Take a glance into room 100. Students in this kindergarten class sit on the blue carpet positioned in the center of the classroom.
Listen to the giggles and laughter of the five-year-old students as they count numbers. Their peers hold large red cards — each card has numbers one through ten — and they stand in front of the room.
Watch substitute teacher, Harriet Davis, telling the children sitting on the carpet to close their eyes. Students holding numbers three, six and eight face their backs toward the class.
“Boys and girls, you can open your eyes. Tell me what’s missing,” Davis said.
Quickly eyes open and students try to figure out which numbers are missing from the line up.
At Clara Barton Elementary, Principal Colleen Bowen said the school’s environment promotes an experience where kids can be kids. She described the school as a place where students can skip down the hallway and feel safe and secure.
With one pre-kindergarten and one autistic support class, ten kindergarten, ten first-grade and nine second-grade classes, the school’s population is 750 students.
Five years ago, Barton served grades kindergarten through eighth. However, the school became overcrowded. The Philadelphia School District made the decision to keep the large community, but create a campus of schools.
Barton — pre-kindergarten to second grade, Feltonville Intermediate — third to fifth grade — and Feltonville Arts and Sciences — sixth to eighth grade — encompass the Feltonville campus.
“All three schools work together. We all stay in communication with [each other]. Basically, we work well together. It’s nice for us because we can create an early childhood center in our school,” Bowen said.
In her third year as principal, Bowen accredits reading to Barton’s success in making Adequate Yearly Progress consecutively in 2010 and 2011.
“I think a strong foundation in reading is really what drives us in making AYP. Then, students feeding into Feltonville Intermediate made AYP. I think a lot of that has to do with the high caliber of students we’re sending up to them.”
Every floor has a “Clara’s Corner” which is a small reading center with books and a bench for students to read quietly.
“We use Children Literacy Initiative in our school. That’s just a real organic approach to reading and writing. They’re reading independently. They’re learning to stretch their abilities,” Bowen said.
At Barton, parental involvement is highly expected. In the beginning of the school year, parents sign an agreement to make sure their child is sent to school daily and that they attend parent-teacher conferences. There are two parent meetings a month. Bowen hosts one of the meetings and the School Improvement Support Liaison, Nancy Torres, holds a chat and chew. This meeting engages and informs parents on developments and programs at school.
“We have phenomenal families that work really hard with their [children]. We push them to read to them every night. We create high expectations that parents really step up because we can’t do it alone,” Bowen said.
With three children and four nieces and nephews who attend or have graduated from Barton, Evelyn Diaz said she likes the school environment. She explained the reason her family chose Barton.
“All my kids been here, the teachers are great. I can come see my child anytime and make sure they’re alright. They have a lot of staff that keep an eye on the kids,” Diaz said.
As she sat in the auditorium to watch the kindergarten winter concert, Diaz said she enjoys the concerts, graduations and meetings at the school.
“I’m aware of the dates for the after-school programs and what’s available for my child to better herself and her education,” Smith said.
Parents and family, like Diaz, packed the school’s auditorium to watch the classes perform songs at the winter concert. Each class performs a poem and a song. Some play the xylophone and others drum on plastic tubs and coffee cans.
“Every year we do a winter concert. It’s just an opportunity for the students to perform for their families. For them to come and participate in something positive, everybody participates and it gives them a source of pride,” Bowen said.
Music teacher, Nancy Francis, leads the concerts. Francis describes her experiences with students.
“I think it’s a celebration of the arts for them. It builds self-esteem for them. We have art and music. Our principal is very supportive of the arts. I feel very fortunate. I love my job,” Francis said.
“My music teacher is phenomenal. It’s amazing what she can get those kindergartens kids to do,” Bowen said.
According to Bowen, Barton teachers are described as super stars for their effort to teach and engage students.
“I have amazingly dedicated teachers. They are extremely hard working and they go above and beyond. They’re always trying to look for new ways to reach their students.”
In room 211, Solece Messinger’s second-grade class is encouraged to do acts of kindness toward one another. After reading the book, “How Full is Your Bucket?” written by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer, students fill a jar with a fuzzy ball for every positive action. Once the jar is full, students can have a popcorn party. However, if someone says or does something that is not encouraging to a peer, a fuzzy ball is removed.
Back in room 100, students finish the counting numbers exercise and prepare for the winter concert.
Gabriella Nunes said she enjoys playing games and singing the Gingerbread song in school.
“I like music class because I like to dance,” Nunes said.
Classmates, Ahoud Abdelrazzaq and Sanih Muhammad describe their favorite activities at school.
“I like ABCs, numbers and drawing,” Abdelrazzaq said.
“My favorite thing about school is shapes because I like how they look and numbers to learn to count,” Muhammad said.
“I think the nurturing environment is what is so special about this school. We are truly a family,” Bowen said.
