The Philadelphia High School for Girls is empowering future female leaders. This year’s graduating class demonstrates this in several ways. First, 100 percent of the June graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. Secondly, more than half have received full or partial scholarships to continue their education. Lastly, their academic, athletic and aesthetic legacy has created multi-dimensional young women ready to take on any challenge.
Girls’ High principal Dr. Parthenia Moore is proud of the invigorated legacy at the school she herself calls alma mater. This is her second year at the helm of the city’s only all-girls public secondary school. She said she is continuing to create an environment within the pink marble hallways where mediocrity is not tolerated and distinction is the hallmark.
“We are focused on excellence,” said Moore. “We let the students know that they can embark on every career, which they are carrying on the legacy of many who graduated from Girls’ High, and that they, too, can excel. We have great pride in academics and our AP, IB and honors students get a chance to raise their GPAs beyond 4.0. Right now we have several students who have GPAs like 4.06 and 4.089.”
Moore is quick to add that “sisterhood” is a primary theme at the school located at 1400 W. Olney Ave. While the school has already a “big sister/little sister” mentoring relationship between seniors and freshmen, there’s a new addition. Now the “middle children are not neglected,” according to Moore as the sophomores and juniors are involved in a cross-mentoring project.
This is all part of the networking that exemplifies Girls’ High, said Moore. As an alumnus she is well aware of how maintaining connections with fellow alums has both personal and professional benefits. “I stress that this is an intrical part of who we are and that these relationships are priceless,” Moore said.
The spirit of excellence, sisterhood and networking resonates from the Girls’ High faculty. Just ask Dr. Joy Friedlander, the dance instructor. When “The Learning Key” caught up with her she had dance students on the auditorium stage fine tuning their interpretive expressions for the “Chrysalis: The Movement of Women” program that was held on Thursday, May 17.
“This is the history of women taking the audience decade by decade into the lives of 120 of them,” said Friedlander, who has been teaching at Girls’ High for 12 years. “Women were minority and they were oppressed. So the dance shows the struggles and the suppressing of how women were stymied. That’s only half the story since as they overcome they struggle they learned that they could fly.”
History teacher Brenden Jobs has been bringing to life both African American history and the history of the United States, including the female journey, for half a decade at Girls’ High. He is the recipient of the Educational Pioneer Fellowship through the Washington, D. C. based Seed Foundation. He just earned his master’s degree last year in education specializing in teaching, learning and curriculum development from the University of Pennsylvania.
“This is an awesome place to teach,” Jobs said, who hopes to obtain his national board certification by November. “The students are nice, smart, and eager to learn. They truly want to be the best they can be. They motivate me to be the best I can be.”
Jobs interacts with a room full of seniors. They all stress that Girls’ High has provided then with the foundation they need to pursue different careers. There’s students like Ayo Keys, whose love of art is leading her to study creative design and fashion journalism in New York City, while aspiring physician Gabrielle Smith just received a biology scholarship to Barnard College. Lexus Jessup is proud of her full scholarship to Lock Haven, while Amanda Spearman of Northeast Philadelphia said she will be taking “the sisterhood and results of great teaching” with her to the University of Pittsburgh.
Language arts teacher Xueling Qu has earned awards for teaching Mandarin Chinese. Her teaching prowess is evident as she leads a group of third year honors students through a lesson where they must translate an advertisement into Mandarin. Qu only speaks in the Chinese language and students easily dialogue with her.
“I really enjoy this even though at times it is hard, but I may be able to use in later on the job,” said 16-year old Nicole Glover of North Philadelphia. Glover began taking Mandarin while a middle school student at the General George A. McCall Elementary School in Center City. She hopes to become a bilingual psychiatrist in the future.
Yet the old adage “all work and no play” is not a mantra for the typical Girls’ High student. Gym teacher, Bill Edger, can attest to that as he points to the group of scholars who become energized in perfect unison when the Wii dance routine hits the gymnasium wall.
Edger, who has been teaching in the Philadelphia School District for more than 38 years and at Girls’ High over the last 7 years, said that students earned a CPR Olympic grant that enabled them to get the Wii. There are also many enthusiastic athletes who come to school as early as 7 a.m. and stay until past 6 p.m. to hone their athletic skills.
