Dr. Tamara Thomas-Smith not only became a new mother again this past summer, but she was appointed to replace Edward Hoffman as principal of Russell H. Conwell Middle Magnet School.
He served in the capacity for many years, and under his leadership, Conwell became the number one middle school in Philadelphia.
Smith acknowledged that she was following after a legend, but said she was more than ready to begin her imprint on the school. She first had to tackle the budget cuts, which greatly affected schools across the city.
“I worry about the stuff I can change. I can’t change the budget cuts,” Smith said. “But the stuff I can change, that’s what I put most of my energy to.”
Her focus has been to make sure the school and its students do not rest on their laurels.
“I feel when I walk through the doors every day that I have to work just as hard and put just as much effort and actually request the same of my staff, because every parent has at least one kid in this school who’s special to them, and if that one kid isn’t in that group that’s proficient or advanced, there’s work to be done,” she said. “All of our children should have the option of going to college. That should be their choice. If they don’t go, it should be because they chose not to go, not because they’re not qualified or prepared to do so.”
Smith feels strongly that the students should not get comfortable, but should reach beyond the standard of excellence that Conwell is known for.
“We don’t want our students to get to a ceiling where they stop. We want them to excel,” she said. “I know it’s easy once students get to that point where they’re advanced or proficient to just say they’re independent learners and they can go on. They still need our encouragement.
We still need to make certain that they get just as much attention as the students who may still be struggling.”
Smith rose through the ranks of the School District of Philadelphia as a substitute teacher, expressive arts teacher, dean of students, athletic director and basketball coach. “I think all of those different jobs in the past have prepared me to take on this challenge,” she said. “You have to be willing to do what you’re asking the others to do. Or at least have done it.”
The mother of four has already received honors from the faculty.
“I like her a lot. She really has an open-door policy. She’s there when you need her,” said Michael Rocco, a seventh-grade social studies teacher.
“I think she’s really brought the staff together in the transition. A lot of us were really loyal to Mr. Hoffman, but really … it’s the building itself where you need to be, and the job itself, and she’s continuing that. She’s pushing us forward.”
Erica M. Green, the assistant principal, shared her admiration.
“Dr. Smith and I have a great partnership, which makes it really good. She is really focused, has a clear vision and she makes sure what the vision is,” Green said. “She’s somebody who knows what’s on the cutting edge of education.”
Green elaborated on Smith’s commitment to upholding Conwell’s reputation as a top-notch school.
“We’re celebrating the Conwell spirit, which consists of stellar students. It consists of the committed staff members. Our young people here have a certain je ne sais quoi,” Green said.
“They have a certain charisma to them. There’s something about them, that they have their own leadership qualities that set them apart.”
Nicole Leone, who teaches seventh-grade reading, added her view.
“I think she’s come in with a lot of different ideas. It’s a new leadership style, definitely, that she has, but I like the way things seem to be going,” Leone said. “I think it’s a good school with a lot of hard-working teachers who really care about the students and try to really help them to be successful.”
Smith pledged to be with Conwell for the long haul to help extend its success.
“I’ll go for as long as they’ll have me,” she said.
William T. Tilden Middle School opened its doors in 1926, but this past year has been almost a new beginning.
Principal Jonas Crenshaw Jr. came to Tilden last year and had the task of not only bringing up test scores, but raising morale that had not only eroded in the building but in the surrounding neighborhood. Community residents complained about the Tilden premises being littered by trash and about unruly students. Mississippi transplant Crenshaw did not get overwhelmed, but went to work toward restoring Tilden’s reputation across all fronts.
“It was a year of observation and becoming acclimated to the school district and to this community and this neighborhood, and through that year, I identified some things that I’d like to see improved and some goals, and so we’ve worked very tirelessly over the summer to try and put a lot of things in place,” Crenshaw said.
“I think the parents, the students, the community have all responded well, and we’re really taking off and doing some great things this year.”
Crenshaw placed an emphasis on Team Tilden, one community achieving global success. That spirit has been fostered by the introduction of C.A.R.E. bucks. Students are rewarded with play money for demonstrating citizenship, attitude, respect and effort. He also navigated his way around budget cuts and the issues that plagued the School District of Philadelphia.
“The reality is, wherever you are, there will always be challenges and there will always be cycles of difficulty, but I think the thing that you have to do is stay focused on the work that has to be done at your place,” he said.
