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.”
At Penrose Elementary School, students are learning more than reading, writing and arithmetic. They are also learning history lessons, how to solve math problems and how to write stories — lessons that show how their education relates to everyday life.
“I have learned so much from this school so far,” said third-grader Morgan Thomas. “If I haven’t learned something from my teachers, I’ve learned something from other students. We all push each other.”
For third-grader Amruta Holavanahalli, any class that she takes with Mrs. Scalon is fun.
“Mrs. Scanlon is a great teacher,” Holavanahalli said. “I’ve learned so much in her classes. She makes sure we do everything to the best of our ability. She’s willing to help when we don’t understand something. She makes learning fun. I’m really happy she is my teacher.”
The mission of Penrose School is to provide opportunities for all students to reach their personal best. The school strives to consistently deliver research-based, quality instruction in the core content areas of reading, math, science, social studies, and 21st Century technology. The school has 642 students.
“My favorite subject this year would have to be math, but I really just like learning about new things,” said third-grader William Quiros. “The teachers that I have make every subject interesting and fun, so it’s kind of hard to not like something at this school. I learned a lot so far, but I’m looking forward to learning more this school year.”
In addition to the school extracurricular activities, other highlights of the school include art, computer, gym classes, a fitness workout room, and a state of the art library. The school also has a parent volunteer program and an Eagles Vision van program.
One initiative that is new at Penrose this year is “Nickles for Sickles.” The initiative is the school’s way to bring awareness to sickle cell disease. For three months, students learned about the disease through various projects. The culminating event took place on Nov. 16, where all students participated in a walk. The money that was raised from the fundraiser went to the National Sickle Cell Society of Philadelphia.
“We wanted to look at sickle cell disease because there are people in our community who have the disease as well as students in our school,” said principal Huie Douglas. “The fundraiser was our way of educating both the community and the students about the disease itself. It was truly a collective effort between the students, staff, teachers, parents, and the community. The money we raised went to a good cause, but I also wanted the students gain knowledge from the research that they did. We wanted to use our means at the school to help and impact the community, and I think we did just that through this project.”
Eighth-grader Bafode Keita said the fundraiser helped bring the community and the students together.
“It’s never easy for anyone to have an illness or to be sick, but I think what made this project so unique is the support everyone received,” said Keita. “A lot of the students didn’t really know what sickle cell was, but once we researched it and learned more about, we all knew how important it was to bring awareness to it. This project was a learning experience for everyone. I’m just happy we were able to make a difference.”
For eighth-grader Ndeen Al-Barqawi attending Penrose has not only helped her become a better student, but also person. She has been attending the school since first grade. She wants to attend Academy at Palumbo for high school.
“We are getting so many experiences at this school,” said Al-Barqawi. “We’re not just learning at the school, but we are also learning about the world. Everything is hands-on and everything that we learn connects with what happens in everyday life, which makes going here a life lesson. I truly learned a lot her. This school has helped me become a better student and person. I’m looking forward to building on what I learned here in high school.”
Often called “The Country Campus for College Bound,” Lankenau High School is a magnet environmental science school that is geared toward getting its students into colleges.
In addition to boasting a 90 percent attendance rate, Lankenau students score nearly double on standardized tests compared to city counterparts. Ninety-five percent of students attend college.
All students who attend Lankenau are transported from their neighborhoods to the school, some coming as far as Franklin Mills and others waking up five in the morning in order to get to school on time.
“Lankenau is a really good school,” said sophomore Janommys Bodden. “Even though Lankenau is known for being a science school, there is so much to the school than just that. They school offers us various programs that helps us push the limit academically as well as help us grow personally. Many of us come from different areas in the city and some of us wake up early just to get here, but it’s really cool to be a part of school that has so many students dedicated to preparing for their future.”
In May, the U.S News and World Report released their “Best High Schools” state lists, listing sixteen School District of Philadelphia high schools among the honorees in Pennsylvania.
Only 4,877 of the highest-scoring schools were ranked and/or recognized. Lankenau was recognized as a bronze medal school, making the school among the top 23 percent of the nation’s public high schools, as well as placing among the top 26 percent of Pennsylvania public high schools.
Some of the extra-curricular activities and clubs at Lankenau include: Grade recovery, credit recovery, year book club, chess club, dance team, college access, mentally gifted, Youthworks, and student government.
The school also has a travel program. Through the program, students visited France, Quebec and Montreal. Last year, students went to Costa Rica. Students had the opportunity to experience the rain forest, volcanoes, and interact with students from a local school. Students also went on night hikes, horseback riding, and zip-lined.
“This program is a good way for students to experience another part of the world through an environmental science experience,” said French teacher and advisor of the program Thomas Wolfinger. “A lot of the things that they learn in the classroom come to life through these trips. Our students are getting an academic and cultural experience. Not everyone lives the same way we do in the U.S., so students get a chance to see and experience other cultures while breaking down barriers in the process. It’s a good way for our students to get the most out of their academic career while at Lankenau.”
Students at Lankenau have the opportunity to take AP coursework and exams. The AP participation rate at Lankenau High School is 34 percent. Three AP courses at Lankenau have an environmental science focus including rain garden, Envirothon, and recycling.
