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.
Throughout the constant ebb and flow of school closings and student reshuffling, school district officials must feel as though they’ve caught a cresting wave with this week's announcement that the district is expanding the number of available seats in the highest achieving public schools.
Penny Nixon, the district’s chief academic advisor, joined district spokesman Fernando Gallard and Philadelphia High School for Girls Principal Dr. Parthenia Moore for the announcement, made in front of Girls’ High.
“I am extremely excited to announce some great news about the district’s commitment to expanding high performance seats,” Nixon said. “An unprecedented expansion of 2,272 seats in 19 of the district-managed, high-performing schools for the 2012–2013 school year; and a total of 1,802 additional seats will be available in 11 high schools and 470 [seats] in six elementary and two middle schools.
“This represents one of a set of steps the district has taken to continue to increase the number of high quality school options for students and parents in public schools.”
The eight elementary and middle schools that are both high-achieving and can accommodate that space are AMY Northeast, E.M. Stanton, D. Newlen Fell, Fox Chase Academics Plus, Joseph Greenberg, Albert M. Greenfield, Middle Years Alternative and George W. Nebinger. The 11 high schools are Academy at Palumbo, Carver High School of Engineering and Science, High School for Creative and Performing Arts, Franklin Learning Center, Philadelphia High School for Girls, Lankenau, Philadelphia Military Academy/Leeds, Parkway Center City, Randolph Skills Center, Walter B. Saul and Arts Academy at Rush.
“Four [additional] schools were selected for the Renaissance Schools match process, shifting approximately 3,000 more seats to high performing turnaround teams,” Nixon said. “The district’s goal is to continue to invest in the growth of high performing school options while closing or restructuring low performing schools.”
Moore, herself a graduate of Girls’ High, said her school is more than capable of absorbing the 334 extra students slated to enroll in September.
“Right now, we have the capacity to accept 334 and possibly more students that would come to our school,” Moore said. “We have classrooms that are being used for other reasons, so we have the room in our building to do that. Staff will also be increased to meet the needs of our students.
“I should also say that the rigor we have in our school will not be watered down in any way, shape or form,” Moore continued. “So we can be sure the standards that we have set over these 164 years remain in place.”
The 19 schools were specifically targeting because they all carry a score of 3 on the district’s School Performing Index and can safely manage and teach the extra influx of students. Two of the high schools offer citywide enrollment while nine have special admission policies; all elementary and middle school seats will be made available via the No Child Left Behind School Choice program, district officials said. Parents have until May 4 to submit voluntary transfer applications to any of these schools.
“When I walked up those steps and seen the beautiful faces of the beautiful young women and I think about the opportunities we will provide … my excitement just skyrocketed,” Nixon said. “This underlines the district’s commitment.”