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.
Five students simultaneously plucked the strings of their guitars as sneakers tapped the floor to keep the song’s tempo. Their eyes shifted to follow the chords written on the sheet music as Alandra Abrams led the ensemble by playing her black guitar.
The semi-circle of seventh-grade musicians played “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” the theme song from the “Lion King” and “My Heart Will Go On,” theme song of the movie, “Titanic.”
Praise Idowu, James Lee, Iris Green, Niaundria Stevenson and Laurencia Duroseau were a part the ensemble of musicians who spent their lunch period practicing.
“When you play guitar, sometimes it can soothe you and make you feel better when you’re feeling down,” Green said. “It’s actually fun playing the guitar — and it’s actually fun learning how to play different kinds of songs, so I like this music class.”
“I think the excitement that they bring when they finally get it — just to see them shine. They come in excited. If I tell them we’re not doing guitar, some of them actually have a fit,” Abrams said.
Abrams has taught at Tilden for 17 years, but has been teaching for over 23 years. After attending a weekend workshop sponsored by the School District of Philadelphia, Abrams began teaching guitar to students. Receiving funding from the Little Kids Rock grant, a classroom set of guitars was purchased for students.
“They can express themselves in ways they can’t if they don’t have an instrument in their hands. I rather see them have a guitar and express themselves this way through music than aggressive ways,” Abrams said.
She also teaches choir to the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grades. In the afternoon, sixth-grade classes learn to play bells, recorders and receive technology-based music learning on computers. Seventh-graders receive guitar and keyboard lessons during class.
“You bring the atmosphere to your kids. If you have the right attitude as a teacher you can change their behavior and I think music is a perfect way to do it because it gets to them,” Abrams said.
Some of the students are novices to guitar playing, but others have grown-up in musical families. Lee’s father played guitar. Duroseau’s mother played the harp. She now plays four instruments: piano, harp, cello and guitar.
Stevenson’s father and grandfather have played guitar. She said she would like to play clarinet and flute, but guitar is her favorite so far. She even uses her grandfather’s personal guitar to play in class.
“I grew up doing it,” Stevenson said. ‘My family is basically all about music so that’s why I play guitar.”
The first instrument that Idowu learned was guitar. He began playing at 7 years old.
“Watching people on the TV sing songs and play guitar sort of pushed me to be educated about the guitar,” Idowu said.
Through personal experience, Abrams said her middle school teacher encouraged her to be active with music. Abrams said she wants to translate the lessons she learned from her former teacher to her students at Tilden.
“I’m tough on them, but she was tough on me. She showed me love, and I show them love. I’m tough, but I show love and they know it,” Abrams said.
Six years ago, there was only one high school for Kensington. Due to a large student population, Kensington divided into four campuses — Kensington Creative and Performing Arts, Business and Finance, Urban Education and Culinary Arts.
At Kensington Culinary Arts (KCA), some students aren’t cooking, but some are measuring up to new standards. Now, more health and science related classes are offered to students.
“We have developed different programs to reflect the health sciences, which we’re very proud of,” Principal James Williams said.
Now, students can chose between the dental program and health related technologies — which includes studies of anatomy, physiology and epidemiology.
“It’s an opportunity we never got before. It’s not in most schools and we get this, what other people never did,” ninth-grade dental program student Christine Bowser said. “All the teachers here are nice and they’re firm with us, but they teach us as well so, we respect them for that.”
Ninth-grader She’lae Dollard-Dukes said the new programs offer her a motivating atmosphere in which to learn.
“It separates us from the foolishness and people that just don’t care. It brings positive energy and it helps,” Dollard-Dukes said. “This school gives you more opportunity, and it gives us more stuff to do.”
Two anatomical correct medical manikins laid on two separate gurneys in the health related technologies classroom. Covered with bed sheets, the manikins are used during instructional periods.
Michael Rothstein has worked as a nurse for over 20 years and has taught health related technologies classes for a decade. Rothstein said he likes the drive of KCA students.
“[There’s] a lot more motivation here,” Rothstein said.
For an upcoming epidemiology class, students will learn about food borne illnesses. Rothstein has four teacher volunteers — acting as patients — read scripts and students have to interview them to determine which illness was present in the patients.
These new classes have led to the school’s proposed name change, Kensington Health Sciences Academy. According to school administration, the name change will be implemented for the next academic year.
“With the focus of changing the name of the school and increasing the relationships that we share with our community partners to provide more of a language that you’ll here with our upperclassmen, the word we constantly use is options. We want our kids to have options in terms of what they can do and whatever they opt to do we want them ready for that experience,” Williams said.
In his fourth year, Williams called KCA students “the difference makers.” He said the relationships with students make KCA special.
