Among the many high schools in Philadelphia, Central High School is the oldest in the district. Its doors opened in 1838 as the second public high school in the nation. There were four teachers and 63 students. Now, Central’s student population has reached approximately 2,360 students and over 100 teachers. There is a school president, similar to a principal, and three assistant principals.
Originally, Central housed an all boys’ population. Philadelphia High School for Girls was its counterpart. Until August 1983, the school became co-ed.
In 2011, Central was named a National Blue Ribbon School. Within the past decade, Central has consecutively made Adequate Yearly Progress and won 92 Public League Championships. Additionally, Central has had an extensive resume of national and international attention.
Before the first graduating class in 1842, Central held semi-annual commencements until 1965. Now, graduation happens annually, making this year's class the 271st graduating class of Central High School.
There are a host of notable Central Alumni who have excelled in careers of journalism, politics, science, math, technology, law, music, acting and education. Alain LeRoy Locke, author, philosopher and first African-American Rhodes Scholar, graduated in the 107th class. Frank “Tick” Coleman, educator and one of the first three known African-American Eagle Scouts, graduated in the 156th class. Philadelphia City councilman and son of former mayor W. Wilson Goode, W. Wilson Goode Jr. graduated in the 241st class. Seth Williams, district attorney of Philadelphia, graduated in the 244th class.
Through financial gifts of Central Alumni, the school was able to create a $6 million library. In Barnwell Library, there are several quiet rooms to study, computers are available for research and shelves filled with books. Additionally, there is a room full of memorabilia that showcases school apparel, trophies won and pictures of previous classes.
Students are kept engaged in academics, athletics and social experiences through several extra-curricular activities offered at Central.
Senior Jessica Beaver is an active member of the Central community. Beaver works as a student leader to one of the assistant principals, runs school tours and organizes the International Day, Career Day and High School Expo. She is the editor-in-chief of Mosaic, which is Central’s multicultural magazine, public relations officer of the concert choir and drama society and she’s involved with the school’s West Side Story musical.
“At Central, I have really have gotten to know and understand different types of people. At Central there is a representative from every part of the city and every ethnicity you could possibly think of. That interactive has prepared me, I think, for the real world as well as the academic side of it,” Beaver said. “Classes at Central are immensely challenging. The course load is heavy, and it’s comprehensive. So, I get a well-rounded education, a lot of hands on and simulated activities.”
Interactive activities are seen in room 328. Music teacher, Ben Blazer, assisted students with their presentations of musical periods in Western music.
Freshmen Genesis Sanchez, Genehia Walton and Najey McDuffie are preparing their PowerPoint presentation on the Renaissance musical era. These three students explained their experiences so far at Central. They liked attending the Freshmen Tea, an event that introduced ninth graders to activities and clubs at Central. Sanchez, Walton and McDuffie said they liked going to the school’s football and basketball games and lessons learned as freshmen.
Sanchez, a member of the track team and belly dance club, said she always enjoyed these activities and is excited to perform at Central’s Annual International Day in February.
Walton is thinking of being a member of the softball team and has interests in joining the school’s choir. She explained her sentiments about Central prior to attending and how those feelings have changed since the beginning of the school year.
“Now that I’m here, it’s not as hard as everybody talks about it. You got to actually stay on task. If you don’t stay on top of your work, keep organized and pay attention, then you’re going to be lost,” Walton said.
In contrast, McDuffie said she feels that the workload at Central is more than what she was used to as a student in middle school.
“Central was a lot different than my old school. The rigor of the work and how much work you get, homework, projects, tests every week. I wasn’t used to studying because I used to just know everything. Now, I really have to study,” McDuffie said.
Mia Clark, freshman and member of the self-defense club, discussed assignments given in classes, but said she has learned how to manage.
“It’s hard, I always knew it would be hard. Sometimes it might feel overwhelming because every teacher gives homework, but you figure out how to do it. You learn how to take care of yourself and you do learn a lot here [in Central],” Clark said.
