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.
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.
Among the many high schools in Philadelphia, Central High School is the oldest in the district. Its doors opened in 1838 as the second public high school in the nation. There were four teachers and 63 students. Now, Central’s student population has reached approximately 2,360 students and over 100 teachers. There is a school president, similar to a principal, and three assistant principals.
Originally, Central housed an all boys’ population. Philadelphia High School for Girls was its counterpart. Until August 1983, the school became co-ed.
In 2011, Central was named a National Blue Ribbon School. Within the past decade, Central has consecutively made Adequate Yearly Progress and won 92 Public League Championships. Additionally, Central has had an extensive resume of national and international attention.
Before the first graduating class in 1842, Central held semi-annual commencements until 1965. Now, graduation happens annually, making this year's class the 271st graduating class of Central High School.
There are a host of notable Central Alumni who have excelled in careers of journalism, politics, science, math, technology, law, music, acting and education. Alain LeRoy Locke, author, philosopher and first African-American Rhodes Scholar, graduated in the 107th class. Frank “Tick” Coleman, educator and one of the first three known African-American Eagle Scouts, graduated in the 156th class. Philadelphia City councilman and son of former mayor W. Wilson Goode, W. Wilson Goode Jr. graduated in the 241st class. Seth Williams, district attorney of Philadelphia, graduated in the 244th class.
Through financial gifts of Central Alumni, the school was able to create a $6 million library. In Barnwell Library, there are several quiet rooms to study, computers are available for research and shelves filled with books. Additionally, there is a room full of memorabilia that showcases school apparel, trophies won and pictures of previous classes.
Students are kept engaged in academics, athletics and social experiences through several extra-curricular activities offered at Central.
Senior Jessica Beaver is an active member of the Central community. Beaver works as a student leader to one of the assistant principals, runs school tours and organizes the International Day, Career Day and High School Expo. She is the editor-in-chief of Mosaic, which is Central’s multicultural magazine, public relations officer of the concert choir and drama society and she’s involved with the school’s West Side Story musical.
“At Central, I have really have gotten to know and understand different types of people. At Central there is a representative from every part of the city and every ethnicity you could possibly think of. That interactive has prepared me, I think, for the real world as well as the academic side of it,” Beaver said. “Classes at Central are immensely challenging. The course load is heavy, and it’s comprehensive. So, I get a well-rounded education, a lot of hands on and simulated activities.”
Interactive activities are seen in room 328. Music teacher, Ben Blazer, assisted students with their presentations of musical periods in Western music.
Freshmen Genesis Sanchez, Genehia Walton and Najey McDuffie are preparing their PowerPoint presentation on the Renaissance musical era. These three students explained their experiences so far at Central. They liked attending the Freshmen Tea, an event that introduced ninth graders to activities and clubs at Central. Sanchez, Walton and McDuffie said they liked going to the school’s football and basketball games and lessons learned as freshmen.
Sanchez, a member of the track team and belly dance club, said she always enjoyed these activities and is excited to perform at Central’s Annual International Day in February.
Walton is thinking of being a member of the softball team and has interests in joining the school’s choir. She explained her sentiments about Central prior to attending and how those feelings have changed since the beginning of the school year.
“Now that I’m here, it’s not as hard as everybody talks about it. You got to actually stay on task. If you don’t stay on top of your work, keep organized and pay attention, then you’re going to be lost,” Walton said.
In contrast, McDuffie said she feels that the workload at Central is more than what she was used to as a student in middle school.
“Central was a lot different than my old school. The rigor of the work and how much work you get, homework, projects, tests every week. I wasn’t used to studying because I used to just know everything. Now, I really have to study,” McDuffie said.
Mia Clark, freshman and member of the self-defense club, discussed assignments given in classes, but said she has learned how to manage.
“It’s hard, I always knew it would be hard. Sometimes it might feel overwhelming because every teacher gives homework, but you figure out how to do it. You learn how to take care of yourself and you do learn a lot here [in Central],” Clark said.
As Clark sat in World History, the class prepared to play bingo with questions about Hinduism. Each student folded a loose-leaf piece of notebook paper into 16 squares. Students then answered 16 questions about the religion and wrote the answers in the boxes.
