As science teacher and chess team coach, Karen O’Hara called her seventh-grade students up to her desk to check grades, Nigeria Parker and Marquis James finished sketching the moon cycle project. Gemanael Parks and Shaakira Wilson spent time answering a constructive response question: What causes wind?
“Science is my favorite subject because I get to do experiments,” Parker said.
Throughout the year, students in this Amedee F. Bregy School science class learned about radiation, cells, DNA, volcanoes, space, the atmosphere and environment. The next unit will focus on plants. However, Bregy students take enrichment courses as well.
Principal Christopher Wiler has spent his first year establishing several student-focused programs. Students have instrumental music, guitar club, choir, chess club, peer mediation and peer tutoring. There are additional programs such as the Eat Right Dietary Program, Head Start, Reading is Fundamental and anti-bullying workshops.
“It’s not just the academics that make one successful in life. There’s other skills you can acquire,” Wiler said.
His goals for the remaining months of the school year are to increase reading and math proficiency, build self-esteem of students, teach students how to encounter problems and solve problems peacefully.
“Children need someone to believe in them and when someone does believe in them they do step up to the plate. I just believe that we have to rally around the kids and make them feel important,” Wiler said.
Staff members who believed in Wiler’s vision made implementation of these goals possible.
“There’s a staff here that they love the children. There’s such a resiliency with the staff here. It’s phenomenal. The children really want someone who truly cares for them,” Wiler said. “Since September, it’s just the dynamics of the relationships within the building between the teachers and the students. There’s a community here.”
Teacher leader Dr. Karen Chamberlain has met with students, worked with teachers on professional development and focused on increasing PSSA scores.
“I really feel very welcomed here at this school. It’s like one big family and the people are so nice. We all collaborated together. We talk to each other. I really don’t mind getting up in the morning and coming to work because it feels good. There’s no pressure, but we get things done,” Chamberlain said.
Fifth-year counselor Lisa Bronca, has taught violence and bullying prevention programs in classrooms, social skills and personal safety. She also helps eighth-grade students apply and transition into high school.
“I get really excited around this time of year when they start to get their acceptances and a lot of our kids go to some of the best schools in Philadelphia,” Bronca said.
Bregy receives support from the Home and School Association, too. President Danielle Zaidan has led the organization with event planning, fundraisers, weekly pretzel sales, monthy bake sales, healthy snacks on Fridays, the Santa’s Secret shop and the Valentine’s Day dances.
Wiler called Zaidan a phenomenal person because of her dedication to the school and students.
“These parents are just great. They helped with everything. They make life so much easier around here. Just anything that I ask them to do, they’re willing to be a part of it and do what they can do,” Chamberlain said.
The Home and School Association led the Reading is Fundamental Book Fair Feb. 13 through Feb. 17. Several tables were stacked with picture and chapter books, stationery items and colorful bookmarks. During the week of book selling, fifth-grader Kevin Khounkhamtan spent time looking for a new book. He said he enjoys reading because he learns new words.
Eighth-grade student council members Jamie Storms, president, Jayson Dougherty, vice president, Isabella Beate, treasurer and Kiera King,
secretary have seen Bregy transition under the new leadership of Wiler.
“The learning is definitely the best. The teachers are supportive. They always help you if you have a problem,” Dougherty said.
These students are still waiting to hear from their high schools.
Students like Beate have other responsibilities at Bregy. As school safety captain, she makes sure students get on their bus safely after-school.
“It’s more of a learning experience as you’re on the job. You start to see familiar faces,” Beate said.
“You get to help the students out,” eighth-grader Lavance Webb said.
“I’m not a safety, but I’d definitely know that I’d feel respected. I would feel honored to get picked to take that type of responsibility and get that job put in your hands,” Dougherty said.
In room 13, Sue Woolbert’s fourth-grade class drew a three-dimensional street with stores for their art projects. Nymerah King colored her picture using orange, yellow and red crayons known as the warm colors. Chyah Rhames colored her project with “cool colors” of blue, purple and green. Amanda Clancy said drawling the street was her favorite part of the project.