As Clark sat in World History, the class prepared to play bingo with questions about Hinduism. Each student folded a loose-leaf piece of notebook paper into 16 squares. Students then answered 16 questions about the religion and wrote the answers in the boxes.
Lori Defields, an assistant principal, said it is interesting to see students engaged in interactive activities like educational bingo. She said teachers at Central like, George Filip, have the ability to make subject material more appealing to students.
“He engages the kids in a way that in English class, some teachers just can’t. He makes that class enjoyable for every student regardless of their talents, their skills and their interests. I really think he’s a really great teacher, but I go by what the kids say and the feedback I get is just phenomenal,” Defields said.
In a second level English class, Filip announced the three words of the day. Jokingly, he gave students the definitions of the words clandestine, acquiesce and acquiescence and asked them if they could use these words in their daily conversation.
Later as Filip handed pack chapter five review quizzes on the book “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, 10th-grader, Matrea Thomas cleared her desk to grade another classmate’s review quiz.
“He’s a good teacher. He’s different, but you’ll be able to understand him. Instead of just lecturing us he actually has conversations with us and conferences,” Thomas said.
Similarly, art department chair, Benjamin Walsh received praise from administration and students, as well.
“[He’s] highly talented,” Dr. Sheldon Pavel, president of Central, said.
“He wears so many hats. There’s not enough hours in the day for him,” Defields said.
As the web design teacher, member of the technology committee, swimming coach, the school’s Web designer and set designer for the school’s musicals, Walsh is engaged in many responsibilities at Central.
“It’s a busy day. As long as it benefits the students and everything that you do makes that piece more enriching for them and it gives them more tools and allows them to focus and learn more clearly,” Walsh said. “In the case of the play, it gives them a different experience outside the academic realm. That’s all worth it for me. I like being busy that way. I think most of it’s just making yourself available.”
In room 311, Walsh helped the web design class work on a five page website about environmental topics. In partnership with environmental science teacher, Galeet Cohen, the students will present their websites on Earth Day.
Senior, Naacara Edwards, chose to focus on global warming. She and her classmates used computer programs, Fireworks and Photoshop, to make interactive graphs and learned CSS computer code to make their sites from scratch. Edwards said she enjoyed creating the site for class and expressed her goals for college.
“I want to go to school for engineering so I could be a computer science engineer, but this is just for fun now,” Edwards said.
Built in the 1960s, previously a middle school and closed for two years for renovations, the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush opened its doors in 2008 and welcomed their first ninth grade students. Now, at the end of this academic year, Rush will say farewell to its first graduating class.
“These are the kids who helped start the school in so many different ways. We used them to help build the school. We made a lot of decisions together,” Principal Jessica Brown said.
Senior theater majors Tim Carlin and Rikki Harley offer their sentiments of their journey thus far through Rush. Carlin says he “always wanted to be different” and coming from a small Catholic school, he did not want follow his peers to a Catholic high school. Carlin says he was warmed up to the idea of being a pioneer of the school.
“I heard about an art school and I was like, ‘that would be really cool, that sounds just for me.’ I love the idea of all of us students taking part in building this school. Everyone that’s been here has made their mark,” Carlin said.
Harley had a different point of view.
“Knowing that we’re the first graduating class kind of threw me off at first because when we came here there weren’t any 10th graders, no 11th graders, no seniors. It was just us. It was weird. We’re like ‘we’re missing out on our high school experience,’ ” Harley said.
“We’re setting traditions and it’s a lot of pressure because you’re the first class.”
Being a peer mediator, engaging in student council, active in the yearbook club and helping freshman with monologues, both Harley and Carlin say their experiences at Rush have prepared them for life after high school.
“At Rush I feel the expectations are higher for us, in our grades and our behavior. I feel we’re held to a higher standard. Some things that happened at other high schools don’t happen at Rush. There’s a whole different environment and culture,” Harley said.
“One of the biggest things that I learned was personal responsibility. Nobody is forcing you to do the work. It’s on you. It’s on you to do the learning here. They provide the tools and you need to take it the next step,” Carlin said.