Lori Defields, an assistant principal, said it is interesting to see students engaged in interactive activities like educational bingo. She said teachers at Central like, George Filip, have the ability to make subject material more appealing to students.
“He engages the kids in a way that in English class, some teachers just can’t. He makes that class enjoyable for every student regardless of their talents, their skills and their interests. I really think he’s a really great teacher, but I go by what the kids say and the feedback I get is just phenomenal,” Defields said.
In a second level English class, Filip announced the three words of the day. Jokingly, he gave students the definitions of the words clandestine, acquiesce and acquiescence and asked them if they could use these words in their daily conversation.
Later as Filip handed pack chapter five review quizzes on the book “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, 10th-grader, Matrea Thomas cleared her desk to grade another classmate’s review quiz.
“He’s a good teacher. He’s different, but you’ll be able to understand him. Instead of just lecturing us he actually has conversations with us and conferences,” Thomas said.
Similarly, art department chair, Benjamin Walsh received praise from administration and students, as well.
“[He’s] highly talented,” Dr. Sheldon Pavel, president of Central, said.
“He wears so many hats. There’s not enough hours in the day for him,” Defields said.
As the web design teacher, member of the technology committee, swimming coach, the school’s Web designer and set designer for the school’s musicals, Walsh is engaged in many responsibilities at Central.
“It’s a busy day. As long as it benefits the students and everything that you do makes that piece more enriching for them and it gives them more tools and allows them to focus and learn more clearly,” Walsh said. “In the case of the play, it gives them a different experience outside the academic realm. That’s all worth it for me. I like being busy that way. I think most of it’s just making yourself available.”
In room 311, Walsh helped the web design class work on a five page website about environmental topics. In partnership with environmental science teacher, Galeet Cohen, the students will present their websites on Earth Day.
Senior, Naacara Edwards, chose to focus on global warming. She and her classmates used computer programs, Fireworks and Photoshop, to make interactive graphs and learned CSS computer code to make their sites from scratch. Edwards said she enjoyed creating the site for class and expressed her goals for college.
“I want to go to school for engineering so I could be a computer science engineer, but this is just for fun now,” Edwards said.
Built in the 1960s, previously a middle school and closed for two years for renovations, the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush opened its doors in 2008 and welcomed their first ninth grade students. Now, at the end of this academic year, Rush will say farewell to its first graduating class.
“These are the kids who helped start the school in so many different ways. We used them to help build the school. We made a lot of decisions together,” Principal Jessica Brown said.
Senior theater majors Tim Carlin and Rikki Harley offer their sentiments of their journey thus far through Rush. Carlin says he “always wanted to be different” and coming from a small Catholic school, he did not want follow his peers to a Catholic high school. Carlin says he was warmed up to the idea of being a pioneer of the school.
“I heard about an art school and I was like, ‘that would be really cool, that sounds just for me.’ I love the idea of all of us students taking part in building this school. Everyone that’s been here has made their mark,” Carlin said.
Harley had a different point of view.
“Knowing that we’re the first graduating class kind of threw me off at first because when we came here there weren’t any 10th graders, no 11th graders, no seniors. It was just us. It was weird. We’re like ‘we’re missing out on our high school experience,’ ” Harley said.
“We’re setting traditions and it’s a lot of pressure because you’re the first class.”
Being a peer mediator, engaging in student council, active in the yearbook club and helping freshman with monologues, both Harley and Carlin say their experiences at Rush have prepared them for life after high school.
“At Rush I feel the expectations are higher for us, in our grades and our behavior. I feel we’re held to a higher standard. Some things that happened at other high schools don’t happen at Rush. There’s a whole different environment and culture,” Harley said.
“One of the biggest things that I learned was personal responsibility. Nobody is forcing you to do the work. It’s on you. It’s on you to do the learning here. They provide the tools and you need to take it the next step,” Carlin said.
Core values of imagination, communication, empathy, perspective, analysis and commitment, also known as, “ICEPAC”, according to Brown, frame the school’s curriculum. Using these values in their daily lives, Brown says students will have the ability to communicate these values through art and technology.
“The vision of the school is to integrate the arts into the curriculum. That’s a piece here,” Brown said.
