just preparing us for high school, but also college and life. I participate in band and choir. Last year, I was also in student council. We really get a good education at this school.”
Wissahickon offers students a variety of programs to enhance their academic experience. The Comprehensive Reading Program addresses all the components of a research-based developmental reading program. The focus of the program is to have students become independent readers who can analyze and interpret text using critical literacy perspectives. In the middle years, “Elements of Literature” is used as a basis for teaching proficient reading skills for students.
The Everyday Mathematics Program provides a curriculum that emphasizes conceptual understanding while simultaneously building a master of basic skills. This curriculum is a research-based curriculum that recognizes how students learn, what they are interested in and the future for which they are being prepared.
The program is organized into content strands, which include: Data and Chance, Geometry, Measurement and Reference Frames, Numeration, Operations and Computation, and Patterns, Functions and Algebra.
“We are incorporating movement breaks into the school day to get students focused and keep them learning,” said principal Karen Thomas. “We’re adding lessons to help our students learn how to help each other, prevent and report bullying, and become community activists. Also, our curriculum now revolves around the Common Core Standards, which means our teaching is more about depth rather than quantity, mastery rather than test taking.
“Literacy is our focus across all classrooms. We want students to become avid readers, expand their numeracy and love of math, and use science and social studies to expand their view of the world and become problem solvers.”
For 7th-grader Amani Terry, going to Wissahickon gave her another support system aside from her family.
“We really look out for each other here,” Terry said. “We’re not just going to school here, but we really are family. Even though we’re separate from the elementary students now, we still look out for them and mentor them; we’re like role models to them.
“We all push each other to get better and to succeed,” Terry continued. “It’s a great thing to have other students, teachers and the principal be on the same page with one another. The only way we’re going to succeed is if we have support.
I’m fortunate to say that I have a good support system at my school.”
Wissahickon offers a large and active instrumental music program that includes an orchestra, band, string ensemble and various smaller performing groups. Lessons are provided by certified instrumental music teachers on the violin, cello, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and various percussion instruments.
In addition to performing regularly at school functions, Wissahickon’s instrumental music students have been chosen as members of the highly selective All City Middle School Band and Orchestra and the West Region Band and Orchestra.
Former students of Wissahickon now perform in some of the city’s finest high school orchestras and bands at CAPA, GAMP, Central, Masterman and Girls’ High School. This year the band and orchestra members will participate in the Roxborough Cluster Festival Showcase.
“There are so many different programs at Wissahickon,” said sixth-grader Chyanne Chambers. “There is a little bit of everything for everyone here. I currently play the violin at the school. I have been playing the violin since I’ve been in the fifth-grade and I really like it. I also want to try out for the cheerleading squad when they have tryouts. This is a really good school; I’m really enjoying my experience here.”
Angela Clark, who is a parent of a student who graduated last year from Wissahickon, continues to give her support to the school.
“Cook is really just family oriented,” Clark said. “This school is about the children, and that’s the way it really should be. Even though my son graduated from Cook last year, I still come to events and help out the school when I can because the school has really made a difference in our lives. Over the years, I have built relationships with the teachers and staff. I come back to show my support, not only for them, but I also want to make a difference in other students’ lives.
“The one thing that my son took away from being here was that he built relationships with people that he won’t ever lose. He still has relationships with some of the teachers. When he was here, I hope he felt that he was a part of something special.”
Transitions can be difficult for everyone, but for young people one of the most difficult transitions is the one from elementary to middle school.
Middle school students not only have to adapt to physical, emotional and cognitive changes, but they also have to enter new educational environments that are typically less nurturing, larger, more departmentalized (going from one classroom to another), more competitive and more demanding academically. Middle school students are generally expected to be more independent and responsible for their own assignments as well as other commitments.
When Cook-Wissahickon expanded its elementary school to include middle years, these were all key issues at the school that needed to be addressed.
“We’re a K-8 school, but we were still treating our middle schoolers like the other kids,” said principal Karen Thomas. “That was a problem. Middle school students can’t be addressed the same way as younger students. They have to be able to grow up, take responsibility and become independent.”
The first issue addressed last year was discipline. “I implemented a progressive discipline system,” said dean of students Sean Gray. “A level-one is a minor classroom disruption like a verbal warning, a level-two is a written warning, and a level-three is detention. The consequences would continue as the infractions go on. “Last year, we had a very decent amount of suspensions and detentions,” Gray continued. “All of the teachers were on detention rotation and they really worked as a team. We did have a significant amount of discipline problems last year, but this year there has been a drastic change. Our suspensions are way down and the students are really getting used to the new set of rules. Making all of these changes has been a process, but all of our hard work is starting to pay off.”