Students also excel in the visual and performing arts as well. Art teacher Joseph Marchetti is quick to show off the creations students made by recycling as well as more traditional portraits and painting. Junior Ciara Williford, 17, of Northeast Philadelphia shows off her black, gray and white abstract painting. “I really want to be artist and study at either LaSalle, Temple, Miami State or the University of Pennsylvania,” Williford said.
Bassist Jaleh Wood, an 18-year old senior from West Oak Lane, is quick to try her hand at the recently donated harp to the school’s music department. A sextet of “roving strings” (violins and violas) join her as they pass more than a dozen upright pianos students practice on before the school day starts.
“There’s just so much energy and a lot of diversity at this school,” said Nicole Ismael, the senior class president. “When you leave here you can major in almost anything in college. I plan to major in business administration management at Temple University and then own my own business.
“I feel that this school encourages leadership. I have been given the opportunity to take a leadership role here. I work on many projects where I develop those leadership skills and networking ability. I think this will serve me well not only in higher education but in running a business,” Ismael said.
Moore agreed. She said that Ismael’s “elevator pitch” about what she learned at Girl’s High and easily translating it into her future endeavors is what the young ladies learn there. “They understand the intrinsic value of those intangible things that you learn outside the classroom as well as all the great things that happens in the classrooms. The teachers, too, are always excelling and striving — this is what makes us all rise to a level that is more stellar,” Moore said.
U.S. News and World Report released their “Best High Schools” state lists last week, ranking eight School District of Philadelphia high schools among the honorees in Pennsylvania, and awarding Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration school as the number one high school in Pennsylvania overall.
To determine the Best High Schools in Pennsylvania, schools were analyzed at the state level based on how students performed on state assessments. Masterman students proved to be 98 percent proficient in reading, and 100 percent proficient in math. U.S. News also recognized that Masterman students boast a 94 percent participation rate in Advanced Placement coursework and exams, and score an 83.8 on the college readiness index.
Other District schools making the list were Central High School at number 10, High School of Creative and Performing Arts at number 19, Academy at Palumbo at number 21, Bodine William W High School at number 33, Girard Academic Music Program at number 40, Carver High School Engineering & Science at number 50, and Girls High School at number 51.
This was the fourth edition of the “Best High Schools” rankings. Click here to view the complete list.
As high school graduation ceremonies continue across the region, memories of older generations from Philadelphia High School for Girls comes to the forefront once again. For Lauren Ashley Baptiste, those memories are particularly dear to her own family.
Baptiste is the third generation of her family to graduate from Girls High, following in the footsteps of her mother, Jaynee Reeves-Baptiste, and grandmother Marianne Brown Reeves.
Reeves pioneered the way at Girls High for her daughter and granddaughter by getting her high school diploma at Girls High in 1943. The same day her granddaughter walks across the stage to receive her diploma this year, she will also be celebrating the 60th anniversary of receiving her own high school diploma from the same school. Reeves later received her bachelor’s degree from Temple University.
“I went to Girls High when the school was still at the location in Spring Garden,” Reeves said. “What initially made me want to go to the school was the academics, the school has a high standard of excellence. Once you graduate from Girls High, you really can make it anywhere in the world.
“The school really helped me make the transition from a young girl into a young lady. I went there in a time period where there were only a few African-American students, but the education we received was top notch, especially during that. I’m truly elated to have both my daughter and granddaughter follow in my footsteps. I really is a family tradition in our family.”
Reeves-Baptiste graduated from Girls High in 1981. She was a part of the 225th graduating class. Unlike her mother, Reeves-Baptiste attended Hampton University with a bachelors degree in Biology. She also received a bachelor’s degree in nursing from The Catholic University of America.
“I wanted to go to Girls High because not only is it a prestigious school, but I also wanted to follow in the footsteps of my mother,” Reeves-Baptiste said. “My mother always spoke highly of the school and that really peaked my interest to want to go there myself. I can honestly say that was one of the best decisions I‘ve ever made because I had more fun in high school then I did in college.