Based on the special admissions enrollment process, rigorous curriculum and school uniforms, Hill Freedman Middle School may appear as a private institution. Yet, this international baccalaureate magnet school has an array of academic achievements, class options and cultural awareness.
“We’re not a private school or charter school, but the best kept secret,” Principal Anthony Majewski said.
In October 2010, the school received its credit to become an international baccalaureate school. With this credential, the school follows a structure of having core classes of language A — a typical English class, language B — Spanish class, humanities/social sciences, math, science, technology, art, dance, physical education and music.
Academically with seventh- and eighth-grade PSSA scores, Hill Freedman ranked 13th out of 854 Pennsylvania middle schools in the 2010–2011 school year.
“If you look at our action plan, we’re pushing students. They look for advanced and proficient. We’re just looking at advanced. We’re pushing students to 85 percent advanced. That’s our goal,” Majewski said.
By encouraging strong academics, students are reading a year above their grade level. The sixth-grade is reading a seventh-grade curriculum. Seventh-graders read on an eighth-grade level. Eighth-graders are reading high school material and taking high school algebra.
Pamela Taylor Anderson, International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Coordinator and Special Education Liaison, says this school is special because students understand the type of instruction and learning they receive.
“For students, they know from the door what is expected of them and they just have that natural excitement for learning,” Anderson said.
Seventh-grader, Clarrisa Faustin says she enjoys the learning environment of Hill Freedman.
“The fact that we get such a unique education, we’re very lucky to be accepted into the school. It’s a very fun experience. It’s such a welcoming environment for people to learn in,” Faustin said.
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 in elective classes.
Every other week, students take elective classes with one another. Students learn from a range of subjects such as Spanish dance, cartooning, digital photography, baking, sport fitness and mixed martial arts. Majewski says the magnet school students will have an opportunity to communicate their opinions on the interactions they have when taking classes with the special needs students.
“We really need to have them reflect on what are they learning from that, what are they gaining from that? So they can see for themselves what the value is,” Majewski said.
Faustin takes a gardening class with the life skills class and says the students show her their passions in class.
“They have a love for animals and plants, and it’s really nice because you can interact with everyone,” Faustin said.
The school has three wings. In the A-wing of the school, Mike Towle teaches sixth-grade humanities. Here, students learn about constitutional democracy. The class uses Mac laptops for research and to complete assignments. Morlaye Yansaneh says he enjoys humanities because he can be creative.
“We do different things on the Learning Logs because he gives us questions and we can answer them in any way. It’s not really right or wrong,” Yansaneh said.
In Hope Glover’s science lab, the class learns about deposition. This is the process in which water can carry eroded sediments through a stream channel. Using basins, sand, rules, tape and plastic cups with a hole in the bottom, sixth-graders create their own process of deposition. Cierra Wallace, Shayla Smith, Trae McLean and Samirah Maven use the sand to create a mountain. The cup acts a flood and as the water falls, they observe that the mouth of the water stream creates a fan shape path known as a delta.
In the elective class of digital literacy, students are making music. These producers use Garage Band and Audacity to create different musical genres of action/adventure, love, documentary and even horror.
Eighth-graders Zaa’Raa Padgett and Tanyyah Paterson enjoy the digital literacy class.
“We get to interact with other students of the world, and we learn about technology,” Padgett said.
Within three days, Padgett and Paterson were able to create a horror song.
“It was the most fun and some people couldn’t pull off the horror thing. I like that we can express ourselves through technology,” Paterson said.
In Spanish, the class learns about the Mexican holiday, The Day of the Dead. Seventh-grader Jared Beswick enjoys learning about culture and using the language in his personal life.
“Well, my mom is Spanish, so when she goes into her Spanish mode, I can understand her better,” Beswick said.
The B-wing holds Margaret Haug’s music class. Violins are stacked in the hallway, but the classroom is filled with music books and keyboard. As Haug hands back tests, students listen to a classical song on iTunes, record specific instruments they hear and observe how the music makes them feel emotionally.
Valerie Van Pham teaches life skills students African, North and South American art. Within Pham’s 19 years of teaching art at the school, she says the most memorable experience about the school are the students.
“When they latch onto an idea, take it and create something new out of it. They make work that I wouldn’t have thought myself. Incredible originality,” Pham said.
In the C-Wing, there are three autistic support classes, two multi-disability classes and two life skills classes.
Currently, the school is still waiting on the approval for a new name for the school: Hill Freedman World Academy.
“Parents voted on that, students voted on that, alumni voted on that because just to be Hill Freedman, we felt that we needed to connect it to our IB program now,” Majewski said.
For more than three decades, the Franklin Learning Center (FLC) has been an award-winning school of innovation, high educational standards and a cultural hub with diverse students and staff.
Dr. Charles Staniskis and Frank Guido founded the high school in 1973. Guido was the original principal of FLC, but now Staniskis holds that position.
