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.”
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.”
For senior Devin Cruz, coming to Central High wasn’t just about receiving the best education; it was also about continuing the family tradition. Cruz’s older brother also attended the school and after seeing his success professionally, he, too, wanted to attend Central.
“From the time I was kid, I knew I wanted to attend Central High,” Cruz said. “It’s such a prestigious school. The majority of the people who went to this school have accomplished great things. The bar for excellence is set so high here, that when students continue their education it’s not that big of an adjustment for them because we are already used to the workload. I’m looking forward to using what I learned here and applying it in college.”
Central High is regarded as one of the top public schools in the nation due to its high academic standards. Today, Central’s student population has reached 2,350 students and 110 teachers. There is a school president, similar to a principal, and three assistant principals.
The newest president is Timothy McKenna. Prior to being president at Central, McKenna was an elementary middle school teacher at Fairhill and a principal at Willard Elementary and Furness High.
The Central selection committee, which included faculty, students, parents and alumni, considered 13 candidates. McKenna replaces Dr. Sheldon Pavel who was president for the last 28 years.
“It’s an honor to be the next president,” McKenna said. “We want to continue to prepare our students for post secondary education. I don’t want to make major changes to the building, however I do want to enhance some areas to make the school better. One of the areas we want to improve is the technology of the building. We want to update what we have and integrate it into the classroom. I’m looking forward to this year and helping the students at Central succeed.”
Central is a special-admissions school. Students must apply to attend, and only those with high test scores and grades are accepted. Students are kept engaged in academics, athletics, and social experiences through extra-curricular activities. There are 28 sports and 80 different clubs at the school. Within the past decade, Central has consecutively made Adequate Yearly Progress and won 92 Public League Championships.
“There are so many activities that students here can participate in,” said senior Tiffany Whitner. “I play softball, but I’m also the vice president of a new physics club that was started with my friend. We started the club because we wanted to help tutor other students in physics. Physics is a hard subject and its something that many students struggle with, so we’re hoping to help those students with the club.”
Students in the arts program get a chance to hone their skills in various classes. Some of the classes include art history, graphic design, photography, printmaking, sculpture and Web design.
“We have a phenomenal arts program at Central,” said art department chair, Benjamin Walsh “We have one of the only working black and white rooms in the district. That aspect is phenomenal because the students get to be exposed to that kind of process, which is now kind of a dying art form to the kids these days. All of our students in the program are extremely talented and go on to do great things with their careers.”
Senior Clarence Anderson takes an AP art class at Central. He said Walsh has helped him with his skills over the years. Anderson has been drawing since he was seven years old.
“He has helped me in so many ways,” Anderson said. “It’s always good to have a teacher who is as hands on as he is and want to see you succeed. I’ve definitely progressed my skills by taking the art classes here and it will help me achieve my dream. I’m currently looking at different colleges to attend next year and I want my major to be architecture.”
Students who have taken classes in art in Central has gone on to college and majored in fashion design, animation, illustration, interior design, industrial design, Web design and photography. While senior Eden Laramee currently takes an AP art class at Central, she doesn’t want to major in art when she goes to college.
“I want to be a marine biologist,” Laramee said. “I take the art classes because it’s something I love to do, but I wouldn’t want to make my career out of it. I just want to continue to do it as my own personal hobby.
No matter if students want to follow their dreams in art or in another field, Central has helped all of us work hard and realize our dreams. Everybody here wants to succeed and contribute to the world in some way. We’ve just been given the platform early to do so.”
Hearing the orchestra practice Zimmer’s “The Dark Knight” and seeing students playing the guitar are just some of the activities that go on during a normal school day at Academy at Palumbo Liberal Arts High School.
Known for its academic excellence, Palumbo is a selective, college preparatory magnet school. Originally modeled after Central High, the school’s purpose is to create a diverse community of college bound scholars who are responsible, ethical, and caring citizens while including a rich cultural arts experience.
“Our goal has always been to prepare our students for college and the real world,” says principal Adrienne Wallace-Chew. “Palumbo continues to excel academically. We have a 100 percent graduation rate for our seniors and we are continuing to provide them with the best education and programs.
