As a partnership between the School District of Philadelphia’s Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) Division and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, nine teams from District schools competed in robot performance, presentation and design on Jan. 28 at Penn’s Irvine Auditorium for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO© League Championships.
The competition is meant to promote greater exposure to STEM; a District program that supports innovative learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.
Students represented the following District schools: Rhoads Elementary School, Heston Academics Plus School, Roberto Clemente Promise Academy, Feltonville Arts and Sciences, Juniata Park Academy, Andrew Hamilton School, Lowell Elementary School, Baldi Middle School and Ethel Allen School. Along with these schools, more than 15,000 teams from around the world attended.
When a fire began in the kitchen of a West Oak Lane home, six-year-old Terrell Reel saw a blaze on the stove, ran outside to warn his mother and she called emergency dispatchers.
“It was a fire and I called 9-1-1,” Reel said. “Get out. Get help. Call 911.”
Reel is a student in the autistic support class at Julia Ward Howe School. He was on the second floor of the family’s row home working on the computer when he smelled a pot burning on the kitchen stove. As the blaze engulfed the kitchen, Reel ran to his mother. Successfully, he alerted her of the fire because he followed a script practiced in his classroom during a life skills lesson.
Reel’s mother, Myriam Estriplet, says she was amazed that Reel knew how to handle this emergency.
“I didn’t even know he knew,” Estriplet said. “He says, ‘Myriam, Myriam. It’s a fire. Mrs. Mona said that when there’s a fire, you cover your mouth with the blanket and you call 9-1-1. Tell them that the fire is flammable. Tell them our address for them to come.’”
Reel’s teacher, Mona Cohen, is one of the life skills instructors at Howe. In class, students frequently work on social simulations — opposites, money, colors, shapes, emotions, what to do as a friend, what to do in emergencies and emergency signals. Each student also writes their name and address on large index cards, and they recite the information several times. The repetition helps students to remember.
“I was just so proud of him. He just did what he learned in here which was pretty amazing because a lot of adults couldn’t do that,” Cohen said.
Cohen says when Estriplet told her of Reel’s heroism, she could not believe that he had done what was practiced in school. Cohen says some students surprise her of their growth because some are not responsive in class.
“There have been times, when the students have read something fluently and I just cried. They’re like ‘Oh my God, she’s crying again.’ Kids who maybe weren’t talking too much or a student who sat here for almost a year and didn’t say anything and one day recites everything that she had been hearing,” Cohen said.
“But, really, the capper was Terrell and the fire. That blew me away that he did that.”
Before attending Howe, Reel was enrolled in various programs that assisted autistic children. With issues of behavior and Reel not talking, his mother now sees him as a “brand new child” with the help of Cohen. Estriplet says Cohen is “patient,” “pleasant” and praises her efforts for helping Terrell become a better student.
“She is the best. I know where Terrell was, and when he’s with Mrs. Mona, she does a magnificent job. He was at 46 percent. Now, he’s reading kindergarten books and first-grade books. She’s one of the teachers that every parent should have. Let her teach your children,” Estriplet said.
Reel walks to a board in the class and points to the flammable sign. Knowing that the sign signifies fire danger, “Flammable,” Reel said.
Estriplet is no stranger to autism. In 2006, she left her nursing job to become a full-time mother for her four children. Other than Reel, she has another son who is three-year-old with autism. With the attention from home and school, Estriplet says she sees the development of her sons.
“For him to say that much, I was shocked. I didn’t even know they taught him that in school.”
Since the fire, Estriplet says now her family has an evacuation plan in case of fires or other emergencies.
ESPN, the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles hosted The Monday Night Football Chalk Talk Series luncheon in advance of the Philadelphia Eagles–Chicago Bears game Nov. 7 at the Lincoln Financial Field.
The Chalk Talk honored two Philadelphia student-athletes, Monique Bowman from Jules Mastbaum High School and Martin Hicks from Arise Academy Charter High School, for the ESPN High School RISE ABOVE Award. These student-athletes have overcome challenges, and found the time to excel academically and help others in their community.
Bowman is a student-athlete playing both soccer and volleyball. She carries a 3.5 GPA, is involved in student government and works 30 hours a week at K-Mart helping to support her one-year-old son and younger siblings. Bowman says receiving this award makes her feel special.