Core values of imagination, communication, empathy, perspective, analysis and commitment, also known as, “ICEPAC”, according to Brown, frame the school’s curriculum. Using these values in their daily lives, Brown says students will have the ability to communicate these values through art and technology.
“The vision of the school is to integrate the arts into the curriculum. That’s a piece here,” Brown said.
Technology also plays a major role in school curriculum. Students have access to Mac laptops in the classrooms to do research and work on assignments. Teachers use smart boards, as well. However, not every classroom is equipped with technology. Brown is finding ways to fund raise and look for grant money that would finance her technology initiatives.
“It’s always a challenge with funding. We make it work by sharing and doing a lot of collaboration in the school. The school couldn’t exist without the collaboration of the teachers and students in order to meet the specific goals of the school,” Brown said.
“They work with each other in a way that I never seen done in a school. Where if they want ideas for a unit and they want to include the arts, my biology teacher will talk to my art teacher and they work together in planning. That’s what partially makes this school so successful.”
Along with collaborations of the faculty, Brown says she can see the passion teachers have about teaching in the way that they spend long hours at school. Their willingness to stay after and meet with students shows the flexibility and commitment to the students.
Teachers like Lorraine Ustaris are praised by the principal for her efforts in the classroom. Ustaris teaches English and uses multimedia in the classroom. Listening to a student voice recording of an “I believe” essay, helps freshman Shaina Barrett understand the assignment.
During Ingrid Shinskie’s physics class, junior vocal majors Melvin Berrian, Kisha Davis and Somemore Love work together in a group to solve mathematical equations in preparation of the “quest”—a combination of quiz and test.
“For me, I like comparing answers. You can see where you went wrong. I like collaboration,” Berrian said.
“We do example problems off the smart board, we work in the textbook and we’ll do laps. She’s show us in the back and we’ll come back to our seats and do it. So we visually see it and see it in the textbook. We also watch videos,” Davis said.
Outside of physics, Berrian, Davis and Love enjoy learning to sing Hebrew, Latin and Spanish in music class. Davis says she feels that Rush is preparing her for the next level.
“By coming here, I feel that it will better prepare me. I’m learning theory and my voice is improving more. I have a lot of things under my belt. We do classical pieces, we do jazz pieces and that will help me in the future when I go to college,” Davis said.
“Five, six, seven, eight.”
“Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.”
Denise Masters counts the tempo and the student dancers respond by taping their metal soles on the hard wood floor. At Rush, students have the opportunity to chose a focus in dance. Along with tap, Masters teaches jazz, ballet and modern forms of dancing.
As a representative of the PIAA District XII, Public League, Rush offers girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, girls soccer, baseball and softball as apart of their athletic program. Students do have the option to join other sport teams as a part of a co-op with George Washington High School.
Even though the school has been opened for four years, Rush has created a learning environment and culture that has attracted a lot of attention. Each year, approximately 1,500 students apply, but only 150 students are selected to attend Rush. Despite small numbers of students, Brown accredits the school’s population as a special piece of the school.
“[At] this school, I know almost every student’s name. At a big school, you just won’t get that,” Brown said.
Students will compete for prizes of $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000
Abraham Lincoln High School, Central High School, Charles Carroll High School, Delaware Valley Charter High School, Germantown High School, Lankenau High School, Math and Science Technology Community Charter High School, and South Philadelphia High School are among the Southeastern Pennsylvania high schools that will square off in a region-wide community service competition against one of the area’s biggest rivals –– hunger.
Called Shire’s Great Food! Benefiting Philabundance, this unique food drive will take place from Feb. 15 to March 2. The goal: to collect 100 tons of food — the equivalent of 200,000 meals –– for families in need across the greater Philadelphia region.
“Our agencies have seen 26 percent more families coming to them for food assistance over the past year, which is putting a great strain on our already limited resources,” said Bill Clark, president and executive director of Philabundance. “Shire’s Great Food Fight! could not come at a better time. With support from high school students across the region, this drive will help us provide much-needed food for pantries across the Delaware Valley to help them meet the growing need.”