“We’re a smaller school which is a great benefit. We know every kid in the school. We know their families. There’s a certain rapport we have that is apart of the culture of the school that allows us to raise the academic bar,” Williams said.
“The thing that makes our school unique is the fact that just about everyone here has bought into our vision of how a school should be. We feel we have a mission as opposed to jobs. We’re going to bring about a good education for these kids and to enhance their future,” Dean of Students Ed Green said. “I think my job is to change lives.”
In a pre-calculus math class, seniors Quram King and Flor Melendez reviewed their homework. Both students had high PSSAs scores and took AP government and AP English courses.
“The AP classes really prepare you for college. In terms of enrolling, they really help you with every single step and the counselors are good and help you apply,” King said.
He is interested in majoring in music production and theater in college.
“Mr. Williams is always trying. They really want to give you a challenge and right now, there’s a push,” Melendez said.
She has been accepted into Penn State Berks.
During a health class, students discussed factors of the obesity issue among Americans and how to combat this problem with proper nutrition. Health and physical education teacher, Brian Zufolo had students watch the 2004 Morgan Spurlock documentary, “Super Size Me.”
“There are some things that catch their attention. In nutrition, we talk about things like fast food or things kind of related to them and their pretty interested in it,” Zufolo said.
In his fourth year, Zufolo said he likes teaching health and physical education because it is practical and relatable to students.
“I enjoy teaching my content. I feel that this is something that they can all relate to. This is information that they need everyday. These things they need for life. This is basic living skills. So I feel like I have an important job,” Zufolo said.
Eighth and quarter notes squeaked out of clarinets and saxophones. Half and whole notes blared out of the trombone and trumpets, as the nine member music class practiced several measures of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
Music teacher, Jesse Mell had the class clap the rhythm of the song.
“Ta ta, ta ta, ta ta,” the class clapped.
On the count of three, a trombone, four clarinets, two trumpets and two saxophones played several measures and periodically stopped to go over playing technicques.
Trombone player, Brittany Washington was a previous violin musician. Although a novice, she kept with the tempo of the band and as her cheeks filled with air, she glided the brass instrument into a serious of sliding positions.
“I was used to holding the violin with my chin. It’s difficult because with the violin all you have to remember is the chords, [now] you have to remember the positions and notes,” Washington said.
She comes from a musical family. Her brother plays clarinet and sister plays violin. Although she practices for two hours a day, Washington said Mell’s assistance is helpful.
“Mr. Mell is an awesome teacher. He’s fun. He tells us when we’re wrong. If you mess up he’s like, ‘OK,’ try again. Let’s see if you can do it again,’” Washington said.
For “Bille Jean,” Mell explained the A flat to C, or position three, for trombone to Washington.
Last year the Jones musical students put on a regional arts festival at the Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School.
“It was really cool because getting everyone a chance to come together and see that we could really have a consistent music program start at the primary middle school level and move up to high school and have that continuity,” Mell said. “Kids get to eighth grade and then they have no options, because if they don’t go to a magnet high school a lot of the time the band program isn’t there in the high school. So we’re trying to make life long music learners.”
Mell said his goals are to encourage students to study music and see the value of playing an instrument.
“Making kids understand that what’s fun is not always worth while and vice versa. I always say, ‘Fun is playing X-box or jumping in a pool, but this is really something that you’re building a life skill for.’ Just getting them to see the long-term vision of where it’s going to take them, the doors that it could open or just the value of sticking with something.” Mell said.
In Lindsey McGarrigle’s reading enrichment class, fifth- and sixth-grade students began reading a new fiction book, “A Likely Place” by Paula Fox.
As students flipped to page 109, McGarrigle posed a question to the class.
“How do you react when adults think they know how you feel?” McGarrigle said.
“I get angry sometimes. If I’m sad they just automatically think I’m happy,” sixth-grader Joshau Berger said.
Fan of science fiction novels, Berger and his peers have tested out of the corrective reading program. During the enrichment course, students are challenged to tackle higher levels of reading and writing. Recently, the class participated in a school wide writing contest in which they wrote scripts for a movie, talk show or courthouse drama based on literature read in class.
“There’s a lot of kids that match my level,” sixth-grader Krizm Rosario said.
The class reads the passage out loud.
“Popcorn, Seriphim,” sixth-grader Umiko Webb said.
Webb passed the reading responsibility to Seriphim Bey, which is an activity that is often practiced during class.
In a third floor classroom, calculators, workbooks and pencils covered the desks of eighth-graders Nazsha Gonzales, Crystal Hernandez and Nilda Mojica. The three girls were practicing scientific notation in preparation for the PSSA tests.