“Being around the same sex really helped my self-esteem as well as motivated me to become better academically and personally. We all learned how to be young ladies and leaders at the school. The bond and sisterhood that we have is uncanny. It truly is everlasting and unbreakable. I’m proud to not only be an alumna of Girls High, but to also be alumna’s with my mother and daughter.”
Just like her grandmother and mother, Baptiste will be graduating from Girls High on June 18. She will be a part of the 257th graduating class. She will be attending Temple University in the fall.
“It’s really surreal to know that I will be a part of a third generation family that graduated from Girls High,” Baptiste said. “It truly an honor and a huge accomplishment for myself and my family. I’ve fully enjoyed my experience at the school. Girls High has not only prepared me academically and socially for the next journey in my life, but I wouldn’t be who I am as person if I didn’t go to this school.”
Ranked among the top five schools in Philadelphia and the second-oldest all-girls public school in the country, Girls High was founded in 1848 to “prepare teachers for the common schools of Philadelphia.”
It was the first municipally supported secondary school for girls in the United States and was called the Girls’ Normal School. In 1893, the Philadelphia High School for Girls separated from the Girls’ Normal School, and the basis for today’s college preparatory curriculum was laid. It continues to exist as a school for the academically talented, providing young students with outstanding opportunities for scholarship, leadership, and service.
“For our students to continue this huge legacy that started back in 1848, where it was unheard of for girls to even be at the high school level, speaks volumes of our legacy and what our families has been able to accomplish thus far,” said Girls High principal Dr. Parthenia Moore. “This is just one of many success stories at Girls High. Their legacy and family tradition will always coincide with that of Girls High.
“Our focus has always been on excellence in everything that the students do academically and socially, so once they go off to college they will continue to be leaders and succeed. Jaynee, Marianne and Lauren are not only leaders, but they are continuing to be great examples for future Girls High students by showing what you can become if you work hard. I’m so proud and honored to be apart of that.”
Ranked among the top five schools in Philadelphia and the second-oldest all-girls public school in the country, Philadelphia High School for Girls continues to prepare its young ladies for the next level academically by providing a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum
“The rigorous course work, the continual staff support, and the school spirit and traditions assist in the preparation for each of our young women,” said Principal Parthenia A. Moore. “Their hard work and efforts will guarantee their ability to take positions of leadership in the areas of politics, education, law, business, medicine, entrepreneurialism or any career they choose just as their Girls High sisters have done in the past.
“It will only be through our continued partnership that we will guarantee that our young women are afforded every opportunity as they use their potential to become the models for the next generation of leaders.”
Girls High was Recognized at Silver Level of Excellence by U.S. News & World Report (2012); and has made AYP continuously since 2002.
“For me going to Girls High is truly about achieving your dream,” said senior Priscilla Acquaah. “I came here (to the United States) when I was seven-years-old. My mother wanted me to come to the U.S. because she thought I would receive a better education than in Ghana.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been working really hard to make my family proud and achieve my dreams. I got accepted into Villanova and my major will be pre-med in the fall. I want to be pediatrician because I love working with kids. Girls High really prepared me for my future. I really enjoyed my time here with my sisters. I’m going to miss Girls High, but I’m looking forward to using what I learned here and applying it to my future.”
Some other points of pride at Girls High include various clubs, activities, and organizations; student government and athletic association; alumnae association; scholarship and awards program; partnerships with LaSalle, Temple, Drexel, Moore College of Art, University of Pennsylvania, and Hanban Asia Society.
The school has a high college acceptance rate, many students attend top U.S. universities. Twelve current students at the school has already been accepted to Spelman College. Girls High also offers dual enrollment, internships, International Baccalaureate Program and expanding number of AP courses. The school also has active chapters in National Honor Societies in academics including foreign language, mathematics, and science.
Art is a popular program at Girls High. The school offers classes in ceramics, AP Art History, and AP studio Art/Visual Art. Joseph Marchetti teaches the art classes.
“I want my students to grow,” Marchetti said. “We call it humanities, because they’re the courses in schools that bring humanity to education. It teaches history and value, but it also teaches a child’s potential. When they see that their capable of creating an object of art that they didn’t know they can do you’ve changed that child’s world.
“You’ve opened a doorway to something that you can never take back. In certain classes, you’re 1 of 33, in art you’re 1 of 1 in a class of 33. When you see a student succeed in something they thought they could not do, it gives them the confidence to succeed academically and personally.”