Spending a brief period at Philadelphia Girls High School as an assistant principal from 1990 until 1992, Staniskis has spent most of his career at FLC. In the spring of 2011, Staniskis was presented the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Distinguished Principal Award. Yet, he said his most memorable experience was when the school was recognized twice on the national stage.
The United States Department of Education recognized FLC as a Blue Ribbon School in 1992 and 2010.
“Many people don’t know about the secret we have here. It’s really a great school. There isn’t any violence. The cultural atmosphere is really great: Black, white, Asian, African, [and] and Albanian. They all get together and have a great time learning and supporting each other,” Staniskis said.
In her 10th year of teaching art in FLC, Christina Whitt said the diversity of students adds an element of educational value.
“The diversity in the room is really great. There are a lot of kids from different parts of the city, from ethnic backgrounds. It really gives them a snapshot of the world. They actually know more about each other since they’re outside of their neighborhood. Kids really know a lot from each other,” Whitt said.
Along with its local and national recognition and diverse population, the school’s grading system is unlike others in the Philadelphia School District. There are no grades. Instead, the school operates on a credit-based system. Students receive credit for units completed in class. When they have completed the required credits for that class, they can move on to the next class. Each credit earned represents a student’s competency of at least 80 percent (B) proficiency in that class. Students can receive 90 percent (A) or (*), which indicates that 90 percent or better was earned.
Within FLC, there are four smaller schools known as “mini schools” that focus on specific areas of education.
In the health science mini-school, course work prepares students with an interest in health occupations. Through medical terminology, Advance Placement courses, showings and internship programs, students receive college preparatory and work experience.
“We try to get all the students through the Nurses’ Assistant Training Program. So they leave the school with a certificate for a nurses’ assistant so that going onto college, they have another skill that they can fall back on for weekends or summers to make a decent dollar not just minimum wage,” Staniskis said.
Health science major students are also involved in extracurricular activities including Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA), The Red Cross Club, Science Fair Club and other leadership and summer workshops.
Eleventh-grader, Briana Stephens, is a member of The Red Cross Club and explained how her interest in health science developed.
“I want to be an obstetrician and gynecologist. When I was growing up, my mom used to watch the special delivery channel and I got interested in it and besides my mom had high risk pregnancies,” Stephens said.
Currently, there is construction going on in the school for renovations and add-on improvements for the future “health science suite.” FLC’s health science suite will support a mock hospital with six beds, doctor’s office and lecture area for students. According to Staniskis, construction should be completed by the end of this academic year.
Along with this project, there will be a new gymnasium floor with glass basketball backboards, an updated chemistry lab and a conference room equipped with white boards and wireless phones.
Students in the business technology mini-school are engaged in entrepreneurship, Advanced Placement computer science, Future Business Learning of America and internship opportunities. Additionally, students have the opportunity to obtain Industry-Recognized Certification as a Microsoft Office Specialist or in the International Computer Driving License Program.
For students who have an interest in the arts, dance, drama or music subject areas are apart of the Performing Arts mini-school. Throughout the year, there are dance recitals, musicals and art exhibits.
Senior, Andrew V. Cruz, played one of the leading roles as Radames in the school’s musical “Aida.” Last year, Cruz played the role of Aladdin in the school’s production of “Aladdin.” Despite his extensive experience, this actor has an interest in studying medicine and becoming a physical therapist.
“We have really good academics. That’s what attracted me to the school. I wanted to do acting, but I also wanted options just in case if I didn’t want to choose acting as a career option. I’m going to go to college for physical therapy. I wouldn’t have made that choice if I didn’t have the strong academic background from FLC,” Cruz said.
Not all students may know exactly which subject area fits them best. Here at FLC, there is a mini school called Humanities that allows students to explore various subject areas. However, this school focuses on SAT preparation, Mock Trials and problem solving activities.
Benabdellah Moueddene, also known as “Senor Ben”, teaches Spanish and French. Moueddene, originally from Algeria and a native French and Arabic speaker, has taught in the Philadelphia School District for 17 years. However this is his first year teaching at FLC. In Moueddene’s class, textbooks are not seen, but rather laptops, interactive websites and Rosetta Stone.
“We use technology all the time. [The students] are savvy also in technology. Sometimes they teach me something. It helps them focus and accomplish more than, you know, the traditional textbook,” Moueddene said.
In Whitt’s art appreciation class, an introduction class for ninth-graders, students infuse ancient Egyptian culture in their artwork. From the school’s production of “Aida,” students had the option of creating a parody using Egyptian art as inspiration with modern elements, a self-portrait of putting themselves in Egypt or doing a reproduction of an Egyptian art piece. Other classes made art that was used for the play.
Students learn drawling in perspective, portrait drawling, digital imaging, animation using iMovie and mural painting in other art classes.