The school also came up with a middle school model. Students have their own section of the school, which include their own stairways, bathrooms and lockers. They also transition between each of their classes.
“I think the new model has worked really well,” said middle school coordinator and 7th- and 8th-grades social studies teacher Stephen Grosso. “When I first came here eight years ago, it was a K-5 school. That was also when we expanded to middle years. In the beginning, there was a resistance to change. I don’t think the school was prepared for the transition.
“We were still treating the middle school students as if they were in a K-5 setting,” Grosso continued. “If they changed classes, a teacher would go with them to that next class. They had to walk in line like the younger students. The students had no independence and because of that, the students acted out. That’s when all of the behavioral problems at the school really started to occur.
“When Ms. Thomas came, she saw what was going on and she wanted to change the dynamics of how the middle school aspect of the school was operated. I thought it was great idea, and we went from there. I’ve seen a huge change since the model has been in place. It’s great to see our students reach their full potential at this stage in their lives. We’re proud of them. The students are excelling, and it’s a great feeling to be a part of something like this.”
For sixth-grader Chris Mercer, the new middle school model has brought new life into the school.
“I really like the fact that we are separate from the elementary students,” Mercer said. “Before, it was very crowded in the hallways. The younger students would get knocked down by accident because we couldn’t see them. The lunches were also crazy because there were so many people in the lunch room at the same time. Now, there isn’t that much traffic in the hallways. The lunches are a lot better. I think the biggest change is that we’re more independent, which is a good thing because that’s how it will be when we get to high school.”
Enter Room 105 at Vare-Washington Elementary School, at 1198 S. 5th St., and you will see students participating in various learning centers. Playing Bingo helps students with math, putting together puzzles helps students with coordination and thinking skills, the library and listening center helps students with literacy, and the computer helps the students embrace technology.
“I’m always learning new things at this school,” said kindergartner Tyles Respes. “I like learning my numbers, learning how to read and write, and being on the computer. What I like about my class, [are] the centers. When we go to different centers in my class, we put together puzzles, play Bingo, listen to books in the listening center, and learn our sounds. It’s a lot of fun.”
Kindergarten teacher Alexandra Papa uses the learning centers as a creative way to work with her students.
“While I may be working on a specific skills with one group, the other children in the class are working on things in different centers,” Papa said. “Each center identifies a skill that they’re working on independently. For example, one center may be specifically working on ending sounds. In the beginning of the year, we worked on letters and sounds. Now we’re moving into building words and sentences.
“Kindergarten is not what it used to be,” she said. “It still is socialization, but it’s also academic now. Throughout the year, we will be working on reading and writing, and different types of sounds. In math, we’ll be working on numbers to 100, skip counting, geometry type of activities, money and time. I like to call kindergarten the new first grade, because we’re really getting the students prepared for the next level.”
Kindergartner Celina Warnauth not only likes the learning centers, but also her teacher.
“I like everything about my school,” Warnauth said. “I’m really good at putting the puzzles together in class. I’ve learned a lot from my teacher. She always finds a new way to make class fun. She’s the best teacher ever.”
Vare-Washington is a K-8 school and currently has 370 students. This year, the School District of Philadelphia has decided to relocate Abigail Vare Elementary into George Washington Elementary School’s building.
“It was a daunting task to move the contents from that building into this one,” said principal Joanne M. Capriotti. “It took us a couple of months, to get everything in place, but it’s still an ongoing process. Although we settled the physical piece, the cultural piece we’re still working on — from both sides.”
In the primary grades, Vare-Washington has teachers that are trained in the Children’s Literacy Initiative. In addition to that, a kindergartner first-grade, and a second-grade teacher leave the building every week to go to Reading Buddies and Philadelphia Reads with students.
The school also has a partnership with the Society Hill Synagogue, which provides tutoring services. The school recently received a photography grant that will go toward the photography club.
Vare-Washington is also a part of a pilot program called “Literacy Through the Arts.” The program is funded by the University of the Arts.
“This book is written for each grade level with images that can be found at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as the Philadelphia Orchestra,” said art teacher Dana Jenkins. “We have a retired art teacher and music teacher from the school district that [are] coming in and showing these images with the children and connecting it through literacy.