One of the Philadelphia schools will win a prize of at least $1,000. Shire will award seven prizes in all: $10,000 to the school that raises the most food as measured in pounds, $5,000 for the school that collects the most food in pounds per student and $1,000 to the school in each of the five Southeastern Pennsylvania counties that collects the most food in pounds in that county.
“In our first Great Food Fight! 18 schools collected 64 tons of food over the two-week drive. We want to build on that success to help even more people who are struggling,” said Mike Cola, president of Shire’s Specialty Pharmaceuticals business. “We encourage Philadelphia neighbors, community organizations, elementary and middle schools, and local businesses to reach out to their local participating high schools and get involved.”
Other participating schools include Bucks County schools Archbishop Wood High School and Holy Ghost Preparatory School. In Chester County, Center for Arts and Technology, Conestoga High School, Phoenixville High School and Renaissance Academy have stepped up to fight hunger. In Delaware County, participating schools are Marple Newtown High School, Penncrest High School, and Sun Valley High School. Montgomery County schools include Harriton High School, Lower Merion High School, Owen J. Roberts High School, Upper Moreland High School and one school that wants to remain anonymous.
For more information, visit http://www.philabundance.org/thegreatfoodfight.
Vibrant quilt designs and informational posters spread across the auditorium floor for the School District of Philadelphia’s 20th annual World AIDS Day Commemoration program honored several student artists and writers on Dec. 1 at Benjamin Franklin High School.
The artwork and essays were created by middle and high school students who participated in the art and literacy contest to highlight HIV prevention. This year’s theme was to focus on “Getting to Zero, Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.”
In seventh grade, the art contest winners — in order from first, second and third place — are Lisa Nguyen, Ashlee Valle and Tommy Duong of Conwell Middle School.
“I never actually met anyone with HIV, but I drew what lessons I learned from the assignment. I know that AIDS can’t choose who [it] wants to hop onto. You should stick to abstinence, so you don’t get AIDS. So I just interrupted that into my artwork,” Nguyen said.
Eighth-grade art winners were Jahara Rushman, Lisandra Santiago-Roberto and Maciej Pryzloos of Conwell Middle School.
“Actually, it was hard for hard me because I’m not that creative, but I know somebody that has HIV, so that helped me create the piece,” Santiago-Roberto said.
Ninth-grade art winners were Brace Garrett, Nyaa Lino and Kenyetta Taylor of Communications Technology High School. Tenth grade winners were Khadijah Gardner, Phylia Brewer and Princess Jackson from Communications Technology High School.
Eleventh-grade art winners were Ebone Bryant of Germantown High School, Kevin Norris of Dobbins High School, and Neale Brooks of Germantown High School. Dazha Bethel of Carver High School received honorable mention.
The senior class art winners were Leander Berry, Sierra Blagmon and Matisse Hill of Parkway West High School.
Along with the art contest, there were several literary contest winners. The ninth-grade winners — in order from first, second and third place — are Jade Truehart, Teasia Squire and Kanae’ Taylor of Carver High School.
Sakinah Braxton, tenth grade, and Makkah Hayes, eleventh grade, of Carver High School were literary contest winners. Twelfth-graders Brittany Williams, Zana Johnson and Erin Don Pailin of Parkway West High School won, too.
Brochure winners were Amy Vo, Natwain Francis and Donte’ Traynham of Communication Technology High School.
Winning students received certificates and a calendar in honor of HIV/AIDS prevention that was designed by students in the printing class at Dobbins High School.
The program included remarks from Lafayette Sanders, 24, who was prenatally infected and is living with HIV. At the age of 13, a few months after his mother passed, Sander’s grandmother took him to the doctor’s office for a checkup. The doctor then informed him that he was HIV positive.
“I became angry at myself, at my mother, I was even angry with God. Why am I dealing with this? I didn’t ask for this. This wasn’t my choice,” Sanders said.
Now, as an advocate, Sanders speaks to teens about his life experiences of growing up as a teen, having to take several pills daily and urges youth to use preventative and protective methods during sex.