From its history, national recognition, diversity, academic standards and options, students and staff praise the ability to learn and work in the educational environment created at FLC.
As part of its Holiday Caravan Charity Campaign, Lowe’s Home Improvement Company presented Rudolph Blankenburg Elementary School with a $15,000 gift card.
Store Manager Joe Crescenzo, from Lowe’s Store 2378 located on 1500 North 50th St. in Philadelphia, presented the gift to the school.
Principal Malika Savoy-Brooks explained how important it was for Blankenburg to receive the gift.
“The award meant a lot to us because the connection we have with the community. Businesses giving back to the students and the community helped with enhancing the instructional climate,” Savoy-Brooks said.
According to Savoy-Brooks, the gift card money was allocated for outdoor landscaping improvement projects, shelving and organizational materials for classrooms.
“We want projects that we can include kids in, completing the landscaping portion near the playground so, it can have a lasting impact on them,” Savoy-Brooks said.
The Blankenburg administration wrote a proposal to the Philadelphia School District to approve these projects.
“The kids were very excited. The staff was appreciative giving ideas of what we could do to improve our building.”
Gospel singer and Praise 103.9 radio personality, Yolanda Adams and Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Hughes were also in attendance for the presentation.
After the gift card presentation, Lowe’s volunteers and Blankenburg teachers presented crafts such as, Build & Grow, to the students. Students assembled holiday ornaments in the gym.
Middle Years Alternative School (MYA) has special admissions, small class setting, relatable teachers and engaging class assignments where students are supported to reach academic excellence.
“We believe that all children have the ability to achieve,” Principal Kathleen Fitzpatrick said.
In her fourth year as principal, Fitzpatrick explains the philosophy of MYA and how its environment prepares students for future endeavors.
“We also believe that they come to us with a fresh start. Regardless of past failures, other issues, we believe that this is a fresh start in a new place. We want to move them forward. We want to prepare them for high school. We want them to leave us fully prepared to go to a challenging high school and be successful in a very challenging program,” Fitzpatrick said.
Previously, MYA was housed on 49th and Chestnut Streets. However, with weak infrastructure, the building was no longer safe. Therefore, decisions were made that MYA and Parkway West High School would share a building, where the schools are currently located at 47th and Fairmount Avenue.
There was still another issue. Sulzberger Middle School was at this new location. In order to make room for MYA and Parkway, Sulzberger students were disbanded to other schools in the area.
“A lot of people in the community had very strong ties to Sulzberger. Sulzberger has a lot of history in the city. Community members felt that the eighth-graders in particular [should] graduate at Sulzberger,” Fitzpatrick said.
Despite location changes, MYA is focused on academic achievement. According to Fitzpatrick, the success of making Adequate Yearly Progress consecutively since 2003 was to make students aware of their PSSA standings.
“We say all the time, ‘instructional time is protected time.’ Nothing can get in the way of classroom instruction. The teachers are very focused. They make the kids very goal orientated. We talk about data all the time and we make the kids aware of the data,” Fitzpatrick said.
“It’s not just about making AYP, it’s about learning. We don’t want to focus on the number, we want to focus on what kids retain throughout the year.”
With approximately 300 students, 23 staff members and 14 teachers, MYA provides an intimate community of educational focus.
“It’s difficult to run a school by yourself. In recent years, everyone here has a piece of what happens at MYA and we come together and put it all together,” Fitzpatrick said.
Staff member Betty Garner keeps students in line and peace throughout the hallways. She knows students’ first names and greets them as they walk to class. As a grandmother, she said she sent her grandchildren to MYA because “students are well behaved” and of the “small school atmosphere.”
“I like to check out the schools. I like the idea of the school. I liked it for my grandkids because it keeps them focused and we have some good teachers,” Garner said.
In Veronica Clymer’s information technology class, students learn practical skills when looking for a job. Students learn to research information about companies and write resumes and cover letters. She teaches students to be confident and prepared for interviews. Jokingly, Clymer laughs with the class about the statements made by people who are unprepared for job interviews.
“I had a student a few years ago and I said to her, ‘Listen.’ She had problems with her speech. I said things to her like, ‘Look. You can come to an interview and be completely dressed well, dressed for success. Your résumé, your cover letter, your references are all there and then you sit down and you open your mouth and you kill the whole interview,’ Clymer said.
She tells the eighth-grade students to think about their high school interviews. Clymer teaches students to be mindful of the language they use in a work place environment.
“Every time she spoke, it was always as though she was back in the neighborhood with her friends. I said to her, ‘You have to learn to turn that off.’ I’m not saying it’s not good to speak that way because if you speak that way with your friends and family, that’s fine,” Clymer said.
Eighth-grader, Raheem Naughty listens attentively in Clymer’s class as he takes notes. Naughty spends his time at the Kimmel Dance Center and local church. He is also a member of the MYA drumline and school band. Naughty said he is prepared for high school because of the efforts of his teachers.