Technology also plays a major role in school curriculum. Students have access to Mac laptops in the classrooms to do research and work on assignments. Teachers use smart boards, as well. However, not every classroom is equipped with technology. Brown is finding ways to fund raise and look for grant money that would finance her technology initiatives.
“It’s always a challenge with funding. We make it work by sharing and doing a lot of collaboration in the school. The school couldn’t exist without the collaboration of the teachers and students in order to meet the specific goals of the school,” Brown said.
“They work with each other in a way that I never seen done in a school. Where if they want ideas for a unit and they want to include the arts, my biology teacher will talk to my art teacher and they work together in planning. That’s what partially makes this school so successful.”
Along with collaborations of the faculty, Brown says she can see the passion teachers have about teaching in the way that they spend long hours at school. Their willingness to stay after and meet with students shows the flexibility and commitment to the students.
Teachers like Lorraine Ustaris are praised by the principal for her efforts in the classroom. Ustaris teaches English and uses multimedia in the classroom. Listening to a student voice recording of an “I believe” essay, helps freshman Shaina Barrett understand the assignment.
During Ingrid Shinskie’s physics class, junior vocal majors Melvin Berrian, Kisha Davis and Somemore Love work together in a group to solve mathematical equations in preparation of the “quest”—a combination of quiz and test.
“For me, I like comparing answers. You can see where you went wrong. I like collaboration,” Berrian said.
“We do example problems off the smart board, we work in the textbook and we’ll do laps. She’s show us in the back and we’ll come back to our seats and do it. So we visually see it and see it in the textbook. We also watch videos,” Davis said.
Outside of physics, Berrian, Davis and Love enjoy learning to sing Hebrew, Latin and Spanish in music class. Davis says she feels that Rush is preparing her for the next level.
“By coming here, I feel that it will better prepare me. I’m learning theory and my voice is improving more. I have a lot of things under my belt. We do classical pieces, we do jazz pieces and that will help me in the future when I go to college,” Davis said.
“Five, six, seven, eight.”
“Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.”
Denise Masters counts the tempo and the student dancers respond by taping their metal soles on the hard wood floor. At Rush, students have the opportunity to chose a focus in dance. Along with tap, Masters teaches jazz, ballet and modern forms of dancing.
As a representative of the PIAA District XII, Public League, Rush offers girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, girls soccer, baseball and softball as apart of their athletic program. Students do have the option to join other sport teams as a part of a co-op with George Washington High School.
Even though the school has been opened for four years, Rush has created a learning environment and culture that has attracted a lot of attention. Each year, approximately 1,500 students apply, but only 150 students are selected to attend Rush. Despite small numbers of students, Brown accredits the school’s population as a special piece of the school.
“[At] this school, I know almost every student’s name. At a big school, you just won’t get that,” Brown said.
Vibrant quilt designs and informational posters spread across the auditorium floor for the School District of Philadelphia’s 20th annual World AIDS Day Commemoration program honored several student artists and writers on Dec. 1 at Benjamin Franklin High School.
The artwork and essays were created by middle and high school students who participated in the art and literacy contest to highlight HIV prevention. This year’s theme was to focus on “Getting to Zero, Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.”
In seventh grade, the art contest winners — in order from first, second and third place — are Lisa Nguyen, Ashlee Valle and Tommy Duong of Conwell Middle School.
“I never actually met anyone with HIV, but I drew what lessons I learned from the assignment. I know that AIDS can’t choose who [it] wants to hop onto. You should stick to abstinence, so you don’t get AIDS. So I just interrupted that into my artwork,” Nguyen said.
Eighth-grade art winners were Jahara Rushman, Lisandra Santiago-Roberto and Maciej Pryzloos of Conwell Middle School.
“Actually, it was hard for hard me because I’m not that creative, but I know somebody that has HIV, so that helped me create the piece,” Santiago-Roberto said.
Ninth-grade art winners were Brace Garrett, Nyaa Lino and Kenyetta Taylor of Communications Technology High School. Tenth grade winners were Khadijah Gardner, Phylia Brewer and Princess Jackson from Communications Technology High School.
Eleventh-grade art winners were Ebone Bryant of Germantown High School, Kevin Norris of Dobbins High School, and Neale Brooks of Germantown High School. Dazha Bethel of Carver High School received honorable mention.