“Today, I feel like I’m famous. It makes you feel better about yourself when you get recognized for doing something that you never thought someone would recognize you for and just achieving your goals,” Bowman said.
Although Bowman was unsure if she would play sports after having her child, she says playing sports helps her emotionally to live a balanced life.
“At first when I had my son, I’m like, ‘No, I can’t go back. I don’t want to play anymore,’ but then I just realized that, that’s what I wanted to do, play sports.”
Bowman does have future plans to attend college at West Chester University and law school.
Hicks plays football and basketball as a part of a co-op program between Arise Academy and Ben Franklin High School. Growing up was extremely difficult for Hicks. With mental health issues and drug abuse, both his parents were unable to take care of him; leaving Hicks in the foster care system. After living in five different homes and attending multiple high schools, Hicks and his sisters were able to settle in a stable environment with their grandmother.
As starting linebacker and captain of his basketball team, Hicks says he is not used to all the attention he received, but he says it feels good.
“It makes me feel like it’s worth it and to just keep working hard,” Hicks said.
He has an uncle and two cousins who serve in the Navy and he plans to enlist after high school.
During their experiences at the Lincoln Financial Field, Bowman, Hicks and their friends and family took a behind-the-scenes tour and talked with ESPN executives about career opportunities in sports. Students learned about marketing, advertising, networking, internships and planning of events. Additionally, the group learned about the pre-production of Monday Night Football games.
Alumni players from the Eagles and Bears were in attendance. Jevon Kearse, Jeremiah Trotter, Brian Westbrook and Curtis Conway discussed their experiences playing in the NFL and other football topics.
In its fifth year, The Monday Night Football Chalk Talk Series began as a tradition in the 1970s. The tradition was that the on-air personalities in town covering the Monday Night Football game would share their insider analysis and experience with guests of the community. ESPN and the NFL revamped the Chalk Talk Series in 2007 to showcase the host cities participating in the weekly Monday night games. Additionally, student-athletes like Bowman and Hicks are honored for their achievements in school and off the field.
There’s a new bank coming to Germantown. In case one may think it’s means there is yet another bank merger, think again. It is a new student banking program at Germantown High School Promise Academy.
The “Paws in the Money” program will create the so-called Germantown Bank, sponsored by The Business Center for Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise and PNC Bank. The program’s name reflects the fact that Germantown High’s mascot is the bear. Information also reflects the schools colors of green and white.
Over at the secondary school located on Germantown Avenue between Haines and High Streets this spells good news. Assistant principal Sherin Philip Kurian is quick to point out that this is just one of the programs in the school’s Career and Technology Education program. Germantown teacher Patricia Harrell the Business Center’s educator Henrietta Hadley helped the students set up the program.
The Germantown Bank will officially be unveiled today. It will be with much fanfare and revelry as every freshman, sophomore, junior and even the graduating seniors will have the opportunity to open their own bank account. With as little as $5 and their identification in hand all are eligible—and for some this will be the first bank account they’ve ever had.
“We have a strong Career and Technology Program here,” said Philip-Kurian. “Under this umbrella are three programs. We have culinary arts, business administration and graphic design. This is an opportunity for students to acquire real life skills. They all have a double period of their major subject. We have about 250 students enrolled in these programs.
“I think it is important to give students the opportunity to get practical knowledge. We realize that not every student is going to go to college. So having them hear the manger of PNC Bank talk about that business or a chef come in from the Culinary Art Institute, they learn about opportunities. This bank, for instance, will open up the students’ eyes.”
Philip-Kurian added that those students on the college preparatory track are excelling alongside their counterparts who may opt not to go on to higher education. This is indicated by the rising scores at Germantown on the PSSA and SATs. There has been a recent “30 percent increase” in the scores, according to Germantown’s assistant principal.
To further stimulate the students they are all involved in enrichment programs. This includes robotics, filmmaking, aerobics, and other courses related to the creative arts, engineering or language. Every nine weeks the students change the course that is offered the next to the last period from 1:39 to 2:35 p.m. So, every student has a chance to experience four enrichments courses a year. “They do tend to rotate and explore all the disciplines,” Philip-Kurian said.