Despite the ability to express themselves in class, these students are engaged in reaching advanced levels on the PSSAs.
Michael Degori said he was ready for the tests and for fifth-grade.
“[Woolbert] is cool even though we never had a teacher that keeps pushing us. It’s really werid,” Degori said.
In room eight, Valerie Mestichelli collected students’ math tests. Third-grader Amy Zhang said she enjoys math lessons.
“I like mostly learning about the right angles and the intersecting lines, since they’re new to me. I’ve been learning it since the first time my teacher taught me how to do it,” she said.
Zhang said she likes to draw, read, play piano and be with friends when she is bored.
A new world, not far away, awaits
Introducing children to wildlife can be a great way to get them interested in science, discovery and nature. While many kids may be intimidated by the periodic table and microscopes, most are inherently fond of all animals, from baby penguins to exotic cheetahs. Fortunately, there are fun and affordable ways to get kids engaged with nature and wildlife, learning valuable lessons along the way.
How to Make Wildlife Interesting
Do Some Research: Take children on a virtual safari using reliable sources found on the Internet. A wide range of information and pictures on just about every known reptile, amphibian, mammal and more can be found with the click of a mouse. Once children have narrowed down the basic facts about their favorite animals, take a trip to the library and give them a challenge — find one fact about an unknown animal. This not only exposes children to exciting new information, it also gives them a chance to learn about valuable research tools.
Have a “Wild” Experience: Once children have learned more about the animal kingdom, it’s time to reward them with real one-on-one animal time. Zoos and wildlife preserves offer the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with creatures — large or small — that kids have seen through pictures. While there, kids can meet animal specialists who are usually on hand to provide children with the information and fun stories that come from working with animals on a day-to-day basis.
Bring the Lessons to the Living Room: A family movie can be a great way to wrap up an exploration of the animal kingdom. The toe-tapping family blockbuster “Happy Feet Two,” available now from Warner Bros. on Blu-ray disc and DVD, is an excellent resource that animal lovers of all ages can enjoy. In the sequel to the Academy Award-winning “Happy Feet,” Mumble’s son Erik lacks the dancing talent of all the other penguins. Erik runs away to avoid dancing, only to have his world shaken by powerful forces. Erik and his father must bring together the penguin nations and all manners of fabulous creatures — from tiny krill to giant elephant seals — to make things right.
“Happy Feet Two” showcases the beauty of the natural world and the fragility of the environment that sustains it. With an all-star cast, including Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, it’s an exciting family film kids will learn from and love. — (NAPSI)
At Penrose Elementary School, students are learning more than reading, writing and arithmetic. They are also learning history lessons, how to solve math problems and how to write stories — lessons that show how their education relates to everyday life.
“I have learned so much from this school so far,” said third-grader Morgan Thomas. “If I haven’t learned something from my teachers, I’ve learned something from other students. We all push each other.”
For third-grader Amruta Holavanahalli, any class that she takes with Mrs. Scalon is fun.
“Mrs. Scanlon is a great teacher,” Holavanahalli said. “I’ve learned so much in her classes. She makes sure we do everything to the best of our ability. She’s willing to help when we don’t understand something. She makes learning fun. I’m really happy she is my teacher.”
The mission of Penrose School is to provide opportunities for all students to reach their personal best. The school strives to consistently deliver research-based, quality instruction in the core content areas of reading, math, science, social studies, and 21st Century technology. The school has 642 students.
“My favorite subject this year would have to be math, but I really just like learning about new things,” said third-grader William Quiros. “The teachers that I have make every subject interesting and fun, so it’s kind of hard to not like something at this school. I learned a lot so far, but I’m looking forward to learning more this school year.”
In addition to the school extracurricular activities, other highlights of the school include art, computer, gym classes, a fitness workout room, and a state of the art library. The school also has a parent volunteer program and an Eagles Vision van program.
One initiative that is new at Penrose this year is “Nickles for Sickles.” The initiative is the school’s way to bring awareness to sickle cell disease. For three months, students learned about the disease through various projects. The culminating event took place on Nov. 16, where all students participated in a walk. The money that was raised from the fundraiser went to the National Sickle Cell Society of Philadelphia.
