As the pin hit the vinyl record, a crackling sound of an old record player was heard. Swinging sounds of the jazz band filled the room as Bessie Smith uttered the soulful lyrics to “Lost Your Head Blues.”
Students listened attentively to the muffled song and jotted down the lyrics they heard. This was the assignment in Amy Ponansky’s music class.
At Feltonville Arts and Science, classes are infused with cultural references, technology is used and students are engaged academically.
In his second year as principal, Michael Reid said he likes the diversity of the student population. With eight different languages spoken by students and staff, Reid said this cultural aspect is appreciated.
Two years ago, before Reid came, the school may have looked different. There were not many initiatives encouraging students to come to school and learn.
Now, with the help of Reid, school administration and parental involvement, changes have been made at Feltonville. Several initiatives that are engaging students academically.
One program is called Leadership Group. This is a pilot program consisting of an all-boys’ seventh-grade class. In its premiere year, 26 male students are learning in a single-sex environment. The Feltonville administration wanted to assess the impact this model had on the level of achievement among the male students.
“This year, actually, the boys seem to be making that difference. It seems to be working for them. They like being in the class. They felt no pressure. When they were in the class, academically, all of them have been improving. I’m really interested in seeing when they take the PSSA if all of their scores will improve, because they’re much more engaged,” Reid said.
The young men do have the opportunity to interact with other students in elective classes and at lunch.
The Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program is a college preparatory initiative. Twenty-five students benefit from this program. AVID prepares students for college, takes them on college tours, teaches them to be organized and communicate.
Lead teacher Allen Wing, has been with the program at Feltonville for 2 ½ years.
“My most memorable experience was when we went to the White House and Times Square. When we go on college trips they’re always excited. They always appreciate it because it’s a lot of work. We took them to Howard and Georgetown and Columbia. They had a ball. They met the president of the university and basketball players, and we took them to the football field,” Wing said.
Eighth-grader Jazmin Miller is in the AVID initiative and explained her experiences in the program.
“It prepared me a lot, because it gets you ready for college and it motivates you to want to go to high school, to want to go to college. We go on trips to different colleges. I like math and science. When I grow up I want to be a chef or fashion designer,” Miller said.
The Golden Attitude Club also encourages students to check their behavior. Regardless of grades, 10 percent of the student population is chosen to receive extra rewards based on the criteria of responsibility, reliability and respectfulness.
This year also features the first autistic class. Assistant Principal Peggy Klova-Davis said this group of students has shown abilities to adapt to the school’s environment and show signs of development. Some have been integrated into other classes.
“We just love our autistic students. They’re really coming along. They’re comfortable in the classroom. They have an excellent teacher. This is the first year, so we are really enjoying having a new group of students in our school,” Klova-Davis said.
Students have the opportunity to get involved with choir, drama, dance and the school’s instrumental ensemble. There is also a robotics team. Technology is infused in classrooms. Whiteboards and laptop carts are also used.
The Extended Day Program and Saturday School were implemented to prep for PSSAs.
Even with school initiatives, extracurricular activities and modern technologies, students have additional support from parental involvement.
A parent who is the school improvement support liaison, Wanda Vazquez, said she has noticed a difference in the school.
“Because I’m so close and see what’s going on in the school, everyone is really involved and gives that support. That’s really important. I think the teachers really love to create different things to make the school a better school. I think that’s really great, that we want the kids to [do] more than just reading books, but in other areas where they can grow and mature,” Vazquez said.
Seventh-grade parent Elise Villafane credits the positive changes to Reid.
“In the last two years, since Mr. Reid has been here, this school has been through a traumatic change. It’s wonderful. Just everything. The students, the staff just everyone is more united working together and really focused on these kids,” Villafane said.
Reid said with the various initiatives implemented in the school structure, he believes that Feltonville will reach Adequate Yearly Progress this year.
Drama, literature, music blend with academics
Watch out, Broadway. Feltonville Arts and Science students are adding drama class and choir to their rosters, learning how to write monologues, direct plays and even put on a production of a Broadway musical.
No longer an after-school-based program, classes are taught throughout the week and to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.
“One of the things that was big for me, of course, academics is the biggest piece of the job, but the fact that the school was called ‘Arts and Science.’ I was like, ‘Why is it called Arts and Science?’ when I first came here because we didn’t have much arts or science things going on,” Principal Michael Reid said.
“So this year we added things to the kids’ roster so the kids could pick stuff that they want to take, almost like a high school roster.”
Lead teacher E. Yaffa-Kremen has been teaching reading, language arts, social studies and drama for 15 years. She said these new programs of academics are geared to encourage students to express themselves.
“The school has definitely started to improve with the implementation of the arts. I think it makes learning fun. It gets kids to want to come to school when they’re involved in something other than sitting and writing. I think it gives them a whole different aspect of learning,” Yaffa-Kremen said.
“Now some of the kids are really involved in the arts. We have a choir. It’s nice to see that there’s excitement in learning, and learning is starting to be a little more enjoyable. Kids are thinking, they’re creating because of that, they’re doing better in their other classes.”
Of Principal Reid, Yaffa-Kremen said his hands-on approach is much appreciated.
“You have to have a principal that’s willing to take chances and trust others. He definitely wants kids to want to learn. He’s always looking for ways to motivate them to want to come to school and want to make it more fun. He meets with me or the choir teacher, he says, ‘What do you need? What can I do to help you?’ He helped all of us clean up after the play and put props away. Not too many principals would do that. I think he’s on the right track to get the staff to want to do more,” Yaffa-Kremen said.
“The last performance we had in the marking period, the winter show and the one we did last year. I like the performances because we have a [teacher] who takes junior Broadway plays and produces some with our kids. It’s really unique to see our kids on stage singing, acting and dancing. There were so many kids involved. It was nice to see our kids in that light,” Reid said.
“She’s really an asset to our school,” Assistant Principal Peggy Klova-Davis said.
Students have done skits for science fairs, conflict resolution workshops and even for the annual holiday show.
The sixth-grade classes are focused on Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and are writing their own dream speeches.
The eighth- and seventh-grade classes are writing their own scripts by taking popular stories and adding their own twists.
Additionally, the eighth-graders wrote a book of monologues that was published by Yaffa-Kremen. This is the first year that she has had the student’s work published.
“I think it builds self-confidence and self-esteem. I think it gives them a different perspective of literature, because usually they’re reading it, almost like a spectator, their just looking at literature on paper. This gives them an opportunity to walk in the character’s shoes. Be the actual character, see what it feels like, experience empathy,” Yaffa-Kremen said.
“I think it makes them better readers, better writers, better literature analysts. In my opinion, theater encompasses such a large spectrum of skills from page to page that makes you a well rounded student.”