Much of the energy at Germantown High recently has been focused on the banking program.
Germantown Bank and learn more about business. Students like 16-year olds Barry Boyd and Shanae Thomas are among those who are actively participating in the program. Boyd, who lives in North Philadelphia, is a sophomore. Thomas is a junior from Logan who has had the opportunity to pen much of the promotional materials and correspondence distributed to staff, faculty and students about the banking program.
The students have already put together the banking paperwork. They have deposit and withdrawal slips. There is a way to track interest, balances and the type of deposits. The student tellers even have a space for their initials.
Germantown pupils also filled out a banking project survey. The form asked whether they had a bank account, at which bank, and whether they save money regularly. It also inquired of them whether they had a checking or savings account as well as would they be willing to open a new or additional savings account at the new Germantown Bank. Furthermore, students were recruited to work at the school bank and were asked how much per week did they anticipate they would deposit in it.
The School Bank Program encourages students to take an interest in saving and banking. Usually the PNC initiative targets elementary and middle school students, so the Germantown Bank marks the first time that the financial institution is doing a larger scale partnership at a high school. PNC branches and their Community Development Banking Department staff collaborate with schools like Germantown to do financial education.
“This will help students learn about responsibility first hand,” said Boyd “By working here and making deposit transaction you learn a lot. This is something positive for our school. We’ve been looking forward to May 15 because there are going to be raffles, giveaway of gifts and a lot of excitement. We’ll have the chance to tell the others about what baking is about.”
Thomas agreed. She said that as a precursor to the Germantown Bank’s grand opening she went on a trip excursion to the Federal Reserve Bank. There, she said, she learned about the banking position beyond simply being the teller. “I thought it was interesting how they had to be (diligent) about shredding certain papers because before I went I never really thought about that,” Thomas said.
One staff member who is working closely with the students is business teacher Harrell, who is a Germantown alumnus herself and a longtime Germantown resident. She said that since there are students at Germantown who already have part time jobs and some are anticipating working in the summer, having way to open a bank account at school is an educational it itself.
Harrell said that after the survey results were compiled one trend was that only a small percentage of students even had a bank account. “Some students come from backgrounds where they are just not familiar with the banking culture. They know about check cashing places and never thought about the importance of having a bank account or how this relates to their credit,” she said.
Hadley from The Business Center also teaches courses at the school. She assisted the students in making a pitch as to why get involved in the Germantown Bank. She said that students want to learn about banking and even want to take leadership roles in the Germantown Bank.
“This is going to help teach the students about financial literacy,” Hadley said. “They learn that banking is a growth industry. Many of them will be entrepreneurs and they need to understand banking. This is kind of our pilot program that was launched last December. Son we plan to take it to Overbrook and other Philadelphia School District high schools.”
That’s not all that is going on at Germantown High School either. The Associated Alumni of Martin Luther King High and the Germantown High Alumni Association held a fundraising basketball program on Friday, May 11. Proceeds from this benefitted various departments including the CTE, athletics and even provided for scholarships for students. The event was held at King, 6100 Stenton Ave. in East Germantown.
The Russell H. Conwell Magnet Middle School, named after the founder of Temple University, has started off the school year with even loftier expectations and the desire to go above and beyond its legacy.
Tamara Thomas-Smith, who has a doctorate in educational leadership from St. Joseph’s University, just completed her first full week as principal at Conwell. She was on maternity leave from August until the latter part of October. Even though she was not physically in the office, Smith made her presence felt through e-mail and other means of correspondence with her staff. “I think one of the biggest jobs that I have is trying to implement different programs and implement new things, but keep the heart of Conwell what it is historically,” Smith said. “It’s been a magnet school for years. It’s been performing well for years. (I hope) to keep that, but add a little different flavor to it as well.”
Smith took over her position as principal from Edward Hoffman, who was with the school for more than 30 years. “It’s difficult to follow a legend, but I’m keeping the best of what he had in place here,” she said. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel if things are working, but I’m also trying to bring some of my style of leadership to the school.”
