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.