“My favorite part about this school are the teachers because they really help us out a lot. Whenever we need them, they help us,” Naughty said.
“I like the teachers because a lot of them are young and relatable,” David Redmond said in seventh-grade science class.
“They give me a lot of opportunities to do better, to do good and the [school’s system] helps you stay on track and do all of your homework.”
Anjane Woolford said she is looking forward to learning new “stuff” in Cheryl Bryant’s fifth-grade class.
“I like Ms. Bryant and how she teaches stuff in different ways,” Woolford said.
Bryant is a first year teacher at MYA and a novice in the middle school environment. However, she was a reading specialist for several years in various Philadelphia elementary schools. Bryant said MYA students’ eagerness to learn is impressive.
“The children are very enthusiastic about learning. They love learning. They have a thirst for knowledge. They want to learn more. That inspires me to want to do more,” Bryant said.
“I try to meet the needs for each student. Whether giving them enrichment or support, they actually help each other a lot. That helps me when they want to help each other.”
As Woolford works on her State Fair project, she opens her textbook to find information about the state bird, flower, history and special attractions of New Mexico. Each student in the two fifth-grade classes is responsible for making a poster of their assigned state.
The fifth-grade class does several engaging assignments. Bryant said her favorite project was when students drew their shadows. In the morning, students drew their shadow and made a prediction if their shadow changed when they drew their shadow again during the afternoon.
“When they got out there, they were just so excited. I think it was one of the most exciting projects they have done this year. They were just excited about seeing and finding out the fact that if those things really did come true, what they had predicted,” Bryant said.
“I’m challenging them more. I look forward to giving them some more challenging work and hopefully some more excited projects.”
Hearing the pitter-patter of dancers’ feet, the harmonizing sounds of vocalists and seeing the clay covered hands of students in ceramic class are some of the activities going on during a normal school day.
“Living the experience,” says Principal Johnny Whaley, is what sets the Philadelphia School of Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) apart from other public high schools in the district. Performing is not the school’s focus, but rather academics and an introduction to college expectations.
“I’m always amazed at the fact that people don’t realize — and parents don’t realize — that we are essentially a college preparatory program with a focus on performance. People tend to think that [because of] the name of the school, the focus is on the art piece, but it’s really not. There are people in the district that don’t understand what we do,” Whaley said.
Jacqui Stallworth is the graphic design and commercial art teacher. Within her five years of teaching at CAPA, her most memorable experience is when alumni visit and share experiences of their college education. Jokingly she said that former students tell her that they teach classes.
“A couple of our kids say they’re actually bored in class [in college] because they knew how to do all the stuff the teacher was teaching [them]. I said, ‘Good, well I’m sorry you’re wasting your money, but I’m glad that I prepared you for that,’” Stallworth said. “That’s ultimately my goal, to make them ready to leave.”
According to the 2010 High School Student Survey Report conducted by the district, 81 percent of CAPA students “feel their classes are preparing them for future academic and/or job success.” More than half of the students felt they are “being challenged in their coursework” and 82 percent of students agree that there is “at least one teacher who does extra to support them.”
Buzz. The bell rings and students have three minutes to get to class. As lockers slam and sneakers screech into classrooms, Whaley genuinely interacts with students knowing them on a first-name basis.
On the second floor, the mixed choir class auditions for the Harvest Vocal Recital. Freshman vocal majors, Sylvester Felton and Ashley Catanzaro sing “No Air” by Jordin Sparks, a duet featuring Chris Brown, for their audition. Both say that their experience at CAPA is rewarding because the dynamics of peers and teachers allows them to express their individualism.
“I can be myself here, because if I went to Frankford, my neighborhood school, I would have to change myself to fit in, but here I can be [myself],” said Felton.
“I like this school so much because nobody judges you here. You can be so open with yourself and free. Nobody is harsh and judgmental, so it gives me a chance to express myself,” said Catanzaro.
With similar sentiments, the student survey reported that peer influence has an impact on students. Seventy-two percent of students agree that, “their friends are committed to working hard in school.”
Walking past the choir room, the flute players rehearse in the hallway. Here, upperclassman Danae Savage, Dionne McCrae, Shonna Washington and Kimberly Granato figure out the tempo for the five-four time signature of “Rhythm Dance” as freshman flautists prepare to play.
Freshman flautist Keyshawna Robinson said she enjoys time with friends at lunch, rehearsing during second period, English class and learning playing techniques from upperclassman, especially the dynamics of a song, “like how to play louder or softer,” said Robinson.
CAPA students can major in six areas: creative writing, dance, drama, instrumental music, vocal music or visual arts. Approximately 150 students have a major and minor, but teachers encourage students to manage audition major first. Instrumental music majors must read music, and vocalists learn to perform in Spanish and Italian. Some students learn to perform in five languages.