“You have to stay in your lane, because our work is still very important. I have a very serious task of not only educating students, but working with middle students, and for that age group where they are developing their personalities,” Crenshaw said.
“When you look at the research that says students [who] are not successful by their eighth-grade year have a higher likelihood of dropping out, then that’s a serious task for me, and so I can’t get distracted by a lot of the things that are taking place and a lot of political things,” he said.
“But the job that I have is to make sure that my kids and my teachers are happy about coming here and doing the job that has to be done. So, we kind of build an invisible bubble around the school and we drive through that bubble every morning and we keep our blinders on and we take care of things here.”
Tilden’s resurgence has been aided by the efforts of the faculty, especially the returning Nancy Golden. The assistant principal is back for her second tour of duty.
“We’re going up,” she said. “We’re moving up. We’re not in a downward spiral. We’re jut moving and growing and the whole building is just becoming a better place, and as a result of that, the community sees it, because when I go to the store to get my lunch, they’ll say to me, ‘I love that nice sign on the corner,’ ‘I love the flowers, ‘the kids are nicer,’ ‘What’s going on over there?’ When people see the leader doing certain things like planting, working on Sundays, giving of themselves, you have no other choice but to follow that leadership.”
Golden also credited the faculty’s ability to relate to the students.
“The middle school kid, they’re very savvy and they’re very big on respect,” she said. “They are growing into young adults and they can discern when you are being patronizing to them. Just be honest and open. Expect greatness with them, but you also have to be consistent with your rules and expectations.”
Jodan Floyd is beginning her 10th year as a teacher at Tilden; even at nine months pregnant, she was still making her presence felt in the classroom. She teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grades. She found seventh-graders to be the most challenging.
“They’re sort of in that in-between stage. They’re not babies, but they’re not eighth-graders yet. I’ve always found that my eighth-graders are my favorite group of children because they’re so much more independent. You can have conversations with them and they’re getting ready to go into high school, and what you say to them has a real impact,” she said. “I can talk to the seventh-grade class about how important it is to do well this year, but it’s not going to hit them until later in the year or next year.”
Keita Doe felt a special connection to the school where she has taught at since 1998.
“I’m married into this school,” she said. “I’ve been here for so long and all the kids and the families in the neighborhood, they all know me so I don’t have to start every year by starting over again. I’ve taught many of these children’s siblings and cousins.”
David Turner, sixth-grade English and science teacher, taught at Tilden six years ago. He returned this year. He shared his hopes for the school year.
“I think we are headed in the right direction,” Turner said. “My hope is that academically, we will make A.Y.P. (Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act) and socially, that they will grow up into mature young men young women that they already are.”
Parents were also in full praise of the marked difference that has taken place.
“I’ve seen patience, and patience goes a long way with teenage kids,” Pamela Mack Edwards said.
This is it, senior year, and the final chapter of high school. College applications are mailed out, and students wait to hear back from their dream schools. Some spend time at internships, as others prepare for avenues in collegiate sports.
According to the 2011 School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Accountability Annual School Report, 100 percent of students at Franklin Learning Center graduated on time during the 2010–2011 academic school year. This year, four students reflect on their experiences of academic accomplishments, athletic achievements, participation in extracurricular activities and discuss practical social skills learned during their time at FLC.
After flying over 5,000 miles from Syria to Philadelphia more than four years ago, Tarek Kerbag has made several accomplishments in his high school career.
Kerbag is class president and a dual athlete playing for the boy’s soccer and volleyball teams. He has received First Team and All-Star in soccer this year. He made All-Public, a first for FLC, and All-Star recognition in volleyball last year. Kerbag said the school’s grading system motivated him throughout high school.
“When I heard about the credit system, that’s why I chose this school. Honestly, I did so much progress that I never thought I would do since I came from a different country. In the four and a half years, I never thought I would be on the top of the [class],” Kerbag said.
“Since this school has a credit system, it forces you to go up to that 80 percent at least, nothing below that. That’s how it helped me. In one year, you could finish one class and move to the next. I didn’t have to wait for the rest of the class. This is something special about this school.”
Kerbag has applied to 10 colleges and so far has heard back from Ducane, Tiffin and Louisville University. He said he wants to play both sports in college.
Communication and technology major, Ja’nese L. Felder said she chose to attend FLC for her major, the credit system and extra curricular activities.