“Currently, I’m only taking four pills once a day. These four pills keep me healthy so that I can live a long, productive life. I’m here today to remind you guys that just because someone has the disease, they can live a healthy full productive life,” Sanders said.
Other remarks were made by Leroy Nunery, School District acting CEO and superintendent, representatives from Family Planning Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania and American Red Cross.
Sterlen Barr, CEO and founder of Rapping About Prevention, did a special presentation to students as he rapped about a man he knew who had HIV.
Following this presentation, the Northeast High School Choir sang a hymn, as teacher and faculty members of the district lit several candles in honor of students who have died from HIV/AIDS over the past 20 years.
The event ended with a special dance performance from “Special ‘Efx.” This group of four young men break dance, even dance ballet, to popular dance tunes in a way to positively motivate other young people.
The students’ art work was displayed at the University of Pennsylvania for another event commemorating World AIDS Day, but the final destination for the art work will exhibit in the School District Education building.
Melissa Hogg teaches biology at Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush. As one of the first teachers at Rush, Hogg says over the past four years, she has seen this school grow into “a great school.”
“The fact that we’re an art school and I’m actually able to utilize talents and interests that the students have and have them apply them in the biology class room has been a great experience,” Hogg said.
Earlier in 2011, Hogg was a recipient of The Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. The Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation created the award in 2008 to recognize Philadelphia School District teachers for their educational leadership and public service.
Hogg was nominated by Principal Jessica Brown and awarded $3,500. According to Hogg, she used a portion of the funds to purchase classroom materials.
“It was nice to be recognized for all the hard work I do and all of us do,” Hogg said.
“You see her using 21st century tools. You see her integrating the arts. You see her teaching major concepts of biology in the way she does that is creative,” Brown said.
“I see her class as being rigorous. The kids are kept to high expectations and she’s extremely organized and I can see the preparation it takes for her in her planning process.”
Throughout the four years at Rush, Hogg says it’s hard to pick out one memorable moment, but says one group of people make teaching there a great experience.
“The students are what makes this school unique and special and makes it fun to teach,” Hogg said.
During lunch period and after school, Hogg goes the extra mile to offer students help with class work.
“I try to figure out how they learn best since there is multiple intelligences and every student doesn’t access information in the same way. So, I try to understand the student as a person and that helps me tap into whatever way they can access the information,” Hogg said.
Photography major Joe Botthof and theater major Rebecca Walter explained the ways in which Hogg has aided to their education of biology.
“Showing us different videos explaining the different compounds. Like how we get them, why we need them, so those are a really big help,” Botthof said.
“I’m a visual learner, so just reading out of a textbook, I don’t learn. Seeing it on the [smart] board helps me,” Walter said.
As Squirt and Crush, the class pet turtles, slash and swim around in their aquarium, Botthof feeds them before class begins.
The freshman biology class is learning about organic compounds. For their projects, students have to create digital compound posters. In groups, students design a blog and a poster. Carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids are the four organic compounds students can chose.
“The kids are using their artistic skills, recording podcasts, vocal students are recording songs and putting them on their posters,” Hogg said.
Naiomi Torres and Kristin Snitcher, both visual art majors, chose carbohydrates as their organic compound for the digital compound poster project. Both girls say that Hogg’s style of teaching helps them learn the material taught in Biology.
“For me, I’m learning. I knew these things, but I didn’t understand them. So when Ms. Hogg teaches us and the way she teaches us, I understand,” Torres said.
Even when the last bell rings, Hogg continues to offer her time to students as the sponsor of the school’s Girls for Change club. Additionally, as a participant in the Philadelphia Writing Project, she co-facilitated a 2010 two-week summer camp for young writers.
The Regional Talent Centers are offering free Saturday arts classes that are enabling students to be a part of unique and creative programs featuring state-of-the-art technology and resources that are not available in most schools. Talent Center Saturday classes offer digital photography, graphic design, hip-hop and modern dance, small group instrumental lessons and recording studio sessions at the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology (PCAT).