In preparation for the winter performance season, dancers, vocalists and instrumentalists are rehearsing for the nation’s oldest Thanksgiving parade, the annual Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade. Other performances include the Harvest Vocal Recital, Holiday Dance Concert, Winter Instrumental Music Concert, Winter Vocal Concert, CAPA Caravan, Second Year Actor’s Play, Student Choreography Show and the African-American History Program.
As part of the various extra-curricular programs available to students, CAPA offers sports, as well. Partnered with South Philadelphia High School, students can choose from basketball, cross-country, softball, tennis and volleyball teams. This year, the Girls’ Volleyball team advanced to the District 12 AA playoffs to contend for the Public League Championship.
The school also houses “United Writers and Artists,” a literary magazine staffed by CAPA students. Here, students design layouts, create artwork and publish original poems, fictional and non-fictional stories. Students can pick up a free copy almost every month. Creative writers also have opportunities to use their skills at The Painted Word, the school newspaper, and with the yearbook.
There is a high level of competition and demand to get into CAPA. Yearly, about 3,000 applicants will apply, 1,200 will audition and 185 will be accepted into the high school.
“I tell parents we offer what you call, the reality-based dream. The reality is that there are unfortunately a lot of starving artists. We have students that come to us thinking they’re going to be the next star on the stage or screen because they been that way at their middle schools. We use that passion they have for the arts to motivate their academic development,” Whaley said. “You’ve heard of scholar athletes — I have scholar artists.”
Take a look inside room 211 and see fourth-graders Judah Logan, Jasmine Greene and Amira Ellis. The three students have books opened and are engaged in reading assignments. But, reading isn’t the only activity keeping the students’ interests. At John Story Jenks, the extra-curricular activities are popular among students.
In her fourth year as principal, Mary Williams Lynskey said her goal is to always have activities at Jenks. To provide enrichment activities to students, Lynskey began a program called JAM — Jenks Arts and Music Program — for students in the fourth through eighth grades. In JAM, students learn to play various instruments like the xylophone and guitar.
“The whole message behind that is we try and engage kids in their talent and area of interest so that if they feel successful in that, then they will see school as a success and it will bleed over in their academics. Every kid should have another level of engagement outside of academics,” Lynskey said.
And another level of engagement comes from students’ involvement in clubs. Seventh-graders Aniyah Pinkey, Christine Dawson-Hanies, Tyler Godwin and Jaquann Henderson participate in student council, recycling club, yearbook, market place, safety patrol and choir.
In the market place club, students get the opportunity to sell healthy snacks to their peers.
Students also receive foreign language education. The third through eighth grades include Spanish, French, German and Mandarin. In sixth grade, students receive a Rosetta Stone license for independent study of one of the four languages. Parents are also invited to have a license at home for a family learning experience.
“We’re very proud of that,” Lynskey said. “We want to prepare them for the highest [ranked] high schools and [are] trying to get students to think like high school students.”
Other amenities at Jenks are the Wii Fitness Center and a rock-climbing wall.
Despite tight budgets of the district, Lynskey said she wants to maintain programming.
“Let’s give them the middle school experience because that’s something that they’re going to need to help alleviate any fears of high school — because they at least would have had a locker [and] going to different teachers with different expertise,” Lynskey said.
Eighth-grader Mikhaela Bass has been in the gifted program since sixth grade. With plans to attend Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) High School for creative writing, Science Leadership Academy, Engineering and Science High School, Parkway North West or Constitution High School, Mikhaela said her most memorable experiences were field trips to Washington.
Similarly, eighth-grader Kai Jones enjoyed the tour of the White House. From her experiences in the career club for girls, Jones plans to study modeling or nursing after high school. With plans of attending Franklin Leadership Center, Science Leadership, Girls’ High or Motivation High School, Jones said she appreciates what she’s learned at Jenks.
“The teachers are really nice. They encourage us. They are motivating us to try harder,” Jones said.
Eighth-grader Amaia Bowman plans to take a different direction. With interests in singing and acting, Bowman said her most memorable experience was playing Miss Hannigan in the school musical “Annie.”
“At the end of the show, everybody stood up and gave me a big round of applause and I just remember going home that night and I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes, I finally did it,’” Bowman said.
This year’s play was the “Wizard of Oz.” Bowman played the Wicked Witch of the West.
The actress wants to continue her talents in high school. She plans to attend CAPA, Girls’ High School, Parkway North West or Franklin Learning Center.
Didn’t make the musical, or participate in Art Day or Literacy Week? No worries. According to Lynskey, there are many opportunities for community involvement.
“Our whole calendar is based around events. One of our goals is to say, ‘something is always happening at Jenks.’ There’s a lot of nice moments,” Lynskey said.