“We wanted to look at sickle cell disease because there are people in our community who have the disease as well as students in our school,” said principal Huie Douglas. “The fundraiser was our way of educating both the community and the students about the disease itself. It was truly a collective effort between the students, staff, teachers, parents, and the community. The money we raised went to a good cause, but I also wanted the students gain knowledge from the research that they did. We wanted to use our means at the school to help and impact the community, and I think we did just that through this project.”
Eighth-grader Bafode Keita said the fundraiser helped bring the community and the students together.
“It’s never easy for anyone to have an illness or to be sick, but I think what made this project so unique is the support everyone received,” said Keita. “A lot of the students didn’t really know what sickle cell was, but once we researched it and learned more about, we all knew how important it was to bring awareness to it. This project was a learning experience for everyone. I’m just happy we were able to make a difference.”
For eighth-grader Ndeen Al-Barqawi attending Penrose has not only helped her become a better student, but also person. She has been attending the school since first grade. She wants to attend Academy at Palumbo for high school.
“We are getting so many experiences at this school,” said Al-Barqawi. “We’re not just learning at the school, but we are also learning about the world. Everything is hands-on and everything that we learn connects with what happens in everyday life, which makes going here a life lesson. I truly learned a lot her. This school has helped me become a better student and person. I’m looking forward to building on what I learned here in high school.”
Producing Philadelphia college bound scholars is just one job of George Washing Carver High School for Engineering and Sciences. The other is producing future leaders in engineering and sciences — scientists and doctors, well rounded and ready for the world.
“The workload here is definitely challenging; no grade on a test or subject we’re taking is easy, but everything we’re learning is preparing us for our future,” said senior Kiana Bland. “You learn very early how to balance your work out, but my experience here have paid off tremendously. I’ve already been accepted to Arcadia. I also want my major to pre-forensics. Going to Carver has made easier to figure out a plan for me future.”
Carver High is a magnet school with a curriculum that specializes in science and technology. Nearly 100 percent of students at Carver go on to college. Students also receive about $9.6 million in scholarships including Gates Millennium and QuestBridge scholars. The school also hosts a college fair every year with over 65 collegiate representatives, some even offering on-site admissions. There are currently 725 students attending the school.
“Carver is a really good high school,” said junior Steven Snipes. “The opportunities we receive are endless. Everything that we learn here is preparing us for college and the real world. Everybody here works really hard and is very dedicated. We’re the innovators of the future.”
Engineering classes offered at the school include: Principles of Engineering, Digital Electronics, Civil Engineering and Architecture, and Biotechnical Engineering, which will hone more advanced skills in biology, physics, technology, and mathematics and applies them to real-world biotech fields.
“What I really like about this school is the engineering courses that they offer,” said junior David R. Walter II. “I learned how to build imaginary circuits on our computer programs. Another thing that we do is if the school has problems with the computers they come to the engineering students. In the beginning and the end of the school year, we will bring the systems back on line or assembly them. Any minor problems they school comes to us. The program is very hands-on and the experience I receive here is incredible.”
In addition to the science and engineering programs, the school also has a three-year BioMed program. The program is designed to prepare students for careers in the medical sciences, research, and university pre-med programs. Students receive hands-on learning in the program through internships, university visits, field trips, SAT Prep, and talking with various speakers in the field.
“It’s the academics, teachers, and endless opportunities that make this school so special,” said senior Algeria Brisbon. “Dr. Basu has helped me in so many ways. I’ve done internships in my field and gotten into Drexel and UPenn because of his guidance. I plan on majoring in pre-med. The experience that I received here you cannot get at another school. When I go to college, I will be fully prepared because of the hard work and experiences I received while attending Carver.”
Sophomore Yonelkis Gutierrez has also learned a lot from Amit Basu’s sciences classes.
“I always wanted to be a doctor, but after taking a few science classes with Dr. Basu, I want to be a veterinary neurosurgeon,” he said. “What makes him a good teacher is his open door policy; I can always go to him for advice. He has also set me up with a mentor at Temple.
