One-on-one laptop connection and arts programs that range digital video to analytical engineering is what makes the Science Leadership Academy High School unique. Located at 55 N. 22nd St. in the heart of Center City, the school boasts of a commitment to inquiry-based science. At the helm of the college preparatory school is Philadelphia native Chris Lehman.
For Lehman, the founder of SLA, this is a positive learning and student-centered environment. He said that the 25 teachers work collaboratively to ensure that its population of 486 students does well. This coming June they will graduate virtually the entire senior class of 120 students.
“We have a holistic environment here,” said Lehman. “Students here come from every zip code in the city. We have four national certified teachers and all the teachers have an average of nine years of experience.”
Lehman brings to the school a decade of teaching English and technology in New York City. It was in 2006 he relocated back to the Fairmount section and decided to open the school in partnership with the Franklin Institute Science Museum. Having this initial relationship fostered the school’s commitment to science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship.
“We have an incredible environment based on five core values,” Lehman said. “We have a culture here that encourages learning. Five years ago we were one of the first all Apple schools. We truly create education opportunities that are redefining how education is delivered.”
To this end Lehman is particularly proud of the fact that SLA welcomes both students who excel academically and those who show unusual promise. Every December those interested in entering the school’s freshman class can apply. Last November there were 900 applicants for 125 slots.
Though the school was selective in choosing the members of the next entering class, it was not an exclusive process insisted the principal. “We really want a holistic voice, so the parents are not involved in our selection process of our students. They are just not part of the process because our focus is on the kids,” Lehman said.
The student-centered environment continues even after the students became SLA students. They have longer classroom periods to allow for more laboratory work in science classes. They also have performance-based learning class lessons where upper grade students are even allowed to have flexible schedules.
Consequently, the school also boasts of a high college admission rate. Lehman credits this to the students being allowed to have flexible opportunities. They can choose dual enrollment programs in area universities and career development internships in laboratory and business settings. Of course, the Franklin Institute provides some of the internships.
“There is always something going on for the students,” said Lehman. “We are always involved in science fairs. We were part of the National Educon. We have all types of programming. We teach our students to be ready for the future.”