“We are considered small for an academic school, but the students here does extremely well and always take full advantage of the opportunities that are given to them. We are doing everything that we possibly can to make sure all of our students succeed.”
Some of Palumbo’s arts activities and classes include vocal music, instrumental music classes, visual arts instruction, theater instruction, choir, band, orchestra, drum-line, and social play.
This is the first year that the music program has been back at Palumbo after a brief hiatus. The school has an itinerary music teacher that works with each section of the orchestra once a week. Orchestra students also have a class one period a day. There are currently 40 students in the orchestra.
“The music program at Palumbo has been a learning experience for me,” says junior Kayla Gonzales. “Last year, the orchestra was going through a few rough patches. Our teacher had gotten sick and from there things just started changing. Both the students and the school overcame it though. The orchestra continues to grow and we have a great teacher in Mr. Jordan.”
Senior Travis Goffredo continues to excel in the music program at Palumbo.
“There was a time where the music program died here,” Goffredo said. “I decided to get with the itinerary music teacher to try to keep the music program going. I would conduct two days a week. We were doing everything to make sure the program would survive. It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it.
“I hope my drive in music has helped influence other students in the program at the school. Music is a huge part of life; I play all percussion instruments. When I go to college that’s what I would like to major in. I’ve done a lot of things in music for Palumbo as well as outside of the school.”
Orchestra teacher James Jordan said it’s Goffredo’s passion for music and academic excellence that has helped his chances for getting into a good college.
“Travis has been invited to audition to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia,” Jordan said. “That’s really a honor for any student. Curtis is the most prestigious music conservatory in the world; it rivals Julliard. Students who attend Curtis don’t have to pay tuition because they earn a fellowship. We’re all hoping Travis does really well and gets accepted there.”
In addition to the music program, Palumbo offers Advanced Placement courses including literature, statistics, chemistry, studio art, biology, and psychology. The school has achieved AYP every year since its inception.
For Yahana Gheberhiwet, ceramics is one of the classes at Palumbo that she enjoys taking.
“I always wanted to learn about ceramics,” Gheberhiwet said. “When I would go out and see something beautiful that was made, I would always want to know how they did it. In ceramics, we learn everything from texture to designs. This is just something that I like to do. I don’t want to major in art. When I enter college in the fall, I want my major to be biology.”
Philadelphia Magazine ranked Palumbo as No. 4 for best public high schools in Philadelphia. Last year, the U.S. News and World report ranked the school No. 21 for best high schools in Pennsylvania and Palumbo also received the Jefferson Silver award winner for community service. The school was also the “Get Schooled” attendance challenge East Coast champions in 2012.
“This is one of the best schools for academic excellence,” said sophomore Kamea Morris. “Everything we learn here is preparing us for our future. The curriculum at times can be tough, but I think it will be all worth it in the end. Nobody wants to go to college unprepared. I’m looking forward to college, but right now I’m just enjoying my time at Palumbo.”
Over the years, students at Palumbo were accepted to over 100 different colleges and universities across the country, including Morehouse, Spelman, NYU, Temple, Villanova, University of Pittsburgh, DePaul, Syracuse, Florida A&M University, Howard, University of San Francisco, Drexel, Penn State, and Saint Joseph’s University.
“This is my last year at Palumbo,” says senior Lachae’ Solomon. “Some of the colleges I’m currently looking into include Hampton, Spelman, Temple, and North Carolina A&T. I want to do something in social work. Palumbo is a good school, especially academic wise. The school is very diverse; we’re like a family here. I’m going to miss Palumbo, but I’m thankful for the great times that I had here.”
Take a look inside the gymnasium and see sixth-grader Monye Butler doing jumping jacks, push-ups on a mat and sit-ups on an exercising ball. The exercises that Butler is doing are a part of the circuit-training circle that the students at Ferguson Elementary participate in. It’s a way for the students to continue to be active by keeping their body moving during the school day.
“Gym is a lot of fun,” Butler said. “We do a lot of exercising. It’s a way for the students to keep moving. I don’t mind doing the exercises because I’m an athlete. I like playing basketball with my friends and brothers. This is another way to keep me active at school.”