“It’s teachers like that, that truly makes a difference in our life. They want to see us succeed and are willing to go the extra mile to help us achieve our dream. Its nice to be at a school where everyone wants to help you prepare for your future.”
In addition to the programs and extra-curricular activities, Carver is also known for its numerous achievements. Carver continues to achieve AYP. Some awards the school has received over the years include: the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence (2008), Middle States Accreditation (2010), National Academy Foundation Accreditation (2011), U.S. News and World Report– Bronze Awards (2008-2011), and the U.S. News and World Report– Silver Award (2012).
“There has been so many success stories at this school, that its hard for you not to want to succeed,” said junior Jaime Scott. “It’s really up to us to take advantage of everything the school has to offer. This school teaches us skills that we will use on an everyday basis. I’m interested in computer and environmental science from an engineering standpoint.
“Both have influenced me since I was young and as I entered into high school my passion for both grew over time. I want to make them into professions. Mr. Koehler has definitely helped me with my dream, because of him I already have experiences in subjects that I’m interested in. As far as my future, I’m interested in being a programmer, environmental scientist, or physicist. My experience at Carver has been amazing; I love everything about the school.”
On Feb. 10, Albert M. Greenfield School was awarded $500 for being Pennsylvania Recycle Bowl 2012’s Runner-up in the state-wide recycling contest (sponsored by Keep America Beautiful, Keep PA Beautiful, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful and Greenstar Recycling). Greenfield staff and students successfully recycled 19 pounds of paper per student over a four-week period. The Greenfield community strives to protect the environment through its recycling program, rainwater conservation project and solar panel project.
E.M. Stanton receives grants to support cultural program
Students at E.M. Stanton School will benefit from two grants that support the arts. Bainbridge House, a community partner with Stanton, received $6,551 from The Philadelphia Cultural Fund and $816 from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. Bainbridge House has received grants from the City of Philadelphia and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania respectively for the last six years which support teaching artists and programming in visual arts, music, drama and dance. Bainbridge House and E. M. Stanton School thank Mayor Michael Nutter and City Council as well as Gov. Tom Corbett and the Pennsylvania General Assembly for their confidence and support.
Hearing the harmonizing sounds of vocalists and seeing students playing various instruments are some of the activities going on during a normal school day at Girard Academics Music Program (GAMP).
Known for its academic excellence, GAMP allows students in grades five through 12 to pursue music as a major subject. GAMP students engage in a triad of musical fields including choral, instrumental, and theory, making this school one of the top performing magnet schools in the district.
“The music and academic programs are excellent,” says seventh-grader David Hiester. “All of the music programs are very well-rounded and there are so many options that students can chose from. I play the piano, clarinet, bassoon, bass, bass clarinet, and guitar. I use to play the alto saxophone. I’m learning everything about music and performing at a young age. By the time I graduate, I will have excelled academically and gained more experiences than students at other schools.
There are three choirs at GAMP including Middle School Choir, High School Choir, and the Concert Choir (for which students must audition). It is the Concert Choir that does most outside school performances and travels nationally and internationally. The students study a variety of choral repertoires, ranging from Classical, to Jazz, to Pop, to Broadway music.
“I always wanted to do something in music, so GAMP was a natural fit for me” says eighth-grader Camille Porter. “What makes this program so beneficial to me is that everything is hands-on. All of our classes are not too big, so we really get that one-on-one time with our teachers. I think that’s the best way to learn, because we learn things at a much faster pace and have more time to rehearse it.”
Students at GAMP also have music theory three times a week. Students are grouped by grade level and ability. In theory class, students learn the basic building blocks of music, including sight singing and ear training. Sixth-grader Claire Gunawan has only been at GAMP for two years. She said the most challenging class is music theory.
“Music theory is definitely hard,” she said. “It’s very complex and it’s so many different elements to it. I do think the class will help us perfect our skills. In order to become great, you have to know what it takes to be great. Some of the things we learn, great vocalists use when they perform. It’s hard, but I’m embracing the challenge.”