There are over 15 clubs students are active in, such as, Science Fair Club, Poetry Club and Stage Crew. There are over ten sports teams including Co-ed Dance, Badminton, Bowling, Golf and Tennis. Co-ed Cross Country, Cheerleading, Boy’s Varsity Basketball, Girl’s Softball, Boy’s Varsity Baseball and Co-ed Track and Field all received high honors in their divisions.
“My most memorable experience I would say was coming to the school, because I don’t think I would be the person I am today or have met the people I know now,” Felder said.
Felder has been accepted to East Stroudsburg, Holy Family, Arcadia and LaSalle University.
Sheila Pica majors in business technology and is from Puerto Rico. Pica said the school’s diversity sparked her interests.
“I like to learn about people’s backgrounds and where they come from. Their whole journey to how they became who they are today. I see at FLC you can find that. You can learn from other people’s background and they can learn from you. You can relate to them in many different ways,” Pica said.
While attending FLC, she has interned at Glasko Smith Kline as an assistant secretary for two years helping with various technology projects. Pica said the opportunity she had at her internship helped her develop skills.
“My internship has really been a huge influence in my life and has helped me [become] the person I am today,” Pica said.
As a student class representative, Pica encourages the younger students to make an active effort to meet people during high school.
“I just kind of tell freshman to get involved, to have networking skills, have connections, go out there, don’t be shy, talk to people, meet people, get to know them. So that when it comes to colleges, to a job, you have connections and use them as your reference,” Pica said.
As the first FLC representative of the 2011 Nike SPARQ Combine, which was highlighted by ESPN High School Football, Borbor Kesselly is a top football prospect in the Class of 2012 and 2013. Additionally, Kesselly is the first to make All-Public for football at FLC.
“When they first developed a football team — that was my favorite moment. When I came here freshman year, the school was perfect for me. Everything was perfect, but they didn’t have a football team. I told Ms. Sullivan about it, and she really started to get the team and that was good,” Kesselly said.
Kesselly is said he wants to play at Temple University and major in architecture. He accredits his success to the school’s principal, Dr. Charles C. Staniskis.
“I come in here and talk to Doc everyday. We’re really cool. We really talk about things, and he really motivates me,” Kesselly said.
As these students embark on their journeys into college, Kerbag, Felder, Pica and Kesselly agree that FLC has prepared them academically, athletically and socially.
Three years ago, there was no argument that Middle Years Alternative School (MYA) should have a debate team. From the high caliber of students’ academic level, and with the help of Jeremy Shinefeld, MYA has a reputation of being middle school debate champions.
Shinefeld, a third-year special education liaison teacher at MYA, had previously coached a debate team at William Penn High School, which is now closed. Shinefeld said he wanted to create a similar team at MYA.
“When I came here, I thought it would be a worthwhile thing to start up,” Shinefeld said.
“He’s done a wonderful job with them. They do great things,” Principal Kathleen Fitzpatrick said.
In order to be on the debate team, students participate in a program called Emerging Scholars. On Fridays, the entire school has an elective period to engage in enrichment activities such as poetry, art, music, dance, chess and the debate team. MYA has partnered with Penn for Youth Debate (PFYD), University of Pennsylvania undergrad students who volunteer to work with students on various educational projects during Emerging Scholars.
“It’s just a lot of fun. We get a lot done and they’re incredibly motivated and incredibly engaged. I like watching the students over the course of the year and from year to year. The way they grow is unbelievable. It helps their literacy. I’ve seen students who came in barely literate who are now reading,” Shinefeld said.
Shinefeld explained more about the educational experience learned as a member of the debate team.
“They learn more about research in this than I think they do elsewhere. They learn about everything from writing a paper, to proper citation, how to formulate an argument clearly. Just basic logic. They don’t teach logic unless you’re in college,” Shinefeld said.
Currently, the team is preparing for spring tournaments. To prepare for competitions, Shinefeld holds after-school practices. The team studies Supreme Court cases, reads the U.S. Constitution and looks over previous debate questions.
There are about 16 students on the team. One student, David Redmond is active on the team. As a trombone player for three years, Redmond was recommended by teachers to join the team.
“[Shinefeld] said I was good at it because I could bring up a good point,” Redmond said.
Redmond said his favorite subject is math, and explained why the debate team is influential in his personal development and educational career.
“Leadership, it’s like the biggest and responsibility because you have a lot of homework and preparations you have to do good in the competition.”