“Going to Lankenau has helped me realize my future career path,” said senior Demitrious Harriott. “I’m good at math and science, so after doing a little research I decided I wanted my major to be chemical engineering. I currently take three science classes. Those classes will help me further my career when I go off to college. I already got accepted into Penn State, but I also applied to Howard and Pittsburgh. This school really strives to help you reach your full potential and succeed.”
For eighth-grader Jorel Thomas attending Lankenau is about taking advantage of the classes and programs at the school.
“This school is the ultimate learning experience,” Thomas said. “Through our classes and programs, we don’t just learn from our teachers, but from each other. I want to become an actor, so my experience here will help enhance my craft in the long run. I plan on participating in drama class and taking full advantage of everything this school has to offer. I want to succeed, and this is one of top schools in the city to help me do that.”
Robotics will be the newest program implemented into the school. Lankenau will be teaming up with Devry University to start a robotics. Devry University Director of Community Outreach Emily McGill and the college’s professors will work with science teachers at Lankenau. Since this would be the first time the school is starting the club, they would not be participating in any competitions this year.
“Our students are the ones who have been pushing for a Robotics club,” said principal Karen Dean. “Our chemistry teacher Angeline Johns will be working with the professors at the college. We take pride in giving our students the best education. We always had a emphasis on the science field at this school, but by adding robotics students will have a greater opportunity to look at a career in science.”
Known for its rigorous curriculum, extensive music and arts program, and various electives, Hill-Freedman Middle School continues to have its students perform at an advanced level.
“There is no other school like this one,” said eighth-grader Chyna Moore-Smith. “The opportunities here are endless. What makes this school so different is that everyone is on the same page; we help each other. I’ve learned so much at this school.”
Historically, there were two schools: Hill and Freedman. Hill housed the magnet school program and Freedman specialized in serving special needs students. Until a few years ago, both schools combined. Now students interact with one another during lunch, at assemblies, and electives classes.
“The electives is a good way for the magnet school students to have an opportunity to communicate their opinions on the interactions they have when taking classes with the special needs students,” said principal Anthony Majewski. “Before we had two separate schools, but now we’re integrating. Our goal as an international baccalaureate school is to honor students with special needs and to bring them into the fold. It’s been beneficial because it brings awareness to our magnet school students, but at the same time it build socialization for the students with special needs.”
Pamela Taylor Anderson, International Baccalaureate Middle Year Program Coordinator, says what makes this school unique is that the school provides the best opportunity for both magnet school students and special needs students through the experience of learning from each other.
“We are constantly thinking of new ways to expand on the learning experience at Hill-Freedman,” Anderson said. “We’re very active when in comes to engaging and including our special needs population. Everything that we have done so far has been very successful. The students have a natural excitement for learning here. The different electives the school offers really take their learning experience to the next level.”
Every other Thursday, students take elective classes with one another. Students learn from a range of subjects such as cartooning, baking, dance, sports fitness, international gaming, the glee project, world domination, and reduce, reuse, recycle. Students will have six session with the first elective they choose and six sessions for the second. The second sessions will start in February.
“When I was looking into the different electives, cartooning was the most natural fit me because I like to draw,” said seventh-grader Mikayla Green. “I eventually want to learn how to make a video game. I want to know more about the skills it takes to draw a video game and how that drawing transforms into the game itself.”
One of the popular electives at Hill-Freedman is the S.T.E.M. Squad. This elective provides students with additional time to learn computer programming and robotics. Students learn “Mind Craft,” a virtual world application offered through Temple University. Students will also learn additional laptop trouble shooting techniques to solve simple computer problems.
“S.T.E.M. Squad is fun,” said sixth-grader Jason Gleaton. “It’s a great way for me to know more about engineering, science, and robotics. Everything we work on has to be a certain way or won’t work. The harder we work as a team, the better the results will be when we’re done working on the object.”
For sixth-grader Dia Lee, S.T.E.M. Squad is all about taking advantage of something he already likes to do.
“I like Lego’s and building things with my hands,” Lee said. “S.T.E.M. Squad allows me to do those things, but on anther level. We build robots; it’s hard because when you’re building something every piece has to fall into place. If the pieces don’t fall into place, you’re back at the drawing board and have to start all over. It’s all worth it in the end when you see your final result.”
In addition to electives, Hill-Freedman is also implementing a S.T.E.M. course. S.T.E.M. educator Ambra Hook leads the course. The school recently teamed up with the University of Pennsylvania to work on the Zebra fish project. Students in the seventh-grade participated in the Zebra fish project.
“When Zebra fish lay eggs they develop back into an adult with 48 hours,” Hook said. “The instructors of Penn bought with them a male and female fish and special containers to keep them in. Once the eggs drop safely, the students were able to see the eggs through different stages of development through a microscope.
“When I came to Hill-Freedman, I wanted to give the students the best experience in S.T.E.M., whether it’s through robotics, computer, science, or engineering. I wanted the students to completely understand the concept of S.T.E.M. by giving them a hands-on experience through various classes. The feedback has been really good so far, and the students enjoy the classes that I teach.”
Hill-Freedman continues to expand on its academic excellence, but Majewski says there is one goal he has yet to achieve.
“We eventually want to expand the school, so that it would include a high school,” he said. “It’s something the parents, teachers, and students want. We’re still in the early stages of everything, but I think if we had our kids from sixth to 12th grade, we’ll be able to see our students grow to their full potential.”
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.”