”My goal as an art teacher has always been to build self-confidence within my students and to create an environment where they feel comfortable,” Jenkins continued. “When I was a student, school intimidated me, but when I realized that I was an artist it made me feel good about myself and I excelled in other classes. I try to do the same for my students — help them build confidence through the arts to help them succeed in other classes.”
First-grader Erica Czhong recently drew and a self-portrait in art class.
“Ms. Jenkins told us to take our time with our pictures and to make sure that we put everything in it that makes us up,” Czhong said. “I colored my picture with different colors because I like wearing different colors. I really took my time on my picture. It was a good way for me to become an artist. Ms. Jenkins is a good teacher and I really like having her as one of my teachers. Vare-Washington is a really good school. I love it here.”
As you walk through the hallways of Andrew Jackson School and look around the classrooms, art room, science room and computer classes, you will notice a theme — hard-working students and a dedicated community of faculty, staff, administration and parents — all striving for excellence.
“Our mission, ‘Working United Towards Excellence,’ continues to be the heart of our work. It is with dedication, passion and hard work that the staff at Jackson strive to provide our students with the best educational experience our school offers,” said principal Lisa Ciaranca Kaplan. “This year, we will continue to focus on quality instruction by engaging students, increasing academic rigor, and utilizing strategies that are effective for all learners.
“At Jackson, we emphasize the development of character as an integral part of our instructional program. We believe that intelligence along with outstanding character equals great success. Our students are motivated to learn in a risk-free environment. Students are encouraged to set academic goals, organize and take ownership of their education in a culture that demonstrates school pride and respect for self and others.”
Andrew Jackson offers a rigorous and culturally diverse curriculum. Academic excellence, project-based learning and civic awareness empower students to high achievement. Located in the Bella Vista/Passyunk Square of South Philadelphia, the Jackson student body represents 29 national heritages. Fifteen different languages are spoken at the school.
Approximately 25 percent of Jackson students attend magnet and select admit high schools, such as Masterman, CAPA, Central and Academy at Palumbo. The neighborhood high school is Furness.
“I love going to Jackson,” said eighth-grader Jaylen Hoang. “We’re always there for each other as well as support one another. I’ve done so many great things since being here. I’m a part of the Algebra club, Playwrights and Micro-Society. The Playwrights elective really helped me get over stage fright. I’m a performer; I love people hearing my rap songs.
“I had the opportunity to go to the Apollo last year to perform. I auditioned and they wanted me to come back,” said Hoang. “I went against four other kids and I came in second place. I rapped an original song called ‘Never Give Up.’ It was an amazing experience. I don’t think I would have received that same opportunity if I wasn’t going to Jackson.”
In Lauren Pear’s seventh-grade literacy class, students are learning life-lessons through various topics like underage drinking and reality TV through the “Hunger Games.”
“I not only want my students to be able to know the 21st century aspect of technology and be able to do things like create a keynote presentation effectively and efficiently, but I also want them to practice empathy, walking in someone else’s shoes. The best lesson I can give any of my students is to give them the tools to succeed in life and the real world. For my students, those lessons start now.”
In Bonnie Segal’s seventh-grade science class, students are learning genetics through pea plants.
“Gregor Mendel is the father of genetics and he did a lot of his studies with pea plants, especially with green pea plants,” Segal said. “We’re going to grow these plants just to see what we will be able to get out of them. When Mendel did his, he got purple and white flowers and he was able to determine that genetics is based on a 3-1 ratio. A dominant gene to a recessive gene. So, I wanted my students to get a similar experience through the same genetic project that Mendel did. I’ve done the project before, but not for this class. My students have been very excited about the project so far and it should be fun to see what our final result will be.”
Jackson offers a variety of clubs and activities for its students, from art, instrumental music, cooking, fitness and homework tutoring to robotics, digital photography, rock band and political action clubs.
“My experience at Jackson has been great,” said eighth-grader Ana Canchola. “The teachers are very helpful and encouraging. I think what makes this school so unique are all of the different programs. I participate in COSA COSA, Micro-Society, and the Jackson Rock Band. Jackson is a really good school and the opportunities here are endless.”
Earnest Dunmore also participates in Micro-Society.
“Micro-society is a program at Jackson that prepares us for the real world,” Dunmore said. “One of the things we did in Micro-society in the past was work at a diner. Some people even made pancakes. At the end of the week, we got paid for it. An experience like that not only showed us how a restaurant works, but it also allowed us to get a taste of the real world. I’ve learned a lot since being in that program.”