The senior class art winners were Leander Berry, Sierra Blagmon and Matisse Hill of Parkway West High School.
Along with the art contest, there were several literary contest winners. The ninth-grade winners — in order from first, second and third place — are Jade Truehart, Teasia Squire and Kanae’ Taylor of Carver High School.
Sakinah Braxton, tenth grade, and Makkah Hayes, eleventh grade, of Carver High School were literary contest winners. Twelfth-graders Brittany Williams, Zana Johnson and Erin Don Pailin of Parkway West High School won, too.
Brochure winners were Amy Vo, Natwain Francis and Donte’ Traynham of Communication Technology High School.
Winning students received certificates and a calendar in honor of HIV/AIDS prevention that was designed by students in the printing class at Dobbins High School.
The program included remarks from Lafayette Sanders, 24, who was prenatally infected and is living with HIV. At the age of 13, a few months after his mother passed, Sander’s grandmother took him to the doctor’s office for a checkup. The doctor then informed him that he was HIV positive.
“I became angry at myself, at my mother, I was even angry with God. Why am I dealing with this? I didn’t ask for this. This wasn’t my choice,” Sanders said.
Now, as an advocate, Sanders speaks to teens about his life experiences of growing up as a teen, having to take several pills daily and urges youth to use preventative and protective methods during sex.
“Currently, I’m only taking four pills once a day. These four pills keep me healthy so that I can live a long, productive life. I’m here today to remind you guys that just because someone has the disease, they can live a healthy full productive life,” Sanders said.
Other remarks were made by Leroy Nunery, School District acting CEO and superintendent, representatives from Family Planning Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania and American Red Cross.
Sterlen Barr, CEO and founder of Rapping About Prevention, did a special presentation to students as he rapped about a man he knew who had HIV.
Following this presentation, the Northeast High School Choir sang a hymn, as teacher and faculty members of the district lit several candles in honor of students who have died from HIV/AIDS over the past 20 years.
The event ended with a special dance performance from “Special ‘Efx.” This group of four young men break dance, even dance ballet, to popular dance tunes in a way to positively motivate other young people.
The students’ art work was displayed at the University of Pennsylvania for another event commemorating World AIDS Day, but the final destination for the art work will exhibit in the School District Education building.
Melissa Hogg teaches biology at Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush. As one of the first teachers at Rush, Hogg says over the past four years, she has seen this school grow into “a great school.”
“The fact that we’re an art school and I’m actually able to utilize talents and interests that the students have and have them apply them in the biology class room has been a great experience,” Hogg said.
Earlier in 2011, Hogg was a recipient of The Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. The Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation created the award in 2008 to recognize Philadelphia School District teachers for their educational leadership and public service.
Hogg was nominated by Principal Jessica Brown and awarded $3,500. According to Hogg, she used a portion of the funds to purchase classroom materials.
“It was nice to be recognized for all the hard work I do and all of us do,” Hogg said.
“You see her using 21st century tools. You see her integrating the arts. You see her teaching major concepts of biology in the way she does that is creative,” Brown said.
“I see her class as being rigorous. The kids are kept to high expectations and she’s extremely organized and I can see the preparation it takes for her in her planning process.”
Throughout the four years at Rush, Hogg says it’s hard to pick out one memorable moment, but says one group of people make teaching there a great experience.
“The students are what makes this school unique and special and makes it fun to teach,” Hogg said.
During lunch period and after school, Hogg goes the extra mile to offer students help with class work.
“I try to figure out how they learn best since there is multiple intelligences and every student doesn’t access information in the same way. So, I try to understand the student as a person and that helps me tap into whatever way they can access the information,” Hogg said.
Photography major Joe Botthof and theater major Rebecca Walter explained the ways in which Hogg has aided to their education of biology.
“Showing us different videos explaining the different compounds. Like how we get them, why we need them, so those are a really big help,” Botthof said.
“I’m a visual learner, so just reading out of a textbook, I don’t learn. Seeing it on the [smart] board helps me,” Walter said.
As Squirt and Crush, the class pet turtles, slash and swim around in their aquarium, Botthof feeds them before class begins.
The freshman biology class is learning about organic compounds. For their projects, students have to create digital compound posters. In groups, students design a blog and a poster. Carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids are the four organic compounds students can chose.
