As the pin hit the vinyl record, a crackling sound of an old record player was heard. Swinging sounds of the jazz band filled the room as Bessie Smith uttered the soulful lyrics to “Lost Your Head Blues.”
Students listened attentively to the muffled song and jotted down the lyrics they heard. This was the assignment in Amy Ponansky’s music class.
At Feltonville Arts and Science, classes are infused with cultural references, technology is used and students are engaged academically.
In his second year as principal, Michael Reid said he likes the diversity of the student population. With eight different languages spoken by students and staff, Reid said this cultural aspect is appreciated.
Two years ago, before Reid came, the school may have looked different. There were not many initiatives encouraging students to come to school and learn.
Now, with the help of Reid, school administration and parental involvement, changes have been made at Feltonville. Several initiatives that are engaging students academically.
One program is called Leadership Group. This is a pilot program consisting of an all-boys’ seventh-grade class. In its premiere year, 26 male students are learning in a single-sex environment. The Feltonville administration wanted to assess the impact this model had on the level of achievement among the male students.
“This year, actually, the boys seem to be making that difference. It seems to be working for them. They like being in the class. They felt no pressure. When they were in the class, academically, all of them have been improving. I’m really interested in seeing when they take the PSSA if all of their scores will improve, because they’re much more engaged,” Reid said.
The young men do have the opportunity to interact with other students in elective classes and at lunch.
The Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program is a college preparatory initiative. Twenty-five students benefit from this program. AVID prepares students for college, takes them on college tours, teaches them to be organized and communicate.
Lead teacher Allen Wing, has been with the program at Feltonville for 2 ½ years.
“My most memorable experience was when we went to the White House and Times Square. When we go on college trips they’re always excited. They always appreciate it because it’s a lot of work. We took them to Howard and Georgetown and Columbia. They had a ball. They met the president of the university and basketball players, and we took them to the football field,” Wing said.
Eighth-grader Jazmin Miller is in the AVID initiative and explained her experiences in the program.
“It prepared me a lot, because it gets you ready for college and it motivates you to want to go to high school, to want to go to college. We go on trips to different colleges. I like math and science. When I grow up I want to be a chef or fashion designer,” Miller said.
The Golden Attitude Club also encourages students to check their behavior. Regardless of grades, 10 percent of the student population is chosen to receive extra rewards based on the criteria of responsibility, reliability and respectfulness.
This year also features the first autistic class. Assistant Principal Peggy Klova-Davis said this group of students has shown abilities to adapt to the school’s environment and show signs of development. Some have been integrated into other classes.
“We just love our autistic students. They’re really coming along. They’re comfortable in the classroom. They have an excellent teacher. This is the first year, so we are really enjoying having a new group of students in our school,” Klova-Davis said.
Students have the opportunity to get involved with choir, drama, dance and the school’s instrumental ensemble. There is also a robotics team. Technology is infused in classrooms. Whiteboards and laptop carts are also used.
The Extended Day Program and Saturday School were implemented to prep for PSSAs.
Even with school initiatives, extracurricular activities and modern technologies, students have additional support from parental involvement.
A parent who is the school improvement support liaison, Wanda Vazquez, said she has noticed a difference in the school.
“Because I’m so close and see what’s going on in the school, everyone is really involved and gives that support. That’s really important. I think the teachers really love to create different things to make the school a better school. I think that’s really great, that we want the kids to [do] more than just reading books, but in other areas where they can grow and mature,” Vazquez said.
Seventh-grade parent Elise Villafane credits the positive changes to Reid.
“In the last two years, since Mr. Reid has been here, this school has been through a traumatic change. It’s wonderful. Just everything. The students, the staff just everyone is more united working together and really focused on these kids,” Villafane said.
Reid said with the various initiatives implemented in the school structure, he believes that Feltonville will reach Adequate Yearly Progress this year.