The school includes a music tech lab, science laboratories, high tech Cybrary and open study for collaborative work with peers and teachers. In 2009, GAMP added a full size, regulation gymnasium and cafeteria. The school also has a state of the art theater/auditorium to showcase their music and theatrical productions. GAMP has two shows a year; a talent show in the fall and a theatrical production in the spring.
“The academic standards at GAMP is very high,” says eighth-grader Anthony Grillo. “The teachers here demand a lot from all of us. They want us to be organized and work hard on all of our assignments. The workload at times can be tough, but so is the work in college. I want to be a lawyer, so being organized and working hard are qualities I will need to achieve my dream.”
GAMP has a 98-100 percent college acceptance rate among each senior class and scholarships valued at over one to two million dollars yearly.
For senior Kailah Liggons, going to GAMP helped her realize a new passion for theatre. After graduating, she wants to continue her education and wants to attend Sarah Lawrence College. Her major will be theater.
“Theater was something that I never wanted to do until I came to GAMP,” she said. “The first play I was ever in was Hairspray a few years ago, and I fell in love with performing. In addition to theater, I’m a part of College Bound for Girl and the Orchestra. I also might become the manager for basketball.
“This school has definitely helped me prepare for my future. Because I’ve been a part of so many things while I’ve been here, it won’t be that big of an adjustment when I go to college. With so many students accomplishing their dreams after they leave here, it’s hard not to want the same thing for yourself. This school motivates you. I know that I can succeed and my future is bright.”
Known for being one of the best neighborhood schools for elementary students in the Wynnefield area, Samuel Gompers Elementary School provide opportunities for all of their students to reach their personal best academically and personally.
The school strives to consistently deliver research-based, quality instruction in the core content areas of reading, math, science, social studies and 21st century technology. Gompers has made AYP in six of the last eight years.
“We’ve always take pride in providing the best education for our kids,” said principal Philip DeLuca. “Our teachers here do a great job of working together to change children’s lives. We have teachers here that not only go above and beyond academically, but also personally.
“We realize that the majority of our students live in the area and so does a lot of our staff, so we always want to make an effort to not only teach them lessons in the classroom, but also lessons that they can apply in their own community. We want to see all of our students succeed, and the best way to have them succeed is to provide them with the best academic experience in the classroom.”
In addition to the core curriculum, other highlights of the school include art, the school newspaper, gym and computer. The computer lab at Gompers is used by students scheduled for weekly lab classes to enhance the classroom curriculum. Students use the Internet to learn research skills. They use Microsoft Word, Appleworks and PowerPoint presentation software to complete classroom projects. Gompers also has one computer lab for full classroom instruction.
In 2008, The Heart of America Foundation and Target awarded Gompers with a library makeover. Gompers was one of 23 schools to be awarded with the makeover. The project included new books, technology, paint, lighting, customized wall art murals and reading corners. There is also a mini-computer lab in the new library.
Gompers also teamed up with the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WEPAC). The non-profit organization helps restore libraries in the West Philadelphia area. The organization also fully stocks the library with books for the school.
“What makes this school so different is all of the different things we learn while we are here,” said fifth-grader Roy-yae Weatherbe. “Through the classes and different programs we’re not just learning at school, but we are also learning about the world. Everything we do is hands-on and everything that we learn connects with what happens in everyday life.
“The teachers make sure we getter better in all of our subjects and they are willing to help when we don’t understand something. They really make learning fun. This school will help me become a better student and person.”
One program that is new at Gompers is Robotics. Gompers guidance counselor Margaret Bryant-Renwick spearheads the program. Renwick is also a former chemist and science teacher. Through the University of Pennsylvania, Gompers was able to receive kits that will help students build and program robots. There are also parent volunteers that helps with the program.
Last year, the students at Gompers placed in the World Robotics competition in St. Louis. The competition had three different components including robot design and research, core values, and the actual project or task students have to complete within two minutes.
“Because of my background in science, I’m always looking for new ways where I can inspire students to work towards careers in science,” Renwick said. “Robotics is a good way for students to get involve with the First Lego League. Robotics teaches them core values like teamwork, integrity, respect, inspiration, determination, and responsibility. All of these different values will help them grow as individuals. We’ve had a lot of support since starting the program and the kids really love it.”