“The kids are using their artistic skills, recording podcasts, vocal students are recording songs and putting them on their posters,” Hogg said.
Naiomi Torres and Kristin Snitcher, both visual art majors, chose carbohydrates as their organic compound for the digital compound poster project. Both girls say that Hogg’s style of teaching helps them learn the material taught in Biology.
“For me, I’m learning. I knew these things, but I didn’t understand them. So when Ms. Hogg teaches us and the way she teaches us, I understand,” Torres said.
Even when the last bell rings, Hogg continues to offer her time to students as the sponsor of the school’s Girls for Change club. Additionally, as a participant in the Philadelphia Writing Project, she co-facilitated a 2010 two-week summer camp for young writers.
Through active civic engagement, the student government at Wagner Middle School participates in monthly fundraising campaigns. There are no pizza parties, extra-credit or other incentives given to students. However, the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are able to raise thousands of dollars for several community organizations.
“The kids really spearhead everything. They come up with slogans for each event. They never ask, ‘What do we get out of it?’ They never ask for anything in return,” Principal Maya Johnstone said.
Recently, the student government hosted “Hoops for Heart,” which consisted of a three-on-three basketball tournament to raise awareness for heart disease. Students were able to raise $1,200.
In December, the “Pop to you Drop” dance raised funds to purchase gifts for Toys for Tots. A can drive was held in November which yielded 4, 175 cans for Philabundance. In October, students raised $2,000 for Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
Fourth-year math teacher and student government liaison, Rachel Lakner, said she likes the students’ attitudes and eagerness to participate with events.
“I love community service. I love working with the kids in a different way than teaching because you really get to meet them. Some of the most energetic kids in the classroom are some of the greatest kids when it comes to helping with events,” Lakner said.
Eighth-grader and student government president Ahmad Hall explained why his role was important to him.
“I like the fact that I get to lead people. People look up to me, that’s a fun thing to do,” Hall said.
Leading other students by his example, this future professional baseball player is waiting for his acceptance into the Franklin Learning Center, Parkway Center City, Mastbaum and Dobbins high schools next year.
The student government plans to host upcoming events for lung cancer awareness, veterans and teacher appreciation week.
Principal Johnstone said that Wagner students are taking ownership of their community by volunteering their time.
“I don’t think it’s many middle school student governments that’s all kid oriented. The whole cabinet is made up of kids that students voted in. They make it look exciting,” Johnstone said.
Election season was intense. Posters covered hallways, campaign T-shirts were worn, the debate was heard in the auditorium and candidates visited classrooms explaining why students should vote for them. Johnstone said during November, everyone gets serious.
But elections aren’t the only activities appealing students.
“I challenge the teachers to engage the students,” Johnstone said.
Wagner teachers infuse classrooms with technology by using iMovie, flip cams and even Promethean board clickers to give presentations in class.
“A lot of my teachers, including myself, are into technology. Our kids make iMovies. They don’t just do book reports; it’s a PowerPoint presentation. My rule to the teachers is if you use it, I’ll buy it,” Johnstone said.
It was silent in room 201. Sixth-grade reading and writing teacher, Erin Bloom walked around the room helping students with their Project Based Learning projects. For this unit, students did PowerPoint presentations on civil rights figures. Reports were focused on the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Fourth-year teacher, Bloom, encouraged students to research other important figures other than Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
“I like that [Ms. Bloom] pays attention to what we do and she’s always interested in our stories. She always has confidence in us,” Seleste Grant said.
Grant decided to choose James Leonard Farmer Jr. for her report.
“I like history, and I think he inspired me because he was a freedom rider. I think everybody should be free,” the sixth-grader said.
Shayla Lee and Christina Velez chose to do their project on Emmett Till. After learning that Till was killed at age 14, just three years older than they are, Velez and Lee talked about how his death made them feel.
“It really didn’t have to go down like that. He was only 14, and he didn’t get to live his life,” Lee said.
“It would make me feel scared,” Velez said.
In the next classroom over in Michelle Todd’s class, sixth-grader Tyreek Frederick watched a film that discussed segregation, boycotts and voting rights for African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.
“I learn the history of Black people and the Little Rock Nine and how the leaders impacted history,” Frederick said. “I feel thankful for their impact so I can get into school without issues.”
