The Philadelphia High School for Girls is empowering future female leaders. This year’s graduating class demonstrates this in several ways. First, 100 percent of the June graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. Secondly, more than half have received full or partial scholarships to continue their education. Lastly, their academic, athletic and aesthetic legacy has created multi-dimensional young women ready to take on any challenge.
Girls’ High principal Dr. Parthenia Moore is proud of the invigorated legacy at the school she herself calls alma mater. This is her second year at the helm of the city’s only all-girls public secondary school. She said she is continuing to create an environment within the pink marble hallways where mediocrity is not tolerated and distinction is the hallmark.
“We are focused on excellence,” said Moore. “We let the students know that they can embark on every career, which they are carrying on the legacy of many who graduated from Girls’ High, and that they, too, can excel. We have great pride in academics and our AP, IB and honors students get a chance to raise their GPAs beyond 4.0. Right now we have several students who have GPAs like 4.06 and 4.089.”
Moore is quick to add that “sisterhood” is a primary theme at the school located at 1400 W. Olney Ave. While the school has already a “big sister/little sister” mentoring relationship between seniors and freshmen, there’s a new addition. Now the “middle children are not neglected,” according to Moore as the sophomores and juniors are involved in a cross-mentoring project.
This is all part of the networking that exemplifies Girls’ High, said Moore. As an alumnus she is well aware of how maintaining connections with fellow alums has both personal and professional benefits. “I stress that this is an intrical part of who we are and that these relationships are priceless,” Moore said.
The spirit of excellence, sisterhood and networking resonates from the Girls’ High faculty. Just ask Dr. Joy Friedlander, the dance instructor. When “The Learning Key” caught up with her she had dance students on the auditorium stage fine tuning their interpretive expressions for the “Chrysalis: The Movement of Women” program that was held on Thursday, May 17.
“This is the history of women taking the audience decade by decade into the lives of 120 of them,” said Friedlander, who has been teaching at Girls’ High for 12 years. “Women were minority and they were oppressed. So the dance shows the struggles and the suppressing of how women were stymied. That’s only half the story since as they overcome they struggle they learned that they could fly.”
History teacher Brenden Jobs has been bringing to life both African American history and the history of the United States, including the female journey, for half a decade at Girls’ High. He is the recipient of the Educational Pioneer Fellowship through the Washington, D. C. based Seed Foundation. He just earned his master’s degree last year in education specializing in teaching, learning and curriculum development from the University of Pennsylvania.
“This is an awesome place to teach,” Jobs said, who hopes to obtain his national board certification by November. “The students are nice, smart, and eager to learn. They truly want to be the best they can be. They motivate me to be the best I can be.”
Jobs interacts with a room full of seniors. They all stress that Girls’ High has provided then with the foundation they need to pursue different careers. There’s students like Ayo Keys, whose love of art is leading her to study creative design and fashion journalism in New York City, while aspiring physician Gabrielle Smith just received a biology scholarship to Barnard College. Lexus Jessup is proud of her full scholarship to Lock Haven, while Amanda Spearman of Northeast Philadelphia said she will be taking “the sisterhood and results of great teaching” with her to the University of Pittsburgh.
Language arts teacher Xueling Qu has earned awards for teaching Mandarin Chinese. Her teaching prowess is evident as she leads a group of third year honors students through a lesson where they must translate an advertisement into Mandarin. Qu only speaks in the Chinese language and students easily dialogue with her.
“I really enjoy this even though at times it is hard, but I may be able to use in later on the job,” said 16-year old Nicole Glover of North Philadelphia. Glover began taking Mandarin while a middle school student at the General George A. McCall Elementary School in Center City. She hopes to become a bilingual psychiatrist in the future.
Yet the old adage “all work and no play” is not a mantra for the typical Girls’ High student. Gym teacher, Bill Edger, can attest to that as he points to the group of scholars who become energized in perfect unison when the Wii dance routine hits the gymnasium wall.
Edger, who has been teaching in the Philadelphia School District for more than 38 years and at Girls’ High over the last 7 years, said that students earned a CPR Olympic grant that enabled them to get the Wii. There are also many enthusiastic athletes who come to school as early as 7 a.m. and stay until past 6 p.m. to hone their athletic skills.
Students also excel in the visual and performing arts as well. Art teacher Joseph Marchetti is quick to show off the creations students made by recycling as well as more traditional portraits and painting. Junior Ciara Williford, 17, of Northeast Philadelphia shows off her black, gray and white abstract painting. “I really want to be artist and study at either LaSalle, Temple, Miami State or the University of Pennsylvania,” Williford said.
Bassist Jaleh Wood, an 18-year old senior from West Oak Lane, is quick to try her hand at the recently donated harp to the school’s music department. A sextet of “roving strings” (violins and violas) join her as they pass more than a dozen upright pianos students practice on before the school day starts.
“There’s just so much energy and a lot of diversity at this school,” said Nicole Ismael, the senior class president. “When you leave here you can major in almost anything in college. I plan to major in business administration management at Temple University and then own my own business.
“I feel that this school encourages leadership. I have been given the opportunity to take a leadership role here. I work on many projects where I develop those leadership skills and networking ability. I think this will serve me well not only in higher education but in running a business,” Ismael said.
Moore agreed. She said that Ismael’s “elevator pitch” about what she learned at Girl’s High and easily translating it into her future endeavors is what the young ladies learn there. “They understand the intrinsic value of those intangible things that you learn outside the classroom as well as all the great things that happens in the classrooms. The teachers, too, are always excelling and striving — this is what makes us all rise to a level that is more stellar,” Moore said.