Featured in 2012 Philadelphia Magazine as "One of the Best Schools in Philadelphia,” The Science Leadership Academy (SLA) continues to prepare its students for the next level academically by providing a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship.
“Everything that we do here is built on our five core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection,” said founding principal Christopher Lehmann. “We’re truly creating education opportunities that are redefining how education is delivered. We teach our students to be ready for the future.”
SLA is a partnership high school between the School District and The Franklin Institute. Students at SLA learn in a technology-infused, project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection are emphasized in all classes.
“It’s a rigorous program, but a really good school,” said senior Yasmeen Brownlee. “I want to be a veterinarian, so I wanted to go to school that will have a lot of science programs, SLA was the perfect fit for me. The overall experience that I received was good; it definitely will prepare me for the next level.”
Each student of SLA receives their own personal Macbook laptop, which they are responsible for throughout the school year. The majority of schoolwork is done on the computers through the school's Moodle course-management system.
“This isn’t the traditional kind of school,” said junior Goldie Robins. “At this school we learn through research-based projects, collaborating with one another, and working both in the classroom and in the community. It’s a better way of learning and retaining the information that we learn. The curriculum is challenging and you really have to stay on top of your game academically, but it’s all worth it in the end.”
For junior Amanda Cartagena, digital video is her favorite class because it allows her to tap into her creativity.
“Digital video gives us an opportunity to explore our creativity,” Cartagena said. “When our teacher assigns a project, we’re able to choose what we want the video to be about as a group, whether it’s a commercial or something else. We all get to bring our own original ideas to the class. I like the class because it allows us to see things through other people eyes.”
SLA has a partnership with Drexel University through the STEM GK12 program. The program pairs Drexel graduate PhD students with high school teachers through academic fellowship to enhance the math and science education of high school students through the context of the National Academy of Engineering.
This program has been displayed in the Biochemistry 1 class where students were creating an indoor green space. An engineer from the Drexel comes to the class once a week to help with the built and design of the project.
“The engineer that we have for the project will be traveling to Africa to work with a school in Kenya,” said Biochemistry 1 teacher Stephanie Dunda. “He will be offering them the same project, but the emphasis on their indoor structure will be on growing food because the are an agricultural community. The kids are preparing a structure.
“They are also making a video of what they are doing, so that if someone wants to build this structure they can. They will also be able to share their videos with the kids in Africa and vice versa. This project is truly great and all students will be able to learn from it.”
Drexel University P.H.D candidate and GK 12 fellow Ezekiel Crenshaw is helping the students at SLA and Africa with their structures.
“The whole concept of the structures came from the five-story bio-wall at Drexel,” Crenshaw said. “The goal of the whole project was to show students how plants can help better than environment as well as learn the functions of plants. This project will show students how its possible to live in green environment.
“This is also a good way for students from different countries to interact with one another through the same project. This will be the ultimate learning experience for all students, because they are learning from each other.”
SLA has won numerous awards over the years. The school was featured in the PBS documentary, Digital Media: New Learners for the 21st Century; was names Apple Distinguished School (2009-2012) and 2011 city debate champions.
SLA other points of pride include a ninth grade program and Franklin Scholars Speaker series, which brought Bill Gates to the campus in 2010. President Barack Obama met the graduating class of 2012. The engineering program has also designed and built a solar distillation system for a hospital in Sierra Leone and has two patents pending for a flow process bio-diesel generator
“When I was younger, I kept getting first place in science fairs, so I thought this was the perfect school to go to for science,” said freshmen Jordan Meriwether. “SLA gives all us an opportunity to succeed whether it’s in science or other fields. This school is top notch and what SLA has accomplished over the years has proven that. I’m looking forward to setting my own imprint here and taking what I learn at SLA and apply it to my future goals.”
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.”