Ferguson started participated in the Healthy You Positive Energy initiative (HYPE) in 2011. The initiative is between the city of Philadelphia and the school district. The program raises awareness about the importance of making activity a daily habit and ensuring kids learn healthy habits at a young age. The school was later selected to do a video as a part of the First Lady Michelle Obama “Let’s Move” campaign where they came in as a honorable mention.
“The students do a great job with this initiative,” said Dean of students and HYPE coordinator Rhonda Hicks. “Each month we try to do something different. On some occasions we have morning movement, where I call out different movements to songs over the PA system and the students do those movements. We want our kids to eat right and exercise more. What we are teaching them now will help them live a healthier lifestyle in the future.”
For eighth-grader Allen Morris-Smith, being a part of HYPE is about teaching other students the importance of being active.
“Our message is all about trying to get more kids are age moving,” Morris-Smith said. The school does a really good job of trying to help us get that message out. Through the activities that we do, we are not only staying active, but also fit.”
“It’s really all about options,” said eighth-grader Tobias Bostic. “Students here use to go to the store and get bags of chips, but now they get fruit. We eat salads as a part of our meals. It’s OK to eat things you like every now and then, but it’s all about moderation. It wasn’t easy at first, but our health and well-being is important to a lot of us. If we can do it; anybody can do it.”
In addition to its core curriculum, all Ferguson students participate in computers, gym, and music classes. Separate classes that are offered to students include strings, band, and vocal. There is also a school choir that meets everyday after school. For selected seventh and eighth students they participate in a new program at Ferguson called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). Through the program, students learn how to be “college ready” through skills they learn in AVID classes.
“I’m a part of the strings class,” said third-grader Jada Williams. “I play the violin, it’s something that I always wanted to play and I’m happy I get to learn more about the violin here. I also play at Temple University after school on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings. I just want to keep learning as much as I can, because that will help me be a better player when I get older.”
Principal Carol Williams has been with Ferguson for 18 years. This is her first year as principal at the school. Prior to becoming principal, she was a teacher, community leader, school growth teacher, and assistant principal.
“Ferguson is home to me,” Williams said. “Our goal has always been to have our students achieve. We offer our students a variety of programs and curriculum to help them grow both mentally and personally. We want them to achieve academic excellence, but we also want them to learn life lessons in the process.”
Williams is also reaching out to parents. She will be having a parents make a difference conference later this month. The parents will get a hand-on experience of seeing what their kids are learning during school. They will get a chance to sit-in on classes and interact with the teachers, counselors, and the principal. Williams also want to start having round table discussions with parents, so that they can voice their opinions and concerns.
“This is our way of letting the parents know that there are opportunities for them to come in and talk to us; even volunteer,” Williams said. “I want them to be informed and see what we are doing while their kids are at school. The parents, staff, teachers, and myself needs to be on the same page and support one another in order to give the kids the best education experience. We all want to see the kids succeed and help them prepare for their future.”
At Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus Elementary School, students are learning more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. They are also learning the importance of giving back to their community and how to achieve their fullest social, emotional and academic potential.
“I have been going to Cassidy since kindergarten and this school has been the best learning experience for me so far,” said sixth-grader Brittany Walker. “I’ve learned so much in all of my classes. I’ve done numerous projects that helped connect academics with the community and the world. Math is currently my favorite subject. I love adding, dividing, subtracting and multiplying fractions. I’m excited for what I will be learning next.”
In addition to its core curriculum, Cassidy offers various programs to their students. In December, the school’s community service project was a drive for Jane Adams Place, an emergency homeless shelter in Philadelphia for mothers with children. Students gave away toys, bathing products, and winter accessories.
A popular program at Cassidy is Peaceful Posse, a peer-mentoring program. Fifth- and sixth-grade students participant in the program. The program meets every Friday. Fifteen girls and 15 boys are targeted for the program.
“This program was our way to combat bullying,” said Principal Deidre Bennett. “It helps the kids to understand that they have to work together and support one another. We’re trying to get them to work as a team peacefully in the same environment. It’s important to not just provide excellent education to the students, but to also give back to the community.