While sixth-grader Abdul Q. Gardner wasn’t part of the Robotics team last year, his interest in building things is what made him want to be a part of the program this year.
“I always like building things with my hands, so this program is a good way for me to build off of my passion,” Gardner said. “I’m looking forward to learning how to build and program robots. I want to be a scientist when I grow up, so this club will really help me with my dream.”
For fifth-grader Saffiyah Franklin, participating in the robotics program was a new experience for her.
“When I first heard about the program I really didn’t know what it was,” she said. “Once I researched it and found out what it was I knew right away that I wanted to join. Robotics is not an individual sport at all. The program teaches you teamwork and patience.
“Everything we do we have to do together. The competition was definitely a new experience for all us. We met different teams around the country and now we know what it takes to be the best in the competition. All of the lessons we have learned in Robotics and at Gompers will help us succeed in the classroom and in life. This school really does give us the best opportunity to live out our dreams.”
Known for its rigorous curriculum, extensive music and arts program, and various electives, Hill-Freedman Middle School continues to have its students perform at an advanced level.
“There is no other school like this one,” said eighth-grader Chyna Moore-Smith. “The opportunities here are endless. What makes this school so different is that everyone is on the same page; we help each other. I’ve learned so much at this school.”
Historically, there were two schools: Hill and Freedman. Hill housed the magnet school program and Freedman specialized in serving special needs students. Until a few years ago, both schools combined. Now students interact with one another during lunch, at assemblies, and electives classes.
“The electives is a good way for the magnet school students to have an opportunity to communicate their opinions on the interactions they have when taking classes with the special needs students,” said principal Anthony Majewski. “Before we had two separate schools, but now we’re integrating. Our goal as an international baccalaureate school is to honor students with special needs and to bring them into the fold. It’s been beneficial because it brings awareness to our magnet school students, but at the same time it build socialization for the students with special needs.”
Pamela Taylor Anderson, International Baccalaureate Middle Year Program Coordinator, says what makes this school unique is that the school provides the best opportunity for both magnet school students and special needs students through the experience of learning from each other.
“We are constantly thinking of new ways to expand on the learning experience at Hill-Freedman,” Anderson said. “We’re very active when in comes to engaging and including our special needs population. Everything that we have done so far has been very successful. The students have a natural excitement for learning here. The different electives the school offers really take their learning experience to the next level.”
Every other Thursday, students take elective classes with one another. Students learn from a range of subjects such as cartooning, baking, dance, sports fitness, international gaming, the glee project, world domination, and reduce, reuse, recycle. Students will have six session with the first elective they choose and six sessions for the second. The second sessions will start in February.
“When I was looking into the different electives, cartooning was the most natural fit me because I like to draw,” said seventh-grader Mikayla Green. “I eventually want to learn how to make a video game. I want to know more about the skills it takes to draw a video game and how that drawing transforms into the game itself.”
One of the popular electives at Hill-Freedman is the S.T.E.M. Squad. This elective provides students with additional time to learn computer programming and robotics. Students learn “Mind Craft,” a virtual world application offered through Temple University. Students will also learn additional laptop trouble shooting techniques to solve simple computer problems.
“S.T.E.M. Squad is fun,” said sixth-grader Jason Gleaton. “It’s a great way for me to know more about engineering, science, and robotics. Everything we work on has to be a certain way or won’t work. The harder we work as a team, the better the results will be when we’re done working on the object.”
For sixth-grader Dia Lee, S.T.E.M. Squad is all about taking advantage of something he already likes to do.
“I like Lego’s and building things with my hands,” Lee said. “S.T.E.M. Squad allows me to do those things, but on anther level. We build robots; it’s hard because when you’re building something every piece has to fall into place. If the pieces don’t fall into place, you’re back at the drawing board and have to start all over. It’s all worth it in the end when you see your final result.”
In addition to electives, Hill-Freedman is also implementing a S.T.E.M. course. S.T.E.M. educator Ambra Hook leads the course. The school recently teamed up with the University of Pennsylvania to work on the Zebra fish project. Students in the seventh-grade participated in the Zebra fish project.
