Jonas Crenshaw Jr. moved from Mississippi to Philadelphia to assume the responsibilities as principal of Tilden Middle School. With one year under his belt, the consensus is clear that he has already achieved high honors.
“He’s supposed to be here. He’s the person, I believe, [who] is ordained to be here,” said Nancy Golden, assistant principal. “This is his season to be here and to impact the lives of these children.”
Crenshaw, now in his ninth year in administration, brought with him to Tilden a high level of enthusiasm that has been infectious. This past summer, he rallied the faculty and some students to help edify the school.
“One of the things I noticed last year was that there was not a lot of school spirit here when I got here. So, definitely, we’ve been working to make the school a place students are proud of physically and aesthetically,” he said.
Crenshaw’s positive outlook and desire to be proactive has created a cause and effect that is hard not to notice or be in awe of.
“He’s a wonderful, wonderful person. He’s really committed to our children. He loves our kids,” said teacher Jodan Floyd. “He loves the school and the community. He’s trying to bring the community into the school and the school into the community with wonderful innovative things.”
The creation of the C.A.R.E. bucks has really motivated the students to be on their best behavior.
“That’s an incentive for students to do the right thing, follow the rules, be engaged in the educational process, take responsibility for their learning and that kind of thing, be respectful and when we notice that the students follow the rules, they’re able to receive these bucks and at the end of the week, they can redeem them for some wonderful prizes that we have,” Golden said.
Above all else, the 400 students that attend Tilden know they have a principal who walks the hallway and cares. It is a support that is supplemented by the staff.
“Our school motto is Team Tilden, one community achieving global success, and the idea is that we have to work together as a team. And so, I work very hard to build a team with the faculty, the parents, finding ways to show the faculty that they are valued and so what we are now is a family, and I’m excited because it’s very rare that you go to a school and teachers enjoy each other,” he said.
“We enjoy hanging outside of school together. We work together on projects. We roll up our sleevesand get things done around here. And so, I just think that’s amazing that we have a tram that’s so committed to our students.”
Russ Maxemaw, dean of students, echoed the sentiment. He said everyone was moving in the same direction.
“We’re like one big huge family. Everybody has each other’s back. So, if I need something, I can go to anybody and they will help me out. So, I’ll do the same for them,” Maxemaw said.
“I always say that I have four kids at home. I have 400 and something here. So, I technically have over 450 kids.”
Oct. 6 will be Tilden’s back-to-school night, but parents have already weighed in on the difference Crenshaw has made.
“He honestly cares,” Pamela Mack Edwards said.
“He’s walking the halls. He’s interacting. He’s doing things more for the kids.”
Deborah Brewer added.
“The school didn’t look so clean and it was loud and rowdy when I had to come,” Brewer said.
“But it’s quiet when you come in now. You don’t hear students hollering in the room. You don’t see them hanging in the hallways. I think the school has really improved.”
Crenshaw was happy to give of himself, including spending long hours at the office, if his students ultimately benefit.
“What I want my students to understand is that whenever they go out representing the school, they’re going to be first-class students and I want to give them all the experiences that they would get in any other school,” Crenshaw said.
“I want Tilden to be the premiere middle school in the school district, and so it’s that expectation that we offer to the students in creating school spirit.”
Tilden Middle School has been a part of Southwest Philadelphia for more than 8 decades. Its doors opened in September 1927. With the help of 2nd-year principal Jonas Crenshaw and assistant principal Nancy Golden, Tilden has transformed into an academic and social haven for students as well as creating connections between parents and community members.
“We’ve been really working on expanding our community support and linking with community agencies that can come in and offer services for the kids so they don’t have to leave and go anywhere, but everything they need is here,” Crenshaw said. “My vision and Ms. Golden’s vision is to make sure that when the families come here, we can offer as much as we can here without them having to get the run around all over the city.”
Including. There are about 13 programs within the school to provide parental support and to serve students, including the Tilden Community Advisory Council and the Parent Resource Center, CADE Kids, City Year and the Center for Grieving Children, Teens and Families.
Nina Nagib has been a counselor at Tilden for three years. She said her favorite memory was organizing the community fall festival in the beginning of the academic year.
