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.”
U.S. News and World Report released their “Best High Schools” state lists last week, ranking eight School District of Philadelphia high schools among the honorees in Pennsylvania, and awarding Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration school as the number one high school in Pennsylvania overall.
To determine the Best High Schools in Pennsylvania, schools were analyzed at the state level based on how students performed on state assessments. Masterman students proved to be 98 percent proficient in reading, and 100 percent proficient in math. U.S. News also recognized that Masterman students boast a 94 percent participation rate in Advanced Placement coursework and exams, and score an 83.8 on the college readiness index.
Other District schools making the list were Central High School at number 10, High School of Creative and Performing Arts at number 19, Academy at Palumbo at number 21, Bodine William W High School at number 33, Girard Academic Music Program at number 40, Carver High School Engineering & Science at number 50, and Girls High School at number 51.
This was the fourth edition of the “Best High Schools” rankings. Click here to view the complete list.
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/.
As people begin considering ways to honor that special lady in their lives, SkyDiamond Productions presents the “Bridging the Gap” Mother’s Day Show,” taking place May 12 from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. at Penn’s Landing Caterers, Washington Avenue and Columbus Boulevard.
Hosted by 1360 AM radio personality King Arthur, also of Cruisin’ 92.1 FM, the show features The Delfonics Review with William “Poogie” Hart, Phyllies Intruders and The Destinations.
These esteemed veterans have made music history with hits such as “La La Means I Love You,” “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time?” “Somebody Loves You,” “Cowboys to Girls” and “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” and hoping to add to Philadelphia’s musical legacy will be 16-year-old Rabiyah, an up-and-coming jazz/R&B artist who cites Phyllis Hyman and Dianne Reeves as her chief influences.
Now causing quite a stir in venues throughout the city, Rabiyah, who is currently a junior at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), began her young career as a student of Sherry Butler at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz, and made a serious commitment to the idiom after seeing Dianne Reeves in concert.
“I just like that jazz is so laid back and calm. Everybody calls me an ‘old soul,’” Rabiyah said during a recent visit to the Philadelphia Tribune. “I’ve been doing a little Philly Sound and some R&B, but it still mixes with jazz — not that I force it to. Like, I’ll do an R&B song and it still has some jazz themes to it.”
At the upcoming Mother’s Day concert, Rabiyah will be performing with a 7-piece band featuring Robert Kenyatta (percussion); Dave Lacour (guitar); Kem Pedro (drums); Immanuel Wilkin (saxophone); James Cooper (bass); Kendrah Butler (piano) and Zoe Hillengas (flute), and her set will include familiar songs such as “Better Days” and “Is It the Way?” as well as an original composition titled “Driven.” However, she is particularly captivated by the life and music of the late Phyllis Hyman.
“I’m doing ‘Meet Me on the Moon,’” Rabiyah said. “I feel like when she sings, I feel what she’s talking about, and her story. After I learned about her life, I feel like she brings everything that she’s feeling, and she makes the audience feel the song.”
Between her schedule at CAPA and her professional engagements, Rabiyah maintains a busy schedule. However, her grandfather, Wali Hamid, who has been guiding his granddaughter’s artistic path since she was 11 years old, said that a recording contract may be in Rabiyah’s future, but her education is top priority. The polite, soft-spoken singer is interested in entertainment law and hopes to attend the University of Pennsylvania or Howard University.
“I actually want her to go to college and do her thing, and there will be something on the business end waiting for her,” Hamid said. “Whatever she wants to do after she comes out of there, it’s all right, but right now, she’s into the music, and this is what she wants to do. As long as she does it, I’ll be there. If she says, ‘Grandpop, let’s give it up,’ I’ll give it up. It’s that simple.”
As Rabiyah hones her craft in the hopes of perpetuating Philly’s tradition of creative and artistic excellence, she believes that music continues to be a unifying force in the City of Brotherly Love
“It is a Mother’s Day show and the main concept is ‘Bridging the Gap,’ so we have young artists and older artists. That’s our main idea, bringing people together,” she said.
For tickets and information call (267) 984-0340 or (215) 829-1600.