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/.
Six years ago, there was only one high school for Kensington. Due to a large student population, Kensington divided into four campuses — Kensington Creative and Performing Arts, Business and Finance, Urban Education and Culinary Arts.
At Kensington Culinary Arts (KCA), some students aren’t cooking, but some are measuring up to new standards. Now, more health and science related classes are offered to students.
“We have developed different programs to reflect the health sciences, which we’re very proud of,” Principal James Williams said.
Now, students can chose between the dental program and health related technologies — which includes studies of anatomy, physiology and epidemiology.
“It’s an opportunity we never got before. It’s not in most schools and we get this, what other people never did,” ninth-grade dental program student Christine Bowser said. “All the teachers here are nice and they’re firm with us, but they teach us as well so, we respect them for that.”
Ninth-grader She’lae Dollard-Dukes said the new programs offer her a motivating atmosphere in which to learn.
“It separates us from the foolishness and people that just don’t care. It brings positive energy and it helps,” Dollard-Dukes said. “This school gives you more opportunity, and it gives us more stuff to do.”
Two anatomical correct medical manikins laid on two separate gurneys in the health related technologies classroom. Covered with bed sheets, the manikins are used during instructional periods.
Michael Rothstein has worked as a nurse for over 20 years and has taught health related technologies classes for a decade. Rothstein said he likes the drive of KCA students.
“[There’s] a lot more motivation here,” Rothstein said.
For an upcoming epidemiology class, students will learn about food borne illnesses. Rothstein has four teacher volunteers — acting as patients — read scripts and students have to interview them to determine which illness was present in the patients.
These new classes have led to the school’s proposed name change, Kensington Health Sciences Academy. According to school administration, the name change will be implemented for the next academic year.
“With the focus of changing the name of the school and increasing the relationships that we share with our community partners to provide more of a language that you’ll here with our upperclassmen, the word we constantly use is options. We want our kids to have options in terms of what they can do and whatever they opt to do we want them ready for that experience,” Williams said.
In his fourth year, Williams called KCA students “the difference makers.” He said the relationships with students make KCA special.
“We’re a smaller school which is a great benefit. We know every kid in the school. We know their families. There’s a certain rapport we have that is apart of the culture of the school that allows us to raise the academic bar,” Williams said.
“The thing that makes our school unique is the fact that just about everyone here has bought into our vision of how a school should be. We feel we have a mission as opposed to jobs. We’re going to bring about a good education for these kids and to enhance their future,” Dean of Students Ed Green said. “I think my job is to change lives.”
In a pre-calculus math class, seniors Quram King and Flor Melendez reviewed their homework. Both students had high PSSAs scores and took AP government and AP English courses.
“The AP classes really prepare you for college. In terms of enrolling, they really help you with every single step and the counselors are good and help you apply,” King said.
He is interested in majoring in music production and theater in college.
“Mr. Williams is always trying. They really want to give you a challenge and right now, there’s a push,” Melendez said.
She has been accepted into Penn State Berks.
During a health class, students discussed factors of the obesity issue among Americans and how to combat this problem with proper nutrition. Health and physical education teacher, Brian Zufolo had students watch the 2004 Morgan Spurlock documentary, “Super Size Me.”
“There are some things that catch their attention. In nutrition, we talk about things like fast food or things kind of related to them and their pretty interested in it,” Zufolo said.
In his fourth year, Zufolo said he likes teaching health and physical education because it is practical and relatable to students.
“I enjoy teaching my content. I feel that this is something that they can all relate to. This is information that they need everyday. These things they need for life. This is basic living skills. So I feel like I have an important job,” Zufolo said.
At Julia Ward Howe School, class is taught from “bell to bell,” reading is emphasized and subject material is relatable. There are partnerships between the school, parents and community organizations and recognition of students and staff is frequent. Rigor, reading, relevance, relationship and recognition are the five core values that drive the school.
From kindergarten thru fifth grade, two classes per grade, there are approximately 293 students who the principal calls her “children.” In her fourth year at Howe, Principal Docquin Jessup says, “Everyone has a voice.”
“I have a beautiful bunch of students, and I have a dedicated staff that put forth the effort and make a difference. We work together as a team. I couldn’t ask for more,” Jessup said.