Redmond does admit that he was nervous during his first debate, which discussed the private ownership of handguns in the United States.
He said balancing the trombone and studying for the debate team is challenging, too, because his mom works in the morning and his dad works at night. However, Redmond found his system of success.
“I try to practice [the trombone] in the morning when my mom is awake and I practice my debate at night because that’s silent,” Redmond said.
Since the MYA’s debate team has been established, they have won consecutively at the Penn for Youth Debate Fall/Spring Tournaments.
In 2011, the team received first place overall in both the spring and fall tournaments.
The MYA team participated in the 2010 Penn for Youth Debate. The fourth annual tournament featured ninety students from high schools and middle schools around the city of Philadelphia. This was the largest edition of the tournament.
From MYA, Dhamir Cosby, Sulaiman Sabre, Francis Strobel and Rohan Bennett were Quarterfinalists. Robert DeBeary and George McGriff were Finalists. Mikaela Lee and Devon Burton were middle school tournament champions. First place top speaker was given to George McGriff. Third place was given to Dhamir Cosby. Lee and Burton were also the champions of the middle school division.
Recognized and funded by Penn, PFYD runs this tournament including the Liberty Bell Classic.
Shinefeld said he wants students to realize that overall this experience will help them develop essential skills.
“I hope the kids learn to think. It’s a lot of teaching the kids what they need to know, not much teaching of how to think. Think clearly, speak clearly and read well,” Shinefeld said.
The Philadelphia Math + Science Coalition held its first-ever student video contest. Eighty-one inventive videos produced by over 300 middle and high school students from Philadelphia public and charter schools were invited to submit 30-60 second videos answering the question, “Why is math and/or science important to you?”
The mission of the Philadelphia Math + Science Coalition is to engage youth and increase their interest in learning mathematics and science. The Coalition wants students in Philadelphia schools to excel in these areas.
After a public online vote and final judging from a panel of Apple representatives, two winning student-created videos were celebrated at James Dobson Elementary School and Boys Latin of Philadelphia Charter School. Ceremonies were held at separately.
Emceed by the Philadelphia Phillies’ Scott Palmer, the events featured appearances by the Phillie Phanatic, the Science Cheerleaders and the contest judges from Apple.
The “Radical Math” video from eighth-grade students, Rebecca Gallagher, A’Jahnae Adams, Imani Collier, Timothy Mitchell and Trevor Loughrey of Dobson was selected as a contest winner in the middle school division. Their teacher, Allison McConnell, sponsored them.
As a seventh and eighth grade math and science teacher at Dobson, McConnell said she frequently hears her students asking the purpose of math and science in their daily lives and was thrilled when she came across this contest.
“It’s one of the biggest questions I get. I thought this would be a great opportunity for the kids to explore why [math and science] was important to them,” McConnell said.
She accredits the video entirely to the efforts of the students. Next year, McConnell said she would encourage more students to submit videos.
“I think that piece of it because they created it, it allowed them to have more pride. Rather than me say, ‘How about you do this.’ I really left it up to them and it was entirely student guided,” McConnell said.
In the high school division, “A Letter Made Possible with Science” video from tenth-grader, Alec Stith, of Boys Latin won. His sponsor teacher Trey Smith supported him.
Student winners received a $100 in iTunes gift certificates, $250 worth of classroom materials and a class trip to a professional recording studio donated by recording artist Jill Scott.
The Philadelphia Education Fund is a nonprofit organization that provides funding for various educational programs and initiatives. In 2005, the Philadelphia Education Fund assembled the Philadelphia Math + Science Coalition to address the quality of math and science instruction in schools in lieu of a national demand. The Coalition has partnerships with several representatives from corporations, universities, non-profit organizations, and the School District of Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia High School for Girls, deep in its traditions and spirit, has been extending their legacy with Dr. Parthenia A. Moore as its principal.
Moore, who graduated from Girls’ High in 1971, has come full circle. She has gone from being the student to sitting in the big chair and ensuring a foundation that aided fellow alumni such as R&B singers Jill Scott, the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC and powerhouse attorney Gloria Allred.
Moore has been the principal of Girls’ High for more than a year now, but never dreamed of returning as the school’s leader.
“I never thought I’d be here at Girls’ High. I’ve been a principal before. I’ve been an assistant principal. I’ve even been an assistant superintendent or a regional superintendent here in the district,” Moore said.