“When Zebra fish lay eggs they develop back into an adult with 48 hours,” Hook said. “The instructors of Penn bought with them a male and female fish and special containers to keep them in. Once the eggs drop safely, the students were able to see the eggs through different stages of development through a microscope.
“When I came to Hill-Freedman, I wanted to give the students the best experience in S.T.E.M., whether it’s through robotics, computer, science, or engineering. I wanted the students to completely understand the concept of S.T.E.M. by giving them a hands-on experience through various classes. The feedback has been really good so far, and the students enjoy the classes that I teach.”
Hill-Freedman continues to expand on its academic excellence, but Majewski says there is one goal he has yet to achieve.
“We eventually want to expand the school, so that it would include a high school,” he said. “It’s something the parents, teachers, and students want. We’re still in the early stages of everything, but I think if we had our kids from sixth to 12th grade, we’ll be able to see our students grow to their full potential.”
As you walk through the hallways of Russell H. Conwell Magnet Middle School and take a look around the classrooms, art room, music room and math classes, you’ll begin to notice a theme — hard working students, and a dedicated community of faculty, staff, administration and parents, all striving for excellence.
“In addition to the core curriculum, high academic standards, service to the community, high quality staff, and good programming for students in and outside of school are just some traditions we are continuing to build on at Conwell,” said principal Dr. Tamara Thomas-Smith. “Our school prepares students for high school both academically and socially. We give students opportunities to be of service to the community through service learning projects that actually comes from the students themselves. We just want to provide our students with the best opportunities academically and personally. We not only want them to succeed in the classroom, but also in life.”
Conwell, which is the first middle school in Philadelphia, has one of the most challenging and finest programs in the city. The academic program focuses on the academic achievement of every student. The school offers instruction in vocal and instrumental music, computers, and the visual and performing arts.
“One of things I like about this school is the music program,” said eighth-grader Zackery Brezina. “I play the trombone, so I love everything about music. I have learned so much from my music teacher. He gives us the opportunity to play different pieces from different genres of music. His class pushes us to our limits musically, but in the end it will help us become better musicians and performers. I appreciate everything he has done for me.”
In art, students at Conwell learn the introduction to the elements and principles of art, design, drawing, landscape and sculpture. Conwell’s latest art project was based on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, where students had to do a response artwork piece based on that particular speech.
“I try to bring a mixture of real life experiences with artwork in my art classes,” said art teacher Peter Koller. “With the Martin Luther King project, I thought it was a good way to analyze the speech, celebrate his memory, but it was also a good way for the students to look at the speech artistically. I just want my students to gain an appreciation of art, but I also want them to develop their 2D (dimensional) and 3D (dimensional) skills. Art is really another function that students should master in addition to writing and reading.”
Extra-curricular activities include Readers Café, Cooking Club, Keyboards, Go Green! Environmental Club, 24 Challenge and student council.
“This is a good school because it offers us a variety of programs and the teachers are preparing us for our future,” said sixth-grader Dirk Gooden. “All of the teachers at the school are willing to help us when we’re struggling in a class. They make learning fun. I’m always looking forward to going to a class at Conwell, especially if it’s a math class.”
For eighth-grader Dashana Palmer, going to Conwell has not only helped her succeed academically, but also grow personally.
“Going to Conwell has been a little bit of struggle for me, especially last year because I lost my mom,” Palmer said. “Dr. Thomas has helped me tremendously. She talked to me and let me know that just because my mom is no longer here, there are still people out here who really care about me. She let me know that I can still succeed if I work hard. Conwell is a really good school and I really enjoyed my time at this school.”
Seventh-grader Ryan McIlherny says what makes the school is the special bond the school has with the community. In the past, Conwell has raised funds and given donations to Toys for Tots, and relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.
“What makes this school so unique is all of the charity work the school does,” McIlherny said. “We are all fortunate to have what we have, so doing the charity work gives the students a better understanding of what is taking place in the community and the world. It always feels nice when you do something good for someone else. Conwell is a hands-on school. Everything that we learn connects with what is going on in the world. This school not only has helped me become a better student, but also a person.”