Smith outlined what she and her administration have prioritized at Conwell. “We have 86, 87 percent roughly of our students who are proficient and advanced, but what I always tell my staff is that until we get to 100 percent, there’s always work to do,” she said. “I feel just as much pressure as those other principals. Not just to make AYP (adequate yearly progress), … if one kid in this school isn’t at the highest level of achievement, then there’s still work to be done.”
Smith has been given assistance by Conwell’s new assistant principal, Erica M. Green, who started her tenure at the magnet school this year also. “Conwell has lots of traditions. What makes us a unique school is it is a magnet middle school. So that means young people have to apply to come here, and that means your grades have to be good. You have to be a stellar student,” Green said. “You have to have good attendance and in some cases, you have to be willing to travel. We are located in this neighborhood, but it’s not a neighborhood school; our young people come from all over the city.”
Conwell is at 1849 E. Clearfield St. in Northeast Philadelphia.
Green takes pride in how well rounded the students at Conwell are. “They’re interested in academics. They have a zest for learning, and it’s a school where the students really want to do their best. They also have a sense of giving. Recently, we did a pink and denim day for breast cancer awareness and raised a good amount of funds for the cause,” she said. “It just shows you that the kids want to do well academically, but yet they want to have a pulse on the people. They want to have a pulse on doing something good in the community and really making a difference.”
Nicole Leone teaches social studies at Conwell and shared her perspective. “It’s been a good experience. It’s a lot different from what I’m used to, because I was at an empowerment school, and since this is a non-empowerment school, there’s a lot of difference in allowing the students to do more with the curriculum,” she said.
Peter Koller, who primarily teaches art, just started at Conwell and has been finding his footing.
“The students work at a very high level. A lot of them, their scores are high, and so their capacity for learning is that much higher,” he said. “The students are really easy to engage and they’re really interested in the lessons.”
Michael Rocco is a seventh-grade teacher who has taught at Conwell for five years.
He commutes from his Quakertown home to be a part of the school’s continuing achievements.
“Our kids, we can do so much more with them,” Rocco said. “This being a magnet school, they have much more ability than your neighborhood school.”
He spoke about how their high grades vouched for him as a teacher.
“As a teacher, how they do on different tests is a reflection of you. So, when I give a quiz and the kids do poorly, that’s a reflection on me,” he said. “So, here it’s almost a validation for what I do as a teacher. They’re doing well, which means that I’m doing something well, and from there, can do different things and explore.”
Cassidy Fantuzzo, an eighth-grade science teacher, is in her fifth year of teaching. She shared some details of how she keeps her classroom interesting for the students.
“I teach a variety of kids. This school is very, very diverse and so we get a chance to teach kids from all over the city, which is pretty unique — a lot of different backgrounds — a lot of different abilities and skills,” she said. “We do a lot of labs and projects. We do a lot of demonstrations, and because it’s so interactive, it makes the kids more engaged. We do a lot of group projects. They learn a lot off each other.”
Smith says she wants all of the students to continue learning from all that is around them and use it as a valuable lesson beyond school hours.
“It’s nice to have the academics, to have that piece, but also in middle school, this is a big year for transitions; in terms of social transition and emotional transition; being a mom, I have a set of twins that are 16. I’ve been through it with the males,” she said. “I’ve been through it with the female and I know that this is a very tough time being in this age group — and I think it’s more than just test scores.”
Smith reinforced the school’s declaration that the students and staff abide by.
“The motto for our staff here is ‘Every child, every chance, every day.’”
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.
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.
Although the test scores at Joseph Pennell Elementary School are low and the school is working toward making Adequate Yearly Progress, the students are held to a higher standard.
“We don’t refer to our kids as students. We really refer to them as scholars,” Principal Jason Harris said. “It’s an exciting place to be because everybody here is new. All of the faculty here, for the most part, is new and so it gives us an opportunity to really shape this school the way we really want to.”
Harris initially agreed to become the principal of Pennell when he thought it would be turned into a Promise Academy. Those plans fell through because of budget constraints. However, Harris chose to stay and help turn around the low performing school.
“As a turnaround administrator, you work with what you have and you still make a difference,” Harris said. “So we’re still implementing a lot of the initiatives that were associated with the Promise Academy because they’re just best practice initiatives anyway such as professional development, positive behavior support and all those things that a school should have in the first place.”