“I tell my students all the time you can be very intelligent, but if you don’t have the moral base it doesn’t mean anything. A part of being intelligent is understanding how what you do as a person can effect everyone around you. What we try to do with our students is to encourage and empower them to meet the challenges by being lifelong learners and critical thinkers.
First-year teacher Blair Robertson-Fisher not only takes pride in working for a school she once attended as a kid, but she wants to also see her students succeed. Her daughter currently attends the school.
“Coming back to Cassidy has been exciting new journey for me,” Robertson-Fisher said. “I attended this school as a child and I always loved the neighborhood because it’s where I grew up. Even though Cassidy is a large school, it’s very close knit. That’s one of the many reasons why I wanted my daughter to go here. She likes the school. She’s in the second grade, but in a different classroom.
“I really enjoy teaching my second grade students. In addition to teaching them the core curriculum, I always tell them that they can achieve their goal if they work hard. I also want my students to have confidence and feel good about themselves. If they’re struggling in a subject, they have my support. I’m there for them and because of that they try even harder. My students are truly the best and I love teaching them”
Cassidy recently started a math online program called “First in Math.” The program helps students with their math skills. Every class at Cassidy participates in the program except kindergarten. If a class has the highest points in the school, they are team of the week.
“First in Math is a good way for me to learn math,” said first-grader Zakayah Williams. “We learn math through different games on the computer. It’s a fun way for me to learn. I really like coming to this class.”
Cassidy made AYP again last year for the second year in a row. As a result, the school was awarded with the Keystone Achievement Award from the Pennsylvania Department of Education for outstanding Academic Achievement, along with 92 other schools.
Some other points of pride at Cassidy include Read Across America Day, the Eagles Book Mobile, school newspaper, the MAP after school program, Caps for Cuties, Boys Latin and the Eat Right Now Nutrition program.
“My experience at Cassidy has been excellent; it’s a really good school,” said sixth grader Tatiana Amaya. “They have a lot of opportunities here that I don’t think I would be able to have anywhere else. We have excellent programs that will help us achieve our goals and help us grow as a person. We have excellent teachers and a great learning atmosphere here. The sky is the limit for all of us. This school is helping me prepare for what I want to be when I grow, and it has been an exciting journey so far.”
Known for being one of the newest neighborhood schools in the district, Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) continues to provide students with a rigorous academic program as well as prepare students for post-secondary studies, careers and opportunities in the fields of the expressive arts.
“A lot of the students that come here are from the neighborhood,” said principal Debora Borges Carrera. “In addition to offering our students the best education and preparing them for college and careers, we’re also offering them opportunities in various programs including theater and cinematography. We take the interest the students have for the arts and build on it. We all want to see our students excel in academics and in life.”
Kensington CAPA was originally part of Kensington High school. The schools were broken up into smaller schools eight years ago including Kensington CAPA, Kensington Business and Kensington Culinary Arts.
Kensington CAPA moved into a new building in 2010. Neighborhood students who select Kensington CAPA must have an interest in one or more of the following: dance, choir, instrumental music, filmmaking, theater, visual arts. Some of the AP courses offered at Kensington CAPA include Calculus AB, Composition and Environmental Science.
Kensington CAPA made AYP in 2011 and met 80 percent of their targets on their academic report card. The school also has a full-time college access coordinator. Kensington CAPA has won various awards including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum High School (2011) and the Blue Ribbon Commission (2011).
One of the most popular programs at Kensington CAPA is the Film and Cinematography Program, which is a certified CTE program.
“The experience we receive in cinematography is unique because a lot of students don’t get a chance to receive an opportunity like this,” said senior Ahmad Ibrahim. “I’ve learned so much from making beats to filming a documentary. I’ve had great experiences in this class and at Kensington CAPA. I’m looking forward to building on what I learned here.”
The cinematography program teaches kids how to use a video and film camera. Kensington CAPA cinematography teacher Derrick Savage added to the program by including music production, script writing, lighting, producing and directing.
“The students literally do everything in this class from the concept of an idea to actually releasing it to a theater,” Savage said. “I want my students to be inspired and take their ideas and turn them into something. They need to learn that there is a world that exists outside of their community, neighborhood and their head and they can be a part of it.