Working with plants, animals is routine
Ride pass Henry Avenue in Roxborough and you will see the largest agricultural farm school in the United States. W. B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences spans 150 acres within city limits and is on a mission to prepare its students for work in agriculture or science upon graduation. The school has 15 agricultural majors to choose from, and reports a 95 percent graduation rate.
“This school is so unique in so many ways, because in addition to receiving a quality education, we are also getting hands-on experiences in the fields of agriculture and science,” said senior Debbie Lynn Mayo. “I want to become an animal behaviorist. I want to study the psychology of animals. Since being at Saul I’ve learned how animals react to certain things and how they think. I will already have a head start in my field by the time I graduate, and I’m looking forward to applying what I learned at Saul in college.”
The school boasts a working farm that includes cows, goats, sheep, and horses. Students haul 50-pound feedbags, drive tractors, harvest eggplant, study milk produced on site for bacteria, and care for horses.
It also has the typical high school features, such as athletic fields, in addition to its arboretum, nursery, cropland and pasture.
“Getting a chance to work with animals every day is something that a lot of students don’t have the opportunity of doing,” said sophomore Saria Cooper-Burks. “This school is a great learning experience. It’s not just about working with the animals;I’ve also learned information on family groups of the animals and gender by appearance. All these skills will be needed in order for me to become a veterinarian. The opportunities hereare endless, and the school does a good job of giving us opportunities academically and personally.”
For junior Isaiah Nelson, Saul gave an opportunity to be a part of a unique learning experience. Nelson didn’t want to go to a school in a traditional ssetting, and Saul also helped him realize a new passion.
“I didn’t want to just go to school in sit in a class all day, I wanted to go to school that was more hands-on, and Saul fit that description,” Nelson said. “When I first came here, I was interested in being a veterinarian, but with the help of my teacher Ms. McAtamney, I realized I was good at botany. I’ve created a natural dye out of an invasive weed. I went to city, state, and Indianapolis for Nationals. I won silver at Nationals.”
In addition to the school’s core curriculum, Saul students also participate in various clubs including Ag Business Club, Environmental Science Club, Floriculture Club, Greenhouse Management Club, Horse Club, Jr. MANRRS, Land Use & Management Club, Livestock Club, Meats Evaluation Club, Nursery/Landscape Club and the Pre-Vet Club.
Saul achieved AYP from 2008-2011. The school has multiple state champion career developmental event teams. It also participates in Philadelphia Flower Show exhibits and offers students multiple internship opportunities with community organizations such as Longwood Gardens. Saul has Pennsylvania's largest chapter of FFA, the organization formerly known as Future Farmers of America, and one of the biggest chapters in the country.
“FFA helps us learn a lot of leadership skills,” said sophomore Rodger Silby. “It’s an opportunity for students to research, compete, go out to different schools, and take trips. It helped me learn life lessons as well as learn things about myself. Being a part of FFA and going to Saul has really opened my eyes and let me see all of the great things that I’m capable of doing. It’s really a good experience.”
AP environmental science teacher and FAA adviser Jessica McAtamney helped develop a large community-supported agricultural (CSA) program at the school. She went to the White House, where she was honored as a "Champion of Change" for her work with Saul students.
“I was nominated for the Champions of Change through the FFA,” McAtamney said. “They recognized people who were working with students locally as agents of change. We went to the White House, where we sat on panels with the USDA and discussed agricultural topics that are of importance to the nation and students. It was definitely an honor to be nominated, but the students here help make my job easier. They are so dedicated, they push the limit academically, and I just love teaching and helping them succeed.”
Sophomore Chelsey Deal hopes that through the students’ success people will see how great the school is and how dedicated they are to their work.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about Saul students,” Deal said. “We’re not cowboys and cowgirls, but students who are taking the next step to achieve our dreams through a hands-on academic experience. We have good teachers, a diverse environment, and great opportunities. We are hard-working students who want to make a difference in the world. We’re the innovators of the future.”