Take a look inside John Reinhard’s math room and see eighth-graders Conwhite Speller and Kiersten Worrell. The two students have notebooks opened and are engaged with the math problems the teacher assigned. With summer officially over, the students of Grover Washington Jr. Middle School are eager to learn and embrace everything this upcoming school year has to offer.
“I’m actually excited to be back at Grover Washington,” Speller said. “This year, I think I will learn more because a lot of our teachers are preparing us for when we enter high school. Most people who enter high school are already nervous, but by our teachers helping us prepare for the ninth grade now, I definitely think it will help all of us in the long run.”
For fifth-grader Cilah Velez-Reid, the start of school just didn’t mean the end of her summer-it also meant starting a new educational journey at Grover Washington.
“Summer ending for me this year is a little different from past years,” Reid said. “This year I’m starting at a new school, which is Grover Washington. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I’m not nervous at all. I’m interested in science and athletics, so I’m looking forward to learning more about science and participating in cheerleading and softball.”
Named after the late, great saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. for his dedication to the Philadelphia community and its children, the school is known for its music curriculum and programs. The district has two new music teachers this school year. Grover Washington has four itinerant music teachers that come into the school through the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP), which provides quality arts in education experiences for children. The partnership includes teaching art through math and math through art. The partnership also includes STEM education through technology.
“This school is preparing me for my future in a lot of different ways,” Worrell said. “I’m very involved with everything at the school. I’m in the choir, I play the violin, I’ve been in some of the school musicals, and also play field hockey. I just like to be active, I’ve always looked at school as a place to get a quality education, but I always wanted to take full advantage of everything the school has to offer also. Because this is a music school, I have received a lot more opportunities than other schools. I’m looking forward to continuing my education here this school year.”
Fifth-grader Kiyah Jackson was also excited about the new school year. This is the first year that Jackson is attending Grover Washington. She is already looking forward to learning more about the music program.
“It was a little adjustment for me coming here,” Jackson said. “It was a new building and atmosphere, but so far everything is going good. The teachers and others students have been nice. I’m already interested in learning more about the different genres of music. I don’t know too much about different instruments and genres of music, so I’m excited about getting to know more about that. I’ve always been interested in playing the violin and now I have the opportunity to learn.”
In addition to the schools music curriculum and programs, Grover Washington is known for being a diverse school. While 60 percent of the 735 students are from the African Diaspora — African Americans, Caribbean Americans and native Africans — about 20 percent are of Asian descent and another 20 percent are Latino, according to principal Terry Pearsall Hargett. Yet another thing that is unique about Grover Washington is that many of the administrators and staff either have roots in or still reside in the neighborhood.
Grover Washington is in the early stages of cataloging items in the building. The school plan is to give away the good items to families, organizations, and possible schools in Haiti.
“What makes our school so unique is not only the arts, but how diverse our school is,” Hargett said. “I want my students to not only learn at school, but to also have a sense of community and give back. “Haiti is still struggling and their families are sitting right here in the community. This is an opportunity to support another community that’s half a world away. Our kids can learn so many skills in the process and it helps them to have empathy for other people. We want our students to succeed and grow academically and personally.”