Jackson also has several after-school activities, including Advancing Civics Education (A.C.E), City Step Dance (Penn) Cooking and Film Club.
“I’ve participated in a lot of different clubs since I’ve been at Jackson, but my favorite has definitely been the Playwright elective,” said eighth-grader Sheridan Salazar. “First, we had to write a play and then we had to act the play out that we wrote about. My play included drama and action. It was an amazing experience. It was a good way for me to tap into my creativity.
“Jackson is a really good school,” Salazar said. “The teachers are great; the school is very diverse. I’m so grateful to be able to go to a school like this. This school has not only helped prepare me for high school, but also my future.”
There is no better demonstration of commitment to the values of civic engagement, service learning and leadership than community partnerships that work with schools. Through local partnerships, the Jackson school provides academic support and educational opportunities for families and children.
“We’ve been very fortunate in my three years as principal to build these amazing partnerships,” said principal Lisa Ciaranca Kaplan. “One of the first things that we did was partner with our civic organizations and begin a relationship with grant writing. A lot of the murals throughout the school are with the Picasso Project.
“We just wanted to give the students at Jackson the best educational experience,” Kaplan said. “The various partnerships and activities that we have not only give our students opportunities in various areas, but they are also able to grow personally through those experience. I’m truly grateful for everyone who is helping our students prepare for their future.”
Powered by Community Partners, Jackson offers its families a variety of learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Jackson serves as a Green Schools Program, teaching neighbors the benefits of recycling. Through partnerships with Temple University, Jackson serves as a Language Pilot program for parents and students.
Other Jackson school community partners include Comcast, Com. Learning Center, First Unitarian Church, The Food Trust, JUNTOS, Lowes, Passyunk Square Civic Association, Playworks, Philadelphia Bar Association, Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, Philadelphia Orchestra, Rising Sons, United Nations Assoc., University of the Arts and University of Pennsylvania.
“We really are a believer that when students are motivated to come to school and learn, and have activities that peak their interest, their academics will flourish,” Kaplan said. “Our kids are eager to come to school and learn in class and through the programs we have at the school. As a principal, you want to see your students excited about learning. It makes me proud to see them take full advantage of their opportunities and education.”
Another blossoming program at Jackson is the music program, which consists of the Andrew Jackson Rock Band.
The band started in 2010 when a handful of students met before school for the “Guitar Ensemble.” Performing short instrumental pieces, as well as expanding on various foundations being taught in the students’ general music classes, the guitar ensemble started to add vocal songs to its repertoire. The ensemble grew into a 15-piece rock band.
In the beginning of the 2011-12 academic year, the band consisted of all 8th grade students. The 2011-12 “Senior Band” was approached by Matthew Neenan and BalletX who were looking to collaborate with public school kids for their new ballet.
In the 2012-13 academic year, a junior band was started at Jackson. As the band continued to grow, it eventually took the place of the senior band. Jackson students wanted more of an identity than the previous bands, and decided to search for a fitting name for their band.
Given the amount of time the kids were spending together and the incredibly tight bond they were developing, the band voted on, “HOME” as their name. They adopted the Edward Sharpe song, “Home” as their anthem, which they perform regularly in concerts.
HOME, the Andrew Jackson Rock Band consists of 11 students ranging from fifth- through eighth-grades. The band performed three nights at the prestigious Wilma Theater in downtown Philadelphia, performed with notable songwriter/musician Rob Hyman (The Hooters, Cyndi Lauper), performed various gigs for the Passyunk Civic Association in South Philadelphia, performed and gave keynote speeches at the L.E.A.R.N. conference at the University of Pennsylvania, performed for Philadelphia’s Mayor Nutter for his press conference on the Philadelphia School District budget crisis.
“When I came to the school six years ago there was no program” said general/vocal music teacher Chris Argerakis. “The music program has really grown leaps and bounds over the last few years. In that time, primarily with the help of Donors Choose, I was able to raise over $30,000 worth of instruments and materials to build a thriving program.
“Musicopia also just adopted us this academic school year to support our program. They’ve helped us with transportation and getting our instruments repaired. Since they’ve been on board, they’ve helped us tremendously. I just want my students to take away a passion for music. If my eighth-graders can walk out of Jackson and play somewhere the next year, I’ve done my job. The kids are so talented here. I grateful to have them as students and share a passion of music with them.”