By acknowledging the accomplishments of her students and staff, Jessup has a long list of possible awards that are given out each month, week and day. Based on academic excellence, attitude and respect for peers and administration, staff will select students who meet these requirements.
Monthly, one female and one male student from each class are chosen as “Student of the Month.” Weekly, Howe’s teaching staff votes on the “Class of the Week.” Additionally, there are math and literacy terms known as “Words of the Week.” At the end of the week, the school’s student safeties go to classrooms and ask students to recite the word and its meaning. The first person to answer gets a prize. Gel pens, pencils and books are some prizes given out.
Fourth-grader, Zoreyeah Tolbert says she enjoys getting the book prizes.
“I read everyday, when I read stuff, I learn. I like reading stuff because it might have facts that I don’t know.” Tolbert said.
Daily, students can earn “Howe Pride Tickets.” These small tickets are given to students doing well academically and with their behavior.
Fourth-grader, Chyna Taylor said she knows what teachers look for in order to get a ticket.
“How you interact with students and how you respect adults,” Taylor said.
By 2:45 p.m., students will bring the tickets to the main office. Jessup will shake the “little yellow bucket,” choose four winners and announce their names over the loudspeaker.
“It’s something we’re doing every day, every week, every month just to celebrate and show that I’m acknowledging their efforts,” Jessup said.
As students itch to go to lunch, James Bieak teaches one of the fourth-grade classes decimals. Recently, Bieak’s class received the “Class of the Week” Award. Within his eight years at Howe, Bieak says students really understand the initiatives set in place at the school.
“I think it’s something to look forward to. Trying to set a positive environment rather than having students interrupt doing the wrong behavior. I think it helps [students] to check their behavior themselves and model behavior for the younger students,” Bieak said.
According to the 2010 Annual Student Survey conducted by the School District of Philadelphia, 82 percent of fifth-grade students says there is a “level of academic and personal trust between them and the teachers at their school.”
“We learn [a lot] of stuff and the teachers really help us and we get more education from them,” Tolbert said.
Every week, teachers are recognized for their efforts. Teachers who have the most perfect attendance in their classes will get a certificate. At the end of the month, the teacher with the highest attendance record will receive a $20 gift card to Office Depot to buy supplies for their class.
Encouragement is a continued theme seen in Mona Cohen’s autistic support class. As the class of five students read out loud, Devon Smith encourages his classmate when they successfully complete a passage.
“Good job, Terrell,” Smith said.
“We’re a family. We look out for each other. The children are kind. To see them making progress, to see them talking, to see them thieving is just amazing to me. We don’t sit still,” Cohen said.
“That’s one of the wonderful things about us because it’s just the kindness of each other and we support each other and help each other. It’s great. I love my job.”
This year the class is studying animals. Field trips including, the Philadelphia Zoo, a farm and PETCO, will educate students about animal habitats, feeding and care. In order to pay for transportation, each month, Cohen’s class has a fundraiser selling bake goods.
To engage students in technology, Cohen uses the Photo Booth program on her Mac computer — which simulates students riding a roller coaster or swimming with fishes as they take their reading tests. Additionally, Cohen uses an iPad and has downloaded various applications for students to use to help with their development of skills.
“Students who are really not engaged otherwise, the minute that iPad turns on, they are just laser focused,” Cohen said.
Students at Howe learn the value of dependability. Fourth- and fifth-grade students have the opportunity to be a school safety. Tymnir Hatch, Jeffrey Jordan, Sanaa Durham and Kayla Wright are a few safeties at Howe.
Fourth-grader, Kyla DeVaughn says she likes the responsibilities as a safety.
“Every Wednesday we get to clean out the library and make it better,” DeVaughn said.
Howe students also have the opportunity to get engaged with various community organizations that visit throughout the year.
Through the Einstein Medical Center under the sponsorship of the School District of Philadelphia, Howe is an active participant in the Eat Right Now program. Speakers educate students to make healthy food choices. Using the Eating the Alphabet program — which begins with the letter A through the letter Z, and children have a taste of a healthy food, learn information about the food, and do a craft.
CADEkids — changing attitudes, decisions, and environments for kids, also goes into classrooms to show videos and instruct students on making good decisions to avoid conflict, violence and drugs.