“Within a few weeks we had planned this community fall fest and just the response from community organizations, 20 different groups came up and set up tables. Seeing how receptive the community was to it as well as the organizations being excited to come here. It felt like things were coming full circle,” Nagib said.
Ana Ravasio is the special education liaison and co-chair of the Parent Involvement Committee. Ravasio develops creative ways to get parents involved through monthly meetings and training sessions. Recently, there was an informational class to help parents understand Facebook.
“We’ve seen a lot of parent and community involvement. Mr. Crenshaw and Ms. Golden have been really instrumental in creative ways of pulling parents to volunteer their time and have them more involved with their students’ academics. It’s been a really great experience,” Ravasio said.
Crenshaw has also focused on improving instruction and offering more extra-curricular activities to encourage students to attend school.
“I think that’s a part of a school experience especially middle school. This is an age where students can start participating in different clubs and activities to try to figure out what they’re interested in [and] what they want to be when they grow up,” Crenshaw said. “Outside of math and science and English classrooms, the kids also need to be exposed to cultural activities. They also need opportunities to express themselves.
Earlier this month, the chess team won second place at the Checkmate Violence Chess Marathon on Feb. 4. The team competed with other middle schools at Temple University. Sixth-graders Mohammed Dolley, Eric Chapman Jr., Isaac E. Sawyer, Seleke Sackor and Naseer Pearson played.
“It was a lot of people, and it was hard — especially the girl I played. She got me in a checkmate — that’s the only loss I got,” Dolley said.
“We were shocked. It was a good feeling, and they were elated. We put in some hard work,” 1st-year chess coach Mike Savage said.
Eighth-graders Aniyah Barrell, Dazsa Green, Terrilynn Sams and Machemeh Dolley participate in the modeling club.
Barrell, club captain, said she and Golden encouraged other girls to join the club. This group of students spends time performing at fashion shows and will soon begin to design clothes.
“It teaches us not only how to be beautiful, but smart and elegant at the same time,” Sams said.
Another activity available to students is the Lights, Camera, Action club. In this group, students participate in various acting exercises such as improv and put on shows. Marquwanna Gibbs, Ashya Murray, Lassana Diawara and Seleke Sacker are active members.
“I like acting. It brings out a different side of you. You get to act out the emotions and have fun with it,” Gibbs said. She said she would continue acting in high school and plans to attend Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School next year.
“Sometimes it helps you step out your comfort zone,” Murray said.
There are several single-sex programs geared to address social and academic aspects of students lives. For sixth-grade males, Concerned Black Men mentors students and provides academic and career enrichment. For seventh- and eighth-grade students, Amongst Men is a mentoring program that focuses on character development, leadership training and academic achievement. Additionally, the Rosemont College School Counseling intern provides one-on-one and group behavioral interventions to male students.
As the counterpart, QUEENS is an after-school mentoring program for female students in which students are engaged in workshops and focus on self-esteem and confidence building. This program is for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. Sixth-graders Michaila Johnson, Bianca Smith, Naimah Abdul-Ghaffaar and Kishia Johnson are active in the club.
“Being a QUEEN makes me feel positive about myself. Being confident about myself means saying I look pretty. I’m smart. I’m funny. Looking in the mirror and saying positive things about myself,” Smith said.
“I’m creative. I’m nice and generous. QUEENS makes me feel like I’m special in my own kind of way,” Abdul-Ghaffaar said.
With dreams of being a pediatrician, Michaila Johnson said, “I try things that I never tried before. I encourage myself to be nice, to be kind and not to be selfish.”
“I like saving people,” Kishia Johnson said. She has dreams of being a police officer.
Teachers like David L. Turner offer encouragement to students, too. As the sponsor teacher for the Lights, Camera, Action club and a sixth-grade reading, writing and science teacher, Turner has several incentives in his classroom. On Fridays, students have the opportunity to win prizes such as books, stationery and snacks.
“They are very eager because it’s something new for them. It’s all about them. They’re improving academically, socially, emotionally, and that’s what gives them the desire to come to school every day,” Turner said.
Students recommend incoming sixth-graders to visit and see all of the opportunities offered at Tilden.
“Don’t just go on Google search,” Pearson said.
“Tilden will change your life, and it’s really a good school. It prepares you for later on in life and high school,” eighth-grader Wandale Dahkue said.