With most arts programming only being available for a price, the Talent Centers are allowing parents the opportunity to expose their children to productive and educational activities to enrich their Saturdays. They will also offer frequent special events for parents such as nutrition workshops, computer literacy and job readiness.
With locations in the Northwest (Martin Luther King High School) and in South Philadelphia (Universal Audenried Charter High School), the Regional Talent Centers is a free arts-based after-school program that has open and ongoing enrollment for all Philadelphia youth in grades 6–12. In addition to Saturday, the Talent Center offers classes during the week from Tuesday through Thursday. Through teaching art, dance, theater and music — the Talent Center emphasizes critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving — in addition to offering homework help and providing free nutritious lunches for all attendees.
Seventh-grader Meryi, who participates in the visual art class during the week, doesn’t mind waking up on Saturday morning for the Talent Center’s digital photography class. “I like photography because it’s different than what I do during the week at the Talent Center. I love photography; we learn about nature, we go outside, we walk around the building, we walk around the neighborhood,” she explained.
The importance of extracurricular activities is becoming increasingly evident as more research begins to develop. In addition to helping students discover different career interests, it aids in developing social skills by giving students the opportunity to find like-minded peers who share their same interests and hobbies. According to a study done by the Montana State University Extension Service, students involved in extracurricular activities are more likely to take on leadership roles, more willing to complete tasks, more comfortable with stating their opinion, more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to have annual incomes of $50,000 or greater.
The benefits of arts education have been consistently proven to help raise student performance in core academic disciplines. According to a report by the Arts Education Partnership, students who are exposed to drama, music and dance may have a better chance at understanding reading, writing and math in comparison to those who focus exclusively on academics.
“Arts education improves academic achievement, builds leadership in students, and develops critical thinking skills to prepare our students for a global society,” said Program Manager Virginia T. Lam, who also serves as the Music Education Content Specialist for the School District of Philadelphia.
Teaching artist and dance teacher for the South Philadelphia Talent Center Ras Mikey, emphasizes the importance of stimulating and nurturing students’ creativity.
“There aren’t a lot of platforms to express yourself as a creative youth in most environments and it gives them an outlet — something that is different from their normal academic schedule, but then also (it) relates to the academics, but is ultimately about them expressing who they are and their identities,” he said.
It is well known that positive experiences play a fundamental role in raising a happy and healthy child and extra-curricular activities and after-school programming provide a less restrictive environment than formal school, where students are free to be themselves, relax, and have fun, which is evident by the happy ambiance and smiling faces that abound at both Talent Center sites. Between the stage make-up tutorials in the theater class at South Philadelphia, to the trendy glee club (in which a spot is highly coveted by the students) in the music class at the Northwest site — excitement and creativity pulsate throughout both Centers with students who are eager to learn, try new activities, and make new friends.
“The Talent Center means a lot to us; the students, the chaperones, and the teachers,” Meryi said.
“We make new friends; we learn. We learn new things with our friends; new things that you’ve never learned before.”
The Regional Talent Centers are made possible by a grant of federal funds by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education Pennsylvania “21st Century Community Learning Centers” Program. For information on the Regional Talent Centers, go to www.philasd.org/talentcenters or contact Virginia T. Lam at (215) 400-5974.
The University of the Arts once again welcomed juniors and seniors from high schools into its pre-college summer institute. UArts has been touted as the country’s most dynamic summer program for students passionate about the visual and performing arts and this past summer proved to be no different.
It started July 10 with students moving onto the campus and taking courses. It ended Aug. 6. The acclaimed four-week residential programs rewarded the kids with three college credits.
“We have several programs. We have a dance program, musical theater, acting, art and media and a jazz program for music. And so, depending on what program the student was in, they participated in courses, college-level courses, from Monday through Friday,” Wingate said.
“The program also includes lots of field trips, going to see exhibitions or going to see guest artists. We also have some social activities that they get to participate in, field trips to the beach and New York City.”
She described how the pre-college institute helped to develop the kids beyond just academics.