Another key component was to change how the students viewed themselves and the perceptions others had of them.
“I’m charged with being accountable for scores, but that’s part of my job. My main goal is to really make sure that we are advancing students so that they are successful period,” Harris said. “It requires changing systems and that doesn’t happen overnight. It requires changing belief systems and that can take a long time to do. There’s a lot more work to do but I see a lot of progress.”
Thus far, the scholar mindset is one that has been embraced across the board at Pennell.
“I love it. Whatever you keep saying to them and keep in front of the students’ eyes, that’s what they’ll cling to,” said Trina Pemberton, a sixth-grade teacher. “It’s changing their mindset. I’m not a clown. I’m not hanging around. No, I’m a scholar. I’m an educated young man. I’m an educated young woman. I strongly believe in the power of words and the power in how you think affects how you act. And so, if they think like scholars, they’ll act like scholars.”
Pemberton has reinforced that they are scholars even though the test scores reflect differently.
“It’s a little frustrating because I see the potential in them. I look at their scores from previous years. I know that they make great gains when they come to me so it’s disappointing when it comes back and yeah, that wasn’t good enough,” she said. “But I don’t give up. I keep pushing. I know we’ll get there and I think that this is the year that we can definitely do it because there’s a change in the atmosphere. So, it’ll be good.”
Andrew Walker, another sixth-grade teacher at Pennell, spoke about how his students reacted to being identified as scholars.
“The first day of school, I actually wrote scholars and just what it means. None of them knew what it was at first but I gave them the definition. I told them that’s what I’m going to call you. We all are. Everyone in this school is a scholar,” he said. “It changed their demeanor and just how did they view themselves in the classroom setting. So, they feel they want to uphold that name because it sounds so prestigious. They really like that.”
Harris acknowledged that much rested on his shoulders but he was more than up to the challenge of laying the groundwork in order for Pennell to regain its footing.
“I think it’s all about being confident, being reflective, being able to have that ability to receive criticism and feedback and act accordingly,” Harris said. “If you have a vision for student’s success, then everything else falls into place and you have to be willing to act on that vision too and communicate it well enough so that people will be willing to follow you exactly where it is where you’re going.”
He was prepared to give it his all even during the difficult and trying times.
“This is a school that is making significant changes. We’re on our way. Things will be different and change might be difficult but that’s OK,” he said.
More than 60 sophomores, juniors and seniors in the Communications Academy at Roxborough High School put their tech savvy to the test in a Public Service Announcement (PSA) and Story Board Poster competition on Dec. 16.
Presented by Philadelphia Academies, Inc. — a nonprofit youth development organization that introduces career-focused programming into public high schools — the competition leverages the power of digital technology to strengthen students’ 21st century skills, improving literacy and web proficiency.
On the video design side, 35 cinematography students wrote, directed and produced a technically sound, 30- or 60- second PSA that brought awareness to a problem or cause in society. Students utilized programs including Photoshop and Final Cut Pro for video production, and screened PSAs on topics ranging from cancer to domestic violence. In order of first to third place, Eric Krok, Brionstar Minyard, Jabar Small and Dinisha Hanible won in the cinematography category.
The literacy element of the project tasked 30 Web design students with creating a Wire Frame story board, also known as a flow chart, for an adventure video game. Detailing a game plan plot, conflict, character details and “win” requirements served as the students’ first steps in building and designing a game platform. Web design collage winners were Brittany Baxter, Mark Matthews and Guia Longasa. Film Poster winners were Nina Longasa, Mike Vacante and Brittany Fisher.
The judges of the competition were Mick Weeks of Apple Computers, Neil Kleinman — Professor of Multimedia and Communication at University of the Arts and Larry Bender — Creative Director at Drexel University.
The Communications Academy is one of 10 Academy career areas. Other career areas include: Applied Electrical Science; Automotive and Mechanical Engineering; Biotechnology; Business and Technology; Environmental Science; Health and Life Sciences; Hotel, Restaurant, Travel and Tourism; Process Technology; and Urban Education. For more information, visit www.academiesinc.org.