“But the opportunity, when given to me by the superintendent to come to Girls’ High, to me was the highest honor I felt that had been bestowed upon me as an educator in my professional life.”
One item on Moore’s agenda has been to raise the bar of excellence even higher at the college preparatory school.
“We set high expectations for them about what it is that they should be doing academically, behaviorally and socially,” she said.
“We let them know what it will take for them to get to the ninth grade at Girls’ High through the twelfth grade and then beyond.”
Moore talked about what each Girls’ High student meant to her.
“It’s my love for the school, the history that I have with the school, having been a graduate, that keeps me pushing and making sure everything is in place,” Moore said.
“I call each one of the girls my daughters. They all belong to me. So, I have almost 1,100 children that are mine. I didn’t give birth to them, but I feel like I’m birthing them every day and helping them to be nurtured and do the things that need to be done.”
The personnel at Girls High have been just as determined to do their parts.
“It has been wonderful. I think several things happen to anyone who comes in the building. One, you fall in love with the school and the girls,” Antoinette L. Chapman, assistant principal, said.
“And then you quickly learn about the dedication of the teachers to the students and it’s always pleasurable working with young people, particularly young people who have matured to the point of focus.”
Dale Matthes, the school’s other assistant principal, shared her thoughts as well.
“We’re looking for the smartest, but we’re also looking for the nicest too,” she said.
“Technology is wonderful, but technology gets old. What you learn today may be obsolete in two years. So what’s really crucial is, can you problem-solve? Can you be resilient? Can you make it through anything? Can you be self-reliant? Do you believe in yourself?”
Joseph Marchetti is the department chair of humanities, has taught at Girls’ High since 2003.
“I love being here. I think we have brightest, most talented girls here in the city. Every day is an adventure,” he said.
“Art is probably the most important thing that you can have in a student’s life. It’s experiential, visual, cognitive and at the same time, it’s therapeutic. It’s introspective and extroverted,” he said.
“You have to look within yourself and also look around yourself. And I think the other thing it teaches is empathy, because you have to understand what the person you’re sitting next to is going through.”
Marchetti also had words of praise for Moore’s leadership.
“Dr. Moore is an excellent principal. It’s nice to have a graduate. She’s an alumna and I think that’s a very important thing,” he said.
“When you’re 16 and 17 and you’re not quite sure what you want to do in life, it’s nice to have faculty that graduated from Girls’ High because they become role models, and I think for students, she is a role model of what you can become.”
Stuart Surrey, who teaches advanced biology, shared the sentiment.
“She’s very supportive, very interested in making things better for the school and outing in more programs,” he said.
Surrey was just as complimentary about his experience thus far at Girls’.
“The girls are all very motivated. They’re college-bound. It’s a wonderful place to work. In spite of what you might hear about the School District of Philadelphia, I enjoy working at Girls’ High,” he said.
Moore said her desire was to continue making the school on the hill not only one of the premiere schools in the city, but nationwide, despite any challenges that may arise.
“When I first started teaching years ago, we talked about (how) we can’t change what’s happened outside or the environment from which our students come, but we change what goes on inside so that those things that need to occur academically, socially, behaviorally. We build upon that and make better what happens in our building,” Moore said.
“So, with all that was going on outside and there’s always something politically or within communities that’s happening, we still have to maintain what needs to happen here in our schools, and we’ve done a really good job of at maintaining that culture and climate of Girls’ High that precedes us by 163-plus years.”
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.
In his second year at Hill Freedman Middle School, physical education teacher Joe Moore has revamped the entire physical education program of the school. Through units of fitness testing, introducing students to non-traditional sports and using virtual games to stimulate their interest in exercise, Moore says he just wants students to get up and move.
“[My passion is] the desire to make a difference in kids’ lives and the desire to encourage kids to be fit. Trying to get them up and moving. There is such a tremendous amount of issues related to health that are coming about because the lack of movement,” Moore said.
“I just do what I think everyone should be doing. When you’re passionate about it and an advocate for the kids, [I] just share my passion for being fit, for exercise.”
For magnet students, they participate in the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition Testing. This series of assessments consist of a mile run, shuttle relay, push up and sit up test and flexibility sit-and-reach test.
Due to the varied levels of movement between magnet students and life skills students, classes for the students may vary. However, all students get chances to interact with one another is the sports unit.