“I think they’ve taken an incredible amount from the experience. Not only do they get the academic element of it, where they’re actually participating in college-level courses on a college campus, there’s also a social element of living in residence hall and being on their own even if it’s just for a couple of weeks that really sort of fosters their independence,” she said.
“So, what we saw a lot this summer was not only students who were learning new mediums, but sort of learning a whole new skill set that they could take with them.”
Wingate has been the program coordinator for over a year and a half, but was previously on the faculty and before that, a student.
“Each one of my roles has been very different. I loved being a student here in pre-college. I felt very much at home in the university, and that’s why I ended up choosing University of the Arts as the college I went to,” she said.
“So of course I loved being a student in the undergraduate program, and I researched how I could get involved.”
Christina Day, senior lecturer in the undergraduate crafts department, taught pre-college classes. She has been working with summer students since 2006.
“It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed, because getting to know students at that age right when they’re figuring out what they’re good at and what they like to do genuinely, it’s a really interesting age to be,” Day said.
The students are ages 16–18 and Day felt that this was just when they started to become more sure of themselves.
“They take a lot of risks. They’re willing to try different things,” she said.
“It’s really about turning people in the right direction.”
“I think situations like this, experiences like this help wake children a little bit earlier,” she added.
Richard Mitchell, 17, participated in the summer program for the second year in a row. He is now a senior at Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School and expressed satisfaction over his time spent enrolled in the UArts program.
“I actually live in the suburbs, and being able to come out to Philadelphia and just kind of experience what the atmosphere was like in the city, it was exciting and all around, it was just really awesome. I know that a lot of kids missed home, but to me, it was a chance to be independent. It was very freeing,” Mitchell said.
He said he wants to major in musical theater, adding that this program prepared him for the next challenge in his life.
“It made me realize that I was out there for myself and I had to do what I needed to do in order to be successful. So, it wasn’t intimidating. It was just more eye-opening,” he said.
Mitchell also offered advice for other students who were interested in participating in this program.
“They’re going to find out who they are and what they want to be through this experience,” he said.
Wingate had words of encouragement as well.
“We saw a lot of students who were starting to advocate for themselves, learned a lot more about themselves and trusted their instincts, were very confident by the end of the program,” she said.
“I would say that the three main tings that I hope they took away was number one confidence, number two, a new set of skills and techniques, and I guess I would say the third thing is, I hope they take away a broadened view of the arts.”
Instead of English class being a period of repetitive spelling words, a vague grammar overview and endless reading assignments, one teacher is infusing art and technology into his lesson plans.
In his third year of teaching English at the Philadelphia Creative and Performing Arts High School (CAPA), Peter Syoum’s classes are interactive for students, but also demand analysis and critical thinking of the literature they read.
Throughout the school year, Syoum will refer to paintings, bring in music and even sometimes have students act in class.
“Since they’re artists, I know that they appreciate the fact that we are doing more than just sitting and reading. We’re getting up and doing as much as we can. We’re always using art to the highest point to bring out the message in different literature,” said Syoum.
Whether students are in English 1, English 2 or in his playwriting classes, Syoum is known for using multimedia technology while teaching. There is a class website and blog. He uses video clips, interactive atlases, virtual field trips and Google Docs online. Classes also utilize Google Lit Trips — which uses Google Earth to show the journeys of literary characters. Google Lit Trip files are free downloads and students can also see the geographic locations of where stories were created.
“I found that technology is helping me a lot. It helps on all levels. … It’s not necessarily a replacement for anything, but it’s a facilitator.”
Tenth-grade film major, Dana Jolly, says writing can be a challenge, but Syoum is available to provide her with assistance.
“Writing is difficult. If I ask Mr. Syoum a question, he’ll answer it and help me out,” said Jolly.
“Students can write their papers, share their papers, edit their papers with anyone. They can talk to me at any point of day and night through e-mail or through comments on the class site or through Google Ddocs. So they are always supported,” said Syoum.
Parents are also involved with the class through e-mail chains. They can e-mail Syoum with any questions or concerns that they have, and he responds with instant feedback from his smartphone. This allows for quick communications between teacher and parents about grades and homework assignments.