For senior Nicole Morris, attending Girls High not only allows her to grow artistically, but she is also succeeding academically. Morris will be attending Moore College of Art and Design in the Fall. Her major will be Fine Art 2D with a minor in business.
“I’ve been drawing all my life and it’s something that I enjoy doing,” Morris said. “It’s something I’m more comfortable doing. Mr. Marchetti has helped me tremendously because he has pushed me creatively.
“I’ve learned to go with what I feel and how to create on my own. Right now, I’m creating my portfolio, so that has been exciting. Going to Girls High has not only help me improve my skills, but it really did help me prepare for college and my future.”
Senior Somolly Sam currently has some of artwork profiled at the school. Sam’s drawings are from her classroom courses and from the courses she took at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
“What I love about the program here, is that Mr. Marchetti gives you the freedom to draw,” Sam said. “We just pick which angle we want to draw and then we pick the medium in which we want to draw in. I do want to have a career in art. I plan on going to college and majoring in Graphic Design.
“Being a part of Girls High and participating in the art program has taught me many things. I don’t think I would be as successful as I am academically if I went to another school. Everyone here pushes each other to achieve excellence. We all want to make a difference in the world. We’re one of kind, there’s truly no school like Philadelphia High School for Girls.”
Seven members of the Philadelphia High School for Girls Service Club Group recently won at the Jefferson Awards for public service. The school won Gold and was considered a 2013 Service Leadership School.
“It was truly an accomplishment for Girls High to win Gold at the Jefferson awards,” said senior Samuella Takyi-Buachie. “Our school not only has high academic standards, but we are constantly volunteering and finding new ways to give back to the community. For us, volunteering is not a project, but a way of life. We want to continue to volunteer and show future Girls High students that in addition to achieving academic excellence, volunteering is what will help make this world a better place.”
The Jefferson Awards is a program geared for youth and high schools. The goal of the program is to spread the idea of volunteerism in the community. Each year, the Jefferson Awards has a competition where students have to present the ideas of what they learned through volunteering.
“In the Jefferson Awards competition, there are seven goals and those goals are centered around increasing volunteerism in the community,” said senior Oumourumana Jallah. “The competition was held in April and we met with other students who are also involved with this program. We present how we achieved each of our goals that the Jefferson Awards program has set up and from there they score us. They gave a certificate for everyone who participated, but there are also medals handed out. Our school won Gold.”
This year, Girls High collaborated with Widener Memorial School, which is a school designed for disabled children. Students at the school also made Valentine’s Day cards for children who were at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“Because Widener is very close to Girls High and we already worked with them before, it was natural for us to want to volunteer there because we already established a bond with the students,” said senior Princess Garrett. “We wanted to create a service where everyone would benefit from it. We just wanted to do a project where both sides could make a difference in the world.”
The students at Girls High had to put together a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation highlighted both Girls High and the school’s volunteer work. Girls High volunteered for a total of 46,000 hours which totals economically to about $1 million worth of volunteerism. They also had to share stories of the community and developed a website.
“The girls really worked hard on the presentation,” said service club sponsor Louis Austin. “They told their story of what Girls High does and how we are constantly volunteering. The girls were given seven minutes to present the Girls High story. I’m really proud of all of these young ladies. They worked extremely hard and did a great job.”
There were six other schools that competed in the Jefferson Awards. The other schools that participated were also from Philadelphia. There were two winners for each level.
“Winning Gold was a huge accomplishment for Girls High because this was second year that,” said junior Yun Huang. “We did an amazing job. We all worked together on the presentation and prior to the presentation. It was really hard, but we all got it done and the reward was great. We felt accomplished and successful afterwards.”
For junior Jamie Nguyen, being a part of the program is about helping everyone in the community.
“I think it’s important to be a part of a program like this because it doesn’t just benefits us, but it also benefits everyone around us,” Nguyen said. “When we participate in this program it increases our volunteering capacity. We’re not just volunteering in our school, but also outside of the community. We do volunteer work with hospitals, schools, and various organizations, so what we’re doing is benefitting everyone whether its directly or indirectly.”