Students are introduced to units of volleyball, field hockey, lacrosse, fatsol — a form of indoor soccer — European handball, basketball and softball. Moore will show a video on the history of the sport, where it originated and how it evolved over the years. He says the videos grab students’ attention and they gain an interest in the sport.
“The kids really take to it. There is 100 percent participation in every single thing we do. Coming from some of the schools I came from, that’s not always the case,” Moore said.
With the recent accreditation that Hill Freedman has received, Moore keeps activities focused on a worldview.
“Apart of being an international baccalaureate school, we try to tie some of the activities into other countries and cultures. Some of the girls want to introduce some of the special needs students to field hockey.”
Life skills students work on fitness and locomotive skills by working with medicine balls, stability balls and aerobic equipment. Students get exercise on the elliptical, treadmill and during a Tae Bo session broadcasted on a projector screen. Some students spend time in the sensory classroom and play with interactive virtual games.
Eighth-grader, Floyd Wilkerson spends class time burning calories by boxing. With his boxing gloves, Wilkerson air punches virtual targets projecting on the white board.
Taylor Talbert, who is also in eighth-grade, walks around the room greeting classmates. She encourages her classmate Jamal Pettiway as he pedals on the stationary bike that is connected to an all-terrain vehicle game on PlayStation 2 called Baja 100.
After leaving Pettiway, Talbert plays Wii bowling. As she winds her arm back and points the controller to the television, she hits her target.
“I got a strike,” Talbert said.
“It really is a blessing that the kids have the opportunity to experience some of the equipment that they do. It’s awesome,” Moore said.
In 2010, when Moore began to work at Hill Freedman, he says there was not much equipment for students to use. He made a “wish list” of different resources he needed and Principal Anthony Majewski provided him with every item.
“Mr. Majewski has gone above and beyond with getting the things I thought was necessary to provide an awesome experience for the kids,” Moore said.
“He’s got every toy. We’ve got everything. You won’t see this in very many phys ed. classes. A lot of kids will come out of their shells in his classroom. He doesn’t give up on them. He’ll keep trying,” Majewski said.
By getting students moving, keeping physical education class relevant and introducing students to new activities, Moore says his focus is on the most important aspect — the students.
“How do I go the extra mile? By just caring, letting the kids know that they’re extremely important,” Moore said.
Pink and yellow paper cutouts of fish filled his bulletin board. Pink fish indicate school improvements and yellow fish represent positive aspects. With this system, first-year Principal Christopher Wiler is implementing new ways to improve F. Amedee Bregy Elementary School’s environment.
Frequently using the phrase, “I appreciate you,” Wiler has found ways to increase the morale of students and staff.
“Bregy School is a place where the key to increased academic achievement begins with happy learners and staff members. When all stakeholders feel appreciated and safe, challenging learning experiences are the focus,” Wilder said.
Fifth-year school counselor Lisa Bronca said she has seen a difference in the lives of students and staff because of Wiler’s efforts.
“This is his first year here and he has made such a difference in a matter of a few months. He goes above and beyond. He’s stern, but kind. He has a lot of incentives for the kids. He’s helped boost up the staff’s self-esteem as well as the students’,” Bronca said.
During this academic year, an incentive for students was a trip to the Blue Cross River Rink at Penn’s Landing for demonstrating Bregy Pride (school pride).
“I like working with Principal Wiler. He’s great. He’s always open to new ideas, new ways of doing things. He’s bringing a lot of new vibes to this school. He’s very energetic, which pumps the kids up and pumps the adults up. It makes you feel good. He’s just been sunshine to the school,” Teacher leader Dr. Karen Chamberlain said.
Eighth-grade student council members Jamie Storms, president, Jayson Dougherty, vice president, Isabella Beate, treasure and Kiera King, secretary share their perspectives of Wiler.
“He’s definitely a hands-on principal. He doesn’t just try having teachers instruct you. If he gives you responsibility, he’ll come and help you. He’s a big help and he cares for the students,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty and King accredited Wiler with keeping Bregy traditions, but reviving its climate.
“He’s completely fixing this school up. This school was built in 1923, so it’s been around for a long time, so he’s just trying to bring it back to life,” Dougherty said.
“He knows where the students are coming from because he’s been a teacher for so long. He tries to make the kids have a better environment to learn,” King said.
According to Storms, Wiler gives instruction to students needing assistance, especially when it comes to new technologies.
