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.”
Hearing the harmonizing vocalists, seeing students dance and watching actors act out a scene from a play are just some of the activities going on during a normal school day at The Arts Academy of Benjamin Rush.
“One of the things that I love about Rush is the way the school integrates rigorous academics with the arts,” said vocal major and junior Jessica Fein. “[That is] what made me want to come to Rush. Since being here, I have been in musicals and various concerts. My experience here has been great. We’re not just an arts school, but we’re family.”
Rush, at 11081 Knights Road in Northeast Philadelphia, opened its doors in 2008. The school allows students to focus on their academics while embracing their creativity and talent through the visual and performing arts.
“Over the years, we have really developed the arts program as well as gained numerous community partnerships,” said principal Jessica Brown. “The programs are very academic and connected to the content areas. Part of the vision of the school is to integrate the arts into the curriculum. We have a lot of collaboration between the content teachers and the arts teachers.
“We are continuously developing the vision of the school as well as providing a rigorous academic curriculum,” Brown continued.
“ We’re not only allowing our students to be leaders in school and the community, but we’re also providing them with opportunities and skills that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. We’re preparing them, not just for college, but their future, and we’re doing it through the integration of the arts and academics.”
Each student at Rush auditions for one specific “major” out of the five the school offers. These are the visual arts (which have graphic, media and fine arts as subcategories), dance, theater, instrumental music and vocals.
“This year, I’m in Chambers, the All-City choir, and musicals,” said vocal major and senior Megan Paraschak. “A couple (of) students and I have also put together our own a capella arrangement that we’re going to audition and perform in a show. I’ve also learned how to play the guitar. My experience at Rush has been great. The academics prepare you for college, the opportunities are endless and the experiences are memorable. I really love going here.”
Students generally stick with one major throughout their high school careers. While they have the option of switching, this requires a re-audition and acceptance into that field.
“I [was] in a few plays when I was in middle school, so when I found out that Rush was a school based on the arts, I knew right away that this was the place for me,” said theater major and junior Anthony Moore. “The teachers do a good job of teaching us in the classroom and in our majors.
“I’ve learned a lot from my teacher, Ms. Wojcik,” Moore continued. “I’ve grown as an actor since being here. The opportunities and experience I gained here has been endless. Rush has helped me prepare for my future.”
The fine arts course focuses on both the fundamental of 2D and 3D art and design through drawing, sculpture and ceramics. Students get instruction in life drawing, color theory, perspective and how to “see” from the artist’s point of view.
The graphic and media arts courses are rigorous programs of basic drawing and illustration (graphic arts), basic photographic techniques and media literacy (media arts). Both programs incorporate art history.
“I really enjoy the arts, so I thought Rush would be the perfect fit for me,” said theater major and senior Antonio Hunter. “Theater is my actual major, but I also participate in media and vocal. This is my first year doing vocal and it’s been a great experience. With vocal it’s not just about singing, it’s more complex than that.
“As far as media, I’m doing journalism. I’m working with PBS. I like that because I’m learning different media skills, learning how to interview and positioning a camera right. I’m actually thinking about majoring in journalism when I go to college. What I’m learning in media at Rush is already preparing me for classes I would have to take in college. This school has already laid the groundwork for preparing for my future.”
The dance department at Rush Arts is a comprehensive college preparatory program where students study four dance content areas, performance and technique, analyzing and critiquing, historical and cultural studies and creating choreography. The four major technique forms learned are ballet pointe, tap, jazz and modern.
“I already danced prior to coming Rush, but I didn’t know what I wanted to be,” said dance major and sophomore Christina Yanyok. “Once I came to Rush, I knew dancing was something that I wanted to do. I like ballet a lot. It’s something that I really enjoy doing. I’m constantly improving my skills as a dancer.
“Ms. Masters has really helped me come into my own as a dancer. She has helped me get scholarship opportunities, so that I could work on my craft outside of school at a really good studio. She has also helped me with my technique. Going to Rush has not only helped me enhance my talents in dance and succeed in the classroom, but it also helped me realize my dream.”
STEMnasium Learning Academy (SLA) has been selected as a T-Mobile featured case study video highlighting the importance of putting cutting edge mobile technology into the hands of students to further science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in the classroom.
Filming for the video took place last month at the STEMnasium Learning Academy, located at 638-40 N. 66th Street. The final video will be highlighted on T-Mobile.com, T-Mobile’s YouTube Channel and through other social media outlets.
Founded in 2003 by Tariq Al-Nasir, SLA is an organization dedicated to improving STEM literacy for all students. Core Values include practices, strategies and programs built upon a foundation of identified best practices designed to improve students’ exposure and understanding of the STEM disciplines, which are under-represented in most of the nation’s schools.
In 2011, an SLA team won the Against All Odds Award at Drexel University Sea Perch competition. In 2012, they placed third in regionals for the Spirit and Sportsmanship Award in the Villanova University Mate Rover competition and third for vehicle performance in the Scouts Mission award at Villanova University Mate Rover.
“Every year, there’s a demand for 120,000 jobs for people with computer science backgrounds,” Al-Nasir said. “We’re only graduating, nationally, 40,000. There are 80,000 students missing. Why [are they] missing? Because we haven’t rethought the STEM initiative.
“During my global travels with the military, I noticed societies that did not lack an abundance of STEM related workers,” Al-Nasir continued. “This was not the case in the U.S., so 10 years ago, I built the program on the STEM foundations of higher learning and was inspired to provide a place for students to expand their horizons and identities outside of a regular classroom. The program teaches students to find a passion in the STEM field and discover themselves as individuals. We teach children to identify themselves as a scientist, a technologist, an engineer or a mathematician. And that’s how the program starts each Saturday.”
SLA is one of several cutting edge educational programs across the country that T-Mobile will highlight as part of its increased focus on the business and education sector. The video will showcase how the students of SLA, ages 3 through 14, use smartphone and tablet devices running on T-Mobile’s nationwide LTE network to test and run mobile apps they create in real time.
The video will also highlight the lasting impact that SLA has had over the past 11 years in educating and engaging youth in science, technology, engineering, and math, as well as provide a model for other schools across the nation to follow on how to launch a successful mobile technology initiative in the classroom.
At SLA, students learn to design, program and build interactive video games using Racket and Alice 2.0 software program staples at Temple/MESA and Carnegie Mellon University. Students also learn to design mobile applications, as well as program, develop and operate robots. The young team of STEM Scholars competes in local and national STEM competitions annually. The youngest person ever to build a mobile app video game and have it distributed on the marketplace for purchase was a 7-year-old girl who was a product of SLA.
SLA represents a flexible learning module, which targets all schools and all students. SLA is tendering an opportunity for educators principals and leaders to bring this essential curriculum to their classroom in a variety of ways. Corporate and business partners are also welcome to join forces with STEMnasium Learning Academy to bring STEM education to more youth of Philadelphia.
At the end of February, STEMnasium will launch an official STEM Awareness Initiative with a Kickstarter Campaign and a networking reception at Landmark Restaurant on City Avenue to debut the final video case study with T-Mobile.