“Parents used to be confused about what the child’s grade is; they don’t have to be anymore because we have online grades or I e-mail grades and they don’t have to depend on kids to bring grades back.”
Syoum says the most rewarding experience about teaching English at CAPA is that students have a passion for the arts.
“Definitely, the kids and their ability to see art and its importance in everything we do. Not only in the fact that they take art majors, but when they come to my class, they can see the importance of the art, they can see theme, they can see deeper than just the surface level of what we’re reading.”
Just as the first marking period comes to a close, and students begin to write drafts for a major writing assignment, Syoum stresses, “Perfection will come after you edit.”
“You can’t just write something down once and expect it to be perfect. What I found is a lot of young students don’t realize that it takes a while to get good at anything. That’s why it works best when I deal with the artists here because they understand in the art world that you can’t wake up one day and you’re Jennifer Hudson. You have to work at it, and the same goes for writing.”
Want to know more about what CAPA students are learning in English? Check out what Syoum is teaching, reading lists, useful links, class photos and other helpful forms and documents at http://sites.google.com/site/capaenglish2/.
Tips for Middle School Students
A new school year has started and for many students, it marks the threshold to a new beginning. For eighth-graders, it is their last year of transition before they enter the first year of high school and start seriously considering college.
There are many useful tips that eighth-graders can take advantage of while in the classroom this year to ensure successful educational futures.
Smiles and hugs greeted her as she walked in the hallways. As a first-year principal Rosalind Tharpe accepted the embraces; she said she always felt welcomed at General George G. Meade School.
“It’s just a big family,” Tharpe said.
For her, the connection to Meade is even bigger and more personal because her husband was a previous student. From this sense of family, Tharpe said the staff contributes to the positive and professionalism of the school.
“It’s a staff that you can tell genuinely cares about the kids. Many of the teachers have been here for a while, so they understand the community and the culture. When I walked in there’s a feeling of dedication. The kids and the family and the teachers, everybody pitches in,” Tharpe said.
Another aspect of Meade that Tharpe highlighted was the music program.
“The music program here is phenomenal. We are in partnership with Musicopia. All grades are musicians. It’s not just a select group; it’s every class. It just shows that everybody responds to music. Everybody has talent to see,” Tharpe said.
Patrick Urban leads the music program.
“He has a gift and he has a way to make music meaningful in a language that kids get.”
Fourth-grader Jhyir Champion likes to make beats and said he could be himself in music class.
“My favorite thing would be learning new music and usually being myself when I play music,” Champion said.
Classmate Mal-lik McLean has similar sentiments.
“My favorite thing about music is that you get to express yourself and learn new music that you never knew. [Music class] teaches you how to perform and face your fears,” McLean said.
“You really practice hard. Once you practice hard, put all your dedication into it and if you believe that you can do, put your mind to it. Usually when I’m having trouble doing something with music, there’s a little song I make up called ‘Hardwork and Dedication,’” Champion said.
“The enrichment engages them in a different way. Learning is not just books. It’s not just math,” Tharpe said. “You can’t have school without music or gym because you’ll bore the children. It’s all about them.”
Students are preparing for the May 31st spring concert.
Sixth-grade and English teacher, Lori Odum, leads sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students in the Young Playwrights Club. Students have the opportunity to write plays and perform them during a workshop. On June 5, professional actors will meet Meade playwrights and act out their plays.
“It’s a great program. It gives the kids a chance to express themselves. Their voices are actually heard through writing plays. They write about all kinds of things from bullyings, things going on in their families, illnesses and pressures of what’s going on, and they do it through writing. It’s just the best thing I’ve seen with this age group,” Odum said.
There are other programs at Meade. Deborah Hanson leads the Robotics Club. There is a mentally gifted program where students complete research projects. Student council gives students a voice to express their interests for school improvements. Monthly, the council meets with Tharpe. Additionally, there are the Experience Corp. tutors, a group of senior citizens who help students who have learning difficulties.
For the upcoming school year, Tharpe wants to bridge more connections with community partners and build a parents’ resource center.