Pink and yellow paper cutouts of fish filled his bulletin board. Pink fish indicate school improvements and yellow fish represent positive aspects. With this system, first-year Principal Christopher Wiler is implementing new ways to improve F. Amedee Bregy Elementary School’s environment.
Frequently using the phrase, “I appreciate you,” Wiler has found ways to increase the morale of students and staff.
“Bregy School is a place where the key to increased academic achievement begins with happy learners and staff members. When all stakeholders feel appreciated and safe, challenging learning experiences are the focus,” Wilder said.
Fifth-year school counselor Lisa Bronca said she has seen a difference in the lives of students and staff because of Wiler’s efforts.
“This is his first year here and he has made such a difference in a matter of a few months. He goes above and beyond. He’s stern, but kind. He has a lot of incentives for the kids. He’s helped boost up the staff’s self-esteem as well as the students’,” Bronca said.
During this academic year, an incentive for students was a trip to the Blue Cross River Rink at Penn’s Landing for demonstrating Bregy Pride (school pride).
“I like working with Principal Wiler. He’s great. He’s always open to new ideas, new ways of doing things. He’s bringing a lot of new vibes to this school. He’s very energetic, which pumps the kids up and pumps the adults up. It makes you feel good. He’s just been sunshine to the school,” Teacher leader Dr. Karen Chamberlain said.
Eighth-grade student council members Jamie Storms, president, Jayson Dougherty, vice president, Isabella Beate, treasure and Kiera King, secretary share their perspectives of Wiler.
“He’s definitely a hands-on principal. He doesn’t just try having teachers instruct you. If he gives you responsibility, he’ll come and help you. He’s a big help and he cares for the students,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty and King accredited Wiler with keeping Bregy traditions, but reviving its climate.
“He’s completely fixing this school up. This school was built in 1923, so it’s been around for a long time, so he’s just trying to bring it back to life,” Dougherty said.
“He knows where the students are coming from because he’s been a teacher for so long. He tries to make the kids have a better environment to learn,” King said.
According to Storms, Wiler gives instruction to students needing assistance, especially when it comes to new technologies.
“He tries to get to know the kids. When we got our new calculators, for the eighth grade, he came up and showed us how to use them,” Storms said.
On Wednesdays at 2:15 in the afternoon, check out Wiler teaching fifth-graders in the auditorium some PSSA testing strategies. He also spends time helping students with their journal writing to increase writing performance levels.
This is it, senior year, and the final chapter of high school. College applications are mailed out, and students wait to hear back from their dream schools. Some spend time at internships, as others prepare for avenues in collegiate sports.
According to the 2011 School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Accountability Annual School Report, 100 percent of students at Franklin Learning Center graduated on time during the 2010–2011 academic school year. This year, four students reflect on their experiences of academic accomplishments, athletic achievements, participation in extracurricular activities and discuss practical social skills learned during their time at FLC.
After flying over 5,000 miles from Syria to Philadelphia more than four years ago, Tarek Kerbag has made several accomplishments in his high school career.
Kerbag is class president and a dual athlete playing for the boy’s soccer and volleyball teams. He has received First Team and All-Star in soccer this year. He made All-Public, a first for FLC, and All-Star recognition in volleyball last year. Kerbag said the school’s grading system motivated him throughout high school.
“When I heard about the credit system, that’s why I chose this school. Honestly, I did so much progress that I never thought I would do since I came from a different country. In the four and a half years, I never thought I would be on the top of the [class],” Kerbag said.
“Since this school has a credit system, it forces you to go up to that 80 percent at least, nothing below that. That’s how it helped me. In one year, you could finish one class and move to the next. I didn’t have to wait for the rest of the class. This is something special about this school.”
Kerbag has applied to 10 colleges and so far has heard back from Ducane, Tiffin and Louisville University. He said he wants to play both sports in college.
Communication and technology major, Ja’nese L. Felder said she chose to attend FLC for her major, the credit system and extra curricular activities.
There are over 15 clubs students are active in, such as, Science Fair Club, Poetry Club and Stage Crew. There are over ten sports teams including Co-ed Dance, Badminton, Bowling, Golf and Tennis. Co-ed Cross Country, Cheerleading, Boy’s Varsity Basketball, Girl’s Softball, Boy’s Varsity Baseball and Co-ed Track and Field all received high honors in their divisions.
“My most memorable experience I would say was coming to the school, because I don’t think I would be the person I am today or have met the people I know now,” Felder said.
Felder has been accepted to East Stroudsburg, Holy Family, Arcadia and LaSalle University.
Sheila Pica majors in business technology and is from Puerto Rico. Pica said the school’s diversity sparked her interests.
“I like to learn about people’s backgrounds and where they come from. Their whole journey to how they became who they are today. I see at FLC you can find that. You can learn from other people’s background and they can learn from you. You can relate to them in many different ways,” Pica said.