“When my students first saw the equipment they were intimidated, now their experts. I tell them all the time, when something intimidates them and gets difficult just keep moving forward and before you know it will be behind you.”
For senior Halyya Ngo, cinematography is another way for her to express herself creatively.
“Cinematography allows all of us to express ourselves artistically,” she said. “I’m able to put all this creativity into one piece through video to show everyone who I am and where I come from. Once you see the final product, you just have an amazing feeling, because you know you just created that video. This is a class that I always enjoyed coming too.”
Students normally do their project planning and pre- and post-production in the control room. Music production is also done in the control room, where students use Logic and MCP.
“In the music production program, students learn how to make music,” said junior Aaron Garcia. “They also learn how they can use their music in their videos. Since a lot of students are inexperienced with the music program, they normally come to a student like myself who knows how to use the program.
“From there we will produce what they need for specific shots or the video itself. These programs are very hands-on as well as a good learning experience. All of us make sure we take full advantage of the different opportunities that are given to us.”
In addition to the core curriculum, the school also offers special programs in theater, stage crew, Bible club, academic tutoring, dance, journalism, yearbook and student government.
“The overall experience at Kensington CAPA has been great,” said senior Donisha Perry. “This school offers so many programs and activities. I always wanted to come to a school based in the arts because I like to sing, so this school was perfect for me, plus it’s in my neighborhood.
“Even though I graduate this year, I’m looking forward to building on what I learned here and apply it when I go to college. I’m currently looking into Bloomsburg. Going to this school not only makes you want to become better academically but also personally. We all want to succeed and strive for excellence. Kensington CAPA is not just a school to us, but we’re family.”
As you step inside the hallways of Blaine Academics Plus, and take a look around the classrooms, art room, computer lab, and math classes, you’ll begin to notice a common pattern — hard working students, and a dedicated community of faculty, staff, administration, and parent volunteers, all striving for excellence.
“Our goal at Blaine has always been to give the students the best educational experience that they can receive,” said principal Gianeen Powell. “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. They motivate them to do more than what there are expected and they inspire the students to become anything they want to be. At Blaine, we push and motivate each other. It’s a collaborative effort among everyone, and I truly believe that’s why the school has been so successful.”
Blaine is a kindergarten through eighth-grade school with several special needs classes and a headstart (Pre-K program). The school’s mission is to establish a serious academic tone, increase standardized test scores, improve daily instruction and create organizational excellence and enrich student’s lives. The school has an enrollment of 279 students.
“I’ve been at Blaine since Pre-K and I can honestly say that the school has helped me become a better person,” said sixth grader Jaquil Gordon. “The work here challenges you and the teachers here really care. The students push each other to get better.”
Sixth grade students at Blaine not only learn math, science, and social studies in Jamal Dennis’s classroom, but they also learn life lessons.
“I just try to be there for my students both academically and personally,” Dennis said. “I really care about my students in aspect of their lives, especially when it comes to their future. They know that I demand respect from them and I will give them that same respect back.
“With the lessons that I teach, I try not to just teach them, but I want them to apply what they learned in the classroom in their life. I want them to use what they learned to solve problems and make good decisions. I always tell them success comes with practice and hard work. If they do the work and challenge themselves; they will have success.”
For sixth-grader Shamika Fox, going to Blaine has not only help her grow as a person, but it also helped her realize her passion.
“Going to Blaine made me realized I love to write; its my passion,” Fox said. “I like to write adventurous stories because I create my own world in it. I just want to continue to learn as much as I can and build on what I already know. I want to succeed and going here is helping me to do that.”
Blaine is apart of the Philadelphia Campaign for Healthier Schools. The program’s goal is to decrease the unhealthy foods in the school, promote healthier food choices, and to increase physical activity and exercise.
“We just don’t want our students to perform well academically, but we also want them to eat right and exercise,” Powell said. “It was a little bit of an adjustment for the students as first, but now its something that the students are use to. That particular program is a good addition to the school.”