Gonzales said she enjoys math the most, but plans to attend Kensington CAPA and major in dance.
Mojica said she enjoyed the class trips to the Philadelphia Zoo and to a St. Joseph’s University basketball game.
Although schoolwork may seem overwhelming, Hernandez said Jones is preparing her for high school.
“They give us a lot of writing to prepare us. We work more than any other grade in the school. That gives a chance to get use to it,” Hernandez said.
Syncopated sounds of computer programs alerting students of correct responses rang in room 203. Some used their index fingers to quickly tap on the mouse pads. Others had their small hands cuffed on laptop keyboards. Instead of seeing students embarrassed to raise their hands and answer a question when called on, technology has changed that dynamic at Philip H. Sheridan Elementary School. Now, students from kindergarten to fourth-grade are working at their own varying paces and are focused on individualized lessons.
“There is not one child that isn’t on task. They’re all engaged. They love this. The kids can work independently, and they’re not threatened by, ‘Oh, you know this answer or you have this,’ or not raising their hands and being identified in a negative way,” technology teacher Marsha Ryan said.
Known as the traveling technology teacher, Ryan has spent 20 years observing how technology is helping with students’ learning. From the vast array of programs available to students, Ryan said she likes that they are learning basic keyboarding skills, spelling, math and reading.
“It’s fun. I like what we learn. I like the math and reading,” second-grader Serenity McCorey said.
Having laptop charts on each floor and five smart boards throughout the school, Principal Awilda Aguila said technology is important to Sheridan.
“The fact that we really promote technology use is big. It’s just really neat,” Aguila said.
By reducing the school’s suspension and detention climate, allotting preparation training for teachers during and after-school and instituting several initiatives to raise PSSA standings, Aguila has implemented many changes to Sheridan within the past two years.
“This year’s focus is instruction,” Aguila said.
One system that was put into place was the Five Bees. This is a behavioral system for students to earn 12 loose bees given by the assistant principal, nurse, counselors and teacher leaders. Whenever a student is being respectful, responsible, positive, being a peacemaker and an active learner, a bee is handed out. Classes must fill their “Buzzin’ Dozen” to get a class treat. Treats are usually an extra 10 minutes of recess.
Another incentive is for students to have perfect attendance. In each class, there is a pizza pie chart, which is colored every time all students are present for class. Winners are rewarded with a pizza party.
Additionally, the school participates in the monthly Fact, Add vocabulary, Measurement, Estimation (FAME) initiative in order to increase academic standings. In January, classes focused on mathematics. In February, the focus is on literacy.
There are five areas of socialized recess organized by colors. Areas for soccer, hop scotch, jump rope and hula-hoop are separated. There is also an area for those who want to read quietly.
To help implement these programs at Sheridan, Aguila gets help from the teaching staff. This year, there are a lot of new teachers.
“I like my new staff because they’re very excited, motivated [and] they want to do things differently,” Aguila said.
Second-grade teacher and grade group leader, Margaret Breen was recently named a Nationally Board Certified teacher through Temple University.
“We’re really proud of having her here. I’m hoping she promotes it and gets other teachers motivated to do that,” Aguila said.
Additionally, there are two teachers who are specifically focused on increasing PSSA math and reading scores for students.
In room 308, Theresa Montgomery did “centers” with her third-grade students. For 45 minutes during the day, students worked on literacy skills. Montgomery used a smart board during instructional periods.
Teaching at Sheridan for 15 years, Montgomery said her most memorable experience was seeing former students.
“The kids that I’m teaching, I taught their older brother or sister. So, they come back and you get to talk to them and find out that they’ve been successful. That makes you feel good,” Montgomery said. “Seeing the kids successful and moving onto bigger and better things is always a joy.”
Nashyah Cooper-Long said she likes Montgomery’s class.
“I have many friends, it’s nice. Everyone is nice to me. Everyone is sweet and kind, and it’s just going great. I love this school,” Cooper-Long said.
In room 301, Megan Melnick and fourth-grade students reviewed PSSA practice target questions deciphering between facts and opinions. With seven years of teaching experience at Sheridan, and previously teaching first grade, Melnick said the students are responding well to the practice questions.
“I’m noticing that they like it. They like the challenge of it. They try. I love fourth-grade. I was nervous when I came here. I was afraid that they would be afraid of the test, but they’re looking at it as, try to reach for the top. They’re very responsive,” Melnick said. “I put a lot of extra effort into researching and try to create a good classroom environment and always constantly learning new things to implement. I think I build a good rapport with the students and I’m constantly joking with them.”
“She teaches in a fun way,” fourth-grader Karizma Naples said.
“She teaches us everything we need to know for fifth grade,” Tionya Murrell said.