While attending FLC, she has interned at Glasko Smith Kline as an assistant secretary for two years helping with various technology projects. Pica said the opportunity she had at her internship helped her develop skills.
“My internship has really been a huge influence in my life and has helped me [become] the person I am today,” Pica said.
As a student class representative, Pica encourages the younger students to make an active effort to meet people during high school.
“I just kind of tell freshman to get involved, to have networking skills, have connections, go out there, don’t be shy, talk to people, meet people, get to know them. So that when it comes to colleges, to a job, you have connections and use them as your reference,” Pica said.
As the first FLC representative of the 2011 Nike SPARQ Combine, which was highlighted by ESPN High School Football, Borbor Kesselly is a top football prospect in the Class of 2012 and 2013. Additionally, Kesselly is the first to make All-Public for football at FLC.
“When they first developed a football team — that was my favorite moment. When I came here freshman year, the school was perfect for me. Everything was perfect, but they didn’t have a football team. I told Ms. Sullivan about it, and she really started to get the team and that was good,” Kesselly said.
Kesselly is said he wants to play at Temple University and major in architecture. He accredits his success to the school’s principal, Dr. Charles C. Staniskis.
“I come in here and talk to Doc everyday. We’re really cool. We really talk about things, and he really motivates me,” Kesselly said.
As these students embark on their journeys into college, Kerbag, Felder, Pica and Kesselly agree that FLC has prepared them academically, athletically and socially.
Three years ago, there was no argument that Middle Years Alternative School (MYA) should have a debate team. From the high caliber of students’ academic level, and with the help of Jeremy Shinefeld, MYA has a reputation of being middle school debate champions.
Shinefeld, a third-year special education liaison teacher at MYA, had previously coached a debate team at William Penn High School, which is now closed. Shinefeld said he wanted to create a similar team at MYA.
“When I came here, I thought it would be a worthwhile thing to start up,” Shinefeld said.
“He’s done a wonderful job with them. They do great things,” Principal Kathleen Fitzpatrick said.
In order to be on the debate team, students participate in a program called Emerging Scholars. On Fridays, the entire school has an elective period to engage in enrichment activities such as poetry, art, music, dance, chess and the debate team. MYA has partnered with Penn for Youth Debate (PFYD), University of Pennsylvania undergrad students who volunteer to work with students on various educational projects during Emerging Scholars.
“It’s just a lot of fun. We get a lot done and they’re incredibly motivated and incredibly engaged. I like watching the students over the course of the year and from year to year. The way they grow is unbelievable. It helps their literacy. I’ve seen students who came in barely literate who are now reading,” Shinefeld said.
Shinefeld explained more about the educational experience learned as a member of the debate team.
“They learn more about research in this than I think they do elsewhere. They learn about everything from writing a paper, to proper citation, how to formulate an argument clearly. Just basic logic. They don’t teach logic unless you’re in college,” Shinefeld said.
Currently, the team is preparing for spring tournaments. To prepare for competitions, Shinefeld holds after-school practices. The team studies Supreme Court cases, reads the U.S. Constitution and looks over previous debate questions.
There are about 16 students on the team. One student, David Redmond is active on the team. As a trombone player for three years, Redmond was recommended by teachers to join the team.
“[Shinefeld] said I was good at it because I could bring up a good point,” Redmond said.
Redmond said his favorite subject is math, and explained why the debate team is influential in his personal development and educational career.
“Leadership, it’s like the biggest and responsibility because you have a lot of homework and preparations you have to do good in the competition.”
Redmond does admit that he was nervous during his first debate, which discussed the private ownership of handguns in the United States.
He said balancing the trombone and studying for the debate team is challenging, too, because his mom works in the morning and his dad works at night. However, Redmond found his system of success.
“I try to practice [the trombone] in the morning when my mom is awake and I practice my debate at night because that’s silent,” Redmond said.
Since the MYA’s debate team has been established, they have won consecutively at the Penn for Youth Debate Fall/Spring Tournaments.
In 2011, the team received first place overall in both the spring and fall tournaments.
The MYA team participated in the 2010 Penn for Youth Debate. The fourth annual tournament featured ninety students from high schools and middle schools around the city of Philadelphia. This was the largest edition of the tournament.
From MYA, Dhamir Cosby, Sulaiman Sabre, Francis Strobel and Rohan Bennett were Quarterfinalists. Robert DeBeary and George McGriff were Finalists. Mikaela Lee and Devon Burton were middle school tournament champions. First place top speaker was given to George McGriff. Third place was given to Dhamir Cosby. Lee and Burton were also the champions of the middle school division.
Recognized and funded by Penn, PFYD runs this tournament including the Liberty Bell Classic.
Shinefeld said he wants students to realize that overall this experience will help them develop essential skills.
“I hope the kids learn to think. It’s a lot of teaching the kids what they need to know, not much teaching of how to think. Think clearly, speak clearly and read well,” Shinefeld said.