“He tries to get to know the kids. When we got our new calculators, for the eighth grade, he came up and showed us how to use them,” Storms said.
On Wednesdays at 2:15 in the afternoon, check out Wiler teaching fifth-graders in the auditorium some PSSA testing strategies. He also spends time helping students with their journal writing to increase writing performance levels.
Walter G. Smith Elementary School has a new principal in Rachel Marianno who is determined to see the school strive beyond its potential despite statistics that state otherwise on paper. The tests scores may be low but that has not capped Marianno’s belief in the potential of her K-8 students.
Marianno was filled with emotions during the first full week of school, which concluded with a back to school night attended by more than 400 parents.
“Challenging, rewarding, exhausting, rejuvenating; if you could put all of those things into one sentence. It’s been a lot of work but good work,” Marianno said.
She was overjoyed that so many parents attended back to school night held in the school yard. A moon bounce and cotton candy machine were just some of the amenities offered to the kids as their guardians came into the building to meet with teachers.
“It’s about reaching parents in a way that confirms who they are and what they are about.
A lot of our parents have responsibilities that go far beyond what we had or even our great-grandparents had in the past,” Marianno said. “So, they’re raising children on their own but without the support of an extended family. So, you’ve got to find a way to network with them.”
Another crucial part of Marianno’s agenda has been to help raise test scores. Her goal is to raise the Adequate Yearly Progress, otherwise known as the AYP, but not at the expense of making the children feel bad about themselves. Smith’s new motto is “Where Above Average Is the Norm.’”
“I struggled with that because on paper, we are not above average. We’re 30 percent at advanced and proficient in the area of reading. That’s not above the average. But our mindset in order to get there, it has to start here. It has to start in your head. So, therefore, I can fully embrace that model,” she said. “It’s a careful balance because I don’t want to come in here with a pie in the sky attitude like you can do it and not acknowledge how you can do it. I want our children and our parents and the whole community to embrace the fact that we are from an AYP standard not cutting it.”
She further explained another area that will help reinforce the student’s abilities, which are not correlating with standardized tests.
“The other part of the model is SOULFUL, which is School Of Unlimited Learning For Unlimited Learners and that’s something that has been with me since I went into administration,” she said. “I want children to know that there are no limits.”
Smith’s renewed efforts to get the test scores up has been a team effort. All of the teachers have been doing their parts since the first bell rang this school year.
“They’re getting to know my expectations and I’m getting to know things about them which makes learning better. It just makes everything better,” Chanel Pope said.
Pope teaches fifth grade and this is her first year at Smith.
“I expect my children to give 100 percent effort every day because I believe every child can learn. Every student has their own talents. Every student has their own gifts and it’s just my job to bring some of those gifts, talents and interests but also try to make sure they meet the curriculum standards,” Pope said. “We’re striving for proficiency.”
Tangela McClam has taught at Smith since 2007. The seventh-grade math teacher tries to incorporate pats on the back for her students as they work through solving equations. She has also tied to prepare them early on in the school year for what is to come.
“One of the things that I really like to make sure my students understand is the importance of the test. We don’t wait until the day before the test to do that.
So, I tell them on day one that they should look at the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) as a major test that we’re going to run and we only get one shot to run that race and we’ve been training all year long. So, we’ve got to get our stamina up. That’s how we look at it,” she said. “Some students aren’t good test takers but we still have to continue to strive to not only make every child feel important because we don’t want them to feel, ‘oh I’m below basic I’m not important,’ because anytime you turn children into numbers, you’re doing them a disservice. But we just have to find other ways to address them.”
John Waters, another teacher at Smith, believed that the aesthetics of the school has also gone a long way towards improving morale.
“It’s such a nice place to be. Ms. Marianno has gotten the place so cleaned up,” Waters said. “By cleaning up the school the way that she has and having the special events come in, I think that the children feel more respected. I think that when the school was dirtier, the children didn’t take the school seriously and I feel they’re taking things a little more seriously now.”
Marianno also credited the youth for already rising to the challenges facing them this upcoming year.
“The kids keep me motivated,” she said. “They are resilient and no matter what you throw at them, for a long period time, they will bounce back. Not without some wounds, but they will bounce back and they’ll say something that just motivates me and they’ll usually do it on a day that I need it the most. They won’t necessarily know what they’re doing for me but they’ll just say something that gets to the heart of the matter.”