In addition to its core curriculum, students at Blaine have also received an educational experience outside of the school setting. Blaine has taken students on educational trips to the Zoo, Art Museum, Franklin Institute, the Free Library, the historic home of John Coltrane and other academic and cultural institutions.
“When it comes to teaching art, I like to teach them art terms and art history,” said art teacher Chris Chariw. “I’m able to do a lot of different things through the program. I want the students to get a real hands-on experience in art. I want my students to be creative and reach their full potential artistically. The students love the class and are interested in it. I just want them to get to best overall experience in art and I’m able to do that through this program.”
For fourth-grader Trinity Coker, going to Blaine is overall learning experience.
“I’ve been only going to the school for two years, but I really like here,” Coker said. “I’ve learned so much and everyone here is really nice. The teachers are willing to help if you need it. This year my favorite subject is math. I like doing division and multiplication. I really like this school and I’m happy I came here.”
Fourth grade teacher Karla Verschot has been at Blaine for the five years. She said what makes the school so unique is the staff approach to teaching.
“Blaine has high expectations for academic excellence,” Verschot said. “This is the ultimate school setting. We are doing everything to provide the kids here the best education. We want to help them learn, but also help them grow as a person. We want to help prepare them for their future, but also the real world.”
“Shaw is a good school,” said seventh-grader Daniyah Gregory. “The teachers and Principal Lang really care about us succeeding academically and personally. Shaw has a good learning environment and the students here help each other. It’s a good school to help prepare for our future.”
In addition to the core curriculum, Shaw has various programs that emphasize data-driven instruction. The data looks at students’ academics, attendance and behavior.
Achieve3000, which is a mainstream online program where students have the ability to improve their reading and writing, is one of the programs at Shaw. Through the program, students have the ability to improve their reading and writing. They will have the means to master the curriculum, meet the standards set by Common Core, and be prepared for college and a career one day.
“This program takes all of the print literature from the AP and break it down to a particular reading level,” said Principal Kwand Lang. “Prior to a student participating in Achieve3000, they must do a pre-assessment. Once a student completes that, the program levels every kid from kindergarten to post-high school, so if a student is reading a story about Sandy Hook at an eighth-grade level that story has already been modified by the computer to an eighth-grade reading level.
“This takes place every day at our school. Every week we receive information from Achieve3000 on how our kids are doing. Even if the students are excelling at grade level, we have other programs in place to continue to challenge them in reading and writing. The beauty about the program is that everyone will be reading the same exact story, but the story will be modified to that particular student’s reading skill level. No one will be able to pick up the difference by just looking at their laptop. The program has really been a success so far at our school.”
Shaw continues to provide the ultimate learning experience through its partnership with City Year. Nine core members currently serve at the school, focusing on attendance, behavior and course performance.
“This is our longest partnership in the city of Philadelphia, we’ve been here for 12 years,” said team leader Katharine Miller. “The experience I’ve had at Shaw has been amazing. Working with the students and seeing how resilient they are and how much they have to offer has inspired me to come back to City Year this year as well as looking into a future career in education.”
Some activities at Shaw include the chess club, debate team, Sonia Sanchez Literacy Center, Men of Shaw, Ladies of Distinction, an anti-bullying group, and boys’ and girls’ athletics.
“As of right now, I don’t participate in any activities, but I’m interested in volleyball,” said seventh-grader Chyna Chase. “I’m really good in volleyball, so I’m interested in doing that here. I was also interested in basketball, but I don’t think I will be good at it, so I’m going to stick with what I know. Shaw offers the students here a lot of different activities and programs to participate in. It’s really up to us to take advantage of it.”
Some points of pride at Shaw include the Voices of Philadelphia debate team champions (2010); City Year National Award recipient for Impact on Literacy (2011); and the 2012 City Year City-Wide Spelling Bee champions in 2012.
The school was also featured on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” for its partnership with City Year and the student government members were invited to visit the White House last spring. Shaw participates in the Diplomas Now Partnership with Johns Hopkins University. The school also received a $50,000 grant from the Cole Hamels Foundation for a new library.
For seventh-grader Sule West, going to Shaw has been a good experience.
