Conwell Middle School connects to the world

Vocal music teacher Marc Jenkins leads students in “The Conwell Spirit” written by student support staffer Ms. K. Miller. — PHOTO BY ABDUL R. SULAYMAN / TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

As you walk through the hallways of Russell H. Conwell Magnet Middle School and take a look around the classrooms, art room, music room and math classes, you’ll begin to notice a theme — hard working students, and a dedicated community of faculty, staff, administration and parents, all striving for excellence.

“In addition to the core curriculum, high academic standards, service to the community, high quality staff, and good programming for students in and outside of school are just some traditions we are continuing to build on at Conwell,” said principal Dr. Tamara Thomas-Smith. “Our school prepares students for high school both academically and socially. We give students opportunities to be of service to the community through service learning projects that actually comes from the students themselves. We just want to provide our students with the best opportunities academically and personally. We not only want them to succeed in the classroom, but also in life.”

Conwell, which is the first middle school in Philadelphia, has one of the most challenging and finest programs in the city. The academic program focuses on the academic achievement of every student. The school offers instruction in vocal and instrumental music, computers, and the visual and performing arts.

“One of things I like about this school is the music program,” said eighth-grader Zackery Brezina. “I play the trombone, so I love everything about music. I have learned so much from my music teacher. He gives us the opportunity to play different pieces from different genres of music. His class pushes us to our limits musically, but in the end it will help us become better musicians and performers. I appreciate everything he has done for me.”

In art, students at Conwell learn the introduction to the elements and principles of art, design, drawing, landscape and sculpture. Conwell’s latest art project was based on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, where students had to do a response artwork piece based on that particular speech.

“I try to bring a mixture of real life experiences with artwork in my art classes,” said art teacher Peter Koller. “With the Martin Luther King project, I thought it was a good way to analyze the speech, celebrate his memory, but it was also a good way for the students to look at the speech artistically. I just want my students to gain an appreciation of art, but I also want them to develop their 2D (dimensional) and 3D (dimensional) skills. Art is really another function that students should master in addition to writing and reading.”

Extra-curricular activities include Readers Café, Cooking Club, Keyboards, Go Green! Environmental Club, 24 Challenge and student council.

“This is a good school because it offers us a variety of programs and the teachers are preparing us for our future,” said sixth-grader Dirk Gooden. “All of the teachers at the school are willing to help us when we’re struggling in a class. They make learning fun. I’m always looking forward to going to a class at Conwell, especially if it’s a math class.”  

For eighth-grader Dashana Palmer, going to Conwell has not only helped her succeed academically, but also grow personally.

“Going to Conwell has been a little bit of struggle for me, especially last year because I lost my mom,” Palmer said. “Dr. Thomas has helped me tremendously. She talked to me and let me know that just because my mom is no longer here, there are still people out here who really care about me. She let me know that I can still succeed if I work hard. Conwell is a really good school and I really enjoyed my time at this school.”

Seventh-grader Ryan McIlherny says what makes the school is the special bond the school has with the community. In the past, Conwell has raised funds and given donations to Toys for Tots, and relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

“What makes this school so unique is all of the charity work the school does,” McIlherny said. “We are all fortunate to have what we have, so doing the charity work gives the students a better understanding of what is taking place in the community and the world. It always feels nice when you do something good for someone else. Conwell is a hands-on school. Everything that we learn connects with what is going on in the world. This school not only has helped me become a better student, but also a person.”

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