Syncopated sounds of computer programs alerting students of correct responses rang in room 203. Some used their index fingers to quickly tap on the mouse pads. Others had their small hands cuffed on laptop keyboards. Instead of seeing students embarrassed to raise their hands and answer a question when called on, technology has changed that dynamic at Philip H. Sheridan Elementary School. Now, students from kindergarten to fourth-grade are working at their own varying paces and are focused on individualized lessons.
“There is not one child that isn’t on task. They’re all engaged. They love this. The kids can work independently, and they’re not threatened by, ‘Oh, you know this answer or you have this,’ or not raising their hands and being identified in a negative way,” technology teacher Marsha Ryan said.
Known as the traveling technology teacher, Ryan has spent 20 years observing how technology is helping with students’ learning. From the vast array of programs available to students, Ryan said she likes that they are learning basic keyboarding skills, spelling, math and reading.
“It’s fun. I like what we learn. I like the math and reading,” second-grader Serenity McCorey said.
Having laptop charts on each floor and five smart boards throughout the school, Principal Awilda Aguila said technology is important to Sheridan.
“The fact that we really promote technology use is big. It’s just really neat,” Aguila said.
By reducing the school’s suspension and detention climate, allotting preparation training for teachers during and after-school and instituting several initiatives to raise PSSA standings, Aguila has implemented many changes to Sheridan within the past two years.
“This year’s focus is instruction,” Aguila said.
One system that was put into place was the Five Bees. This is a behavioral system for students to earn 12 loose bees given by the assistant principal, nurse, counselors and teacher leaders. Whenever a student is being respectful, responsible, positive, being a peacemaker and an active learner, a bee is handed out. Classes must fill their “Buzzin’ Dozen” to get a class treat. Treats are usually an extra 10 minutes of recess.
Another incentive is for students to have perfect attendance. In each class, there is a pizza pie chart, which is colored every time all students are present for class. Winners are rewarded with a pizza party.
Additionally, the school participates in the monthly Fact, Add vocabulary, Measurement, Estimation (FAME) initiative in order to increase academic standings. In January, classes focused on mathematics. In February, the focus is on literacy.
There are five areas of socialized recess organized by colors. Areas for soccer, hop scotch, jump rope and hula-hoop are separated. There is also an area for those who want to read quietly.
To help implement these programs at Sheridan, Aguila gets help from the teaching staff. This year, there are a lot of new teachers.
“I like my new staff because they’re very excited, motivated [and] they want to do things differently,” Aguila said.
Second-grade teacher and grade group leader, Margaret Breen was recently named a Nationally Board Certified teacher through Temple University.
“We’re really proud of having her here. I’m hoping she promotes it and gets other teachers motivated to do that,” Aguila said.
Additionally, there are two teachers who are specifically focused on increasing PSSA math and reading scores for students.
In room 308, Theresa Montgomery did “centers” with her third-grade students. For 45 minutes during the day, students worked on literacy skills. Montgomery used a smart board during instructional periods.
Teaching at Sheridan for 15 years, Montgomery said her most memorable experience was seeing former students.
“The kids that I’m teaching, I taught their older brother or sister. So, they come back and you get to talk to them and find out that they’ve been successful. That makes you feel good,” Montgomery said. “Seeing the kids successful and moving onto bigger and better things is always a joy.”
Nashyah Cooper-Long said she likes Montgomery’s class.
“I have many friends, it’s nice. Everyone is nice to me. Everyone is sweet and kind, and it’s just going great. I love this school,” Cooper-Long said.
In room 301, Megan Melnick and fourth-grade students reviewed PSSA practice target questions deciphering between facts and opinions. With seven years of teaching experience at Sheridan, and previously teaching first grade, Melnick said the students are responding well to the practice questions.
“I’m noticing that they like it. They like the challenge of it. They try. I love fourth-grade. I was nervous when I came here. I was afraid that they would be afraid of the test, but they’re looking at it as, try to reach for the top. They’re very responsive,” Melnick said. “I put a lot of extra effort into researching and try to create a good classroom environment and always constantly learning new things to implement. I think I build a good rapport with the students and I’m constantly joking with them.”
“She teaches in a fun way,” fourth-grader Karizma Naples said.
“She teaches us everything we need to know for fifth grade,” Tionya Murrell said.