“I like going to Shaw,” he said. “The atmosphere here is great, the teachers are good, I learn a lot, and I have a lot of friends here too. Out of all my classes right now, I would have to say my favorite class is social studies. It’s always good to learn about different places and time periods around the world.
“Overall, my experience at Shaw has been a good one. The school has a lot of different programs and the school, as well as the students have achieved a lot. Everyone here really cares about us; they want to see us succeed not just in school, but in life.”
Charles W. Henry School is seeking to not only make scholars of students, but to make them better citizens, as well. With a focus on rigorous skill development and various extracurricular programming, the school is making students not only aware of themselves, but of the world around them.
“We are committed to the belief that all children can reach their maximum potential when challenged with rigorous instruction,” said Principal Fatima Rodgers. “Our goals include focusing on instructional enhancement, incorporating the arts into the academic program, supporting a positive school climate and embracing diversity.
“We provide students with various opportunities to take part in an assortment of extra-curricular activities. We want all of our students to succeed. We want them to enhance their ability when they make the transition from elementary to middle [school], be prepared when they enter high school and achieve their dreams in life.”
Henry is a K-8 school. The school’s mission is to provide students with the best education possible to help them reach their full learning potential.
“It’s truly a collective effort between the principal, staff, parents, our partnerships and the community,” said school counselor Maxine Coker. “We make sure that through our various programs and activities that our students can grow both academically and personally. We make sure that they receive the all-around best education experience at Henry.”
In addition to the core curriculum, Henry has various programs for its students. The gardening program was started by parents at the school three years ago. The program involves second- and third-grade students on Mondays. It’s an organic garden, where there is no herbicide or pesticide used. Students also compost food from the school.
“The garden really provides fresh produce for the school,” said garden coordinator Jenny Aiello. “Right now, we’re growing raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, figs, herbs and vegetables. It’s a good experience for the kids to get them outside and get a hands-on experience of how a garden really works. I’m hoping the students will continue to try and taste different things, but most importantly I want them to incorporate healthy food into their daily life, because it really does make a difference.”
PlayWorks is another program the school has. The program’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play. The program also restores valuable teaching time, reduces bullying, and improves the school and learning environment. The program has been at Henry for two years.
“I try to switch things up by providing various activities that the students can participate in throughout the day,” said program coordinator Daniel Whelan. “Some of the activities that students participate in is tag, basketball and four square. We also introduce new games during recess as well because we want to introduce as many students in play that we can. The idea is if more kids are playing there are less kids bullying and less potential for conflict overall.”
For eighth-grader Venus Watson, attending Henry has helped her prepare for high school.
“I’ve been at Henry for the last four years and my overall experience has been good,” Watson said. “This school will definitely help you grow and figure out what you want to accomplish in your life. The teachers help bring out your own natural potential.
“The work that they give you in middle [school] is actually work that you may be learning in high school. I’m looking forward to going to high school next year, because Henry helped me prepare while I enter the next phase of my life.”
One popular class at Henry is Joann Milligan’s seventh-grade social studies class. Students are currently working on projects based on the Civil Rights Movement. For the project, students were put into groups and had to pick a figure that not too many people know a lot of information about. Students would then have to talk to the class about what they found.
“My group picked Clara Luper,” said seventh-grader Angelica Cuyler. “Luper was known for her leadership role in the 1958 Oklahoma City sit-in movement. Herself, as well as her children and memebers of the NAACP Youth Council conducted non-violent sit-in protests at drugstore lunch counters, which overturned their policies of segregation. The reason why we chose her is because her story is often overlooked.”
Seventh-grader Joy Nathaniel believes the project will help students get a better understanding of what took place during that time period.
“When you think of that movement you think of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks, but there were so many people who helped with that movement, whose stories are often forgotten,” Nathaniel said. “It’s good to do a project like this because you really see how far we have come as a society. They were really pioneers and ahead of their time. Our teacher does a good job finding different ways for us to get the ultimate learning experience.”
Seventh-grader Alyssa Grey believes going to Henry helps students excel.
“I don’t think I would have had this kind of experience if I went to another school,” Grey said. “Henry is a really good school. It prepares you for the next level. Going to this school drives you to want to succeed even more. I really like going here.”