Middle Years Alternative: Small school, big future

Essence Sills-McCrea and Gabriel Alveranga do research on the computer.-- PHOTO/ABDUL R. SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

Middle Years Alternative School (MYA) has special admissions, small class setting, relatable teachers and engaging class assignments where students are supported to reach academic excellence.

“We believe that all children have the ability to achieve,” Principal Kathleen Fitzpatrick said.

In her fourth year as principal, Fitzpatrick explains the philosophy of MYA and how its environment prepares students for future endeavors.

“We also believe that they come to us with a fresh start. Regardless of past failures, other issues, we believe that this is a fresh start in a new place. We want to move them forward. We want to prepare them for high school. We want them to leave us fully prepared to go to a challenging high school and be successful in a very challenging program,” Fitzpatrick said.

Previously, MYA was housed on 49th and Chestnut Streets. However, with weak infrastructure, the building was no longer safe. Therefore, decisions were made that MYA and Parkway West High School would share a building, where the schools are currently located at 47th and Fairmount Avenue.

There was still another issue. Sulzberger Middle School was at this new location. In order to make room for MYA and Parkway, Sulzberger students were disbanded to other schools in the area.

“A lot of people in the community had very strong ties to Sulzberger. Sulzberger has a lot of history in the city. Community members felt that the eighth-graders in particular [should] graduate at Sulzberger,” Fitzpatrick said.

Despite location changes, MYA is focused on academic achievement. According to Fitzpatrick, the success of making Adequate Yearly Progress consecutively since 2003 was to make students aware of their PSSA standings.

“We say all the time, ‘instructional time is protected time.’ Nothing can get in the way of classroom instruction. The teachers are very focused. They make the kids very goal orientated. We talk about data all the time and we make the kids aware of the data,” Fitzpatrick said.  

“It’s not just about making AYP, it’s about learning. We don’t want to focus on the number, we want to focus on what kids retain throughout the year.”

With approximately 300 students, 23 staff members and 14 teachers, MYA provides an intimate community of educational focus.

“It’s difficult to run a school by yourself. In recent years, everyone here has a piece of what happens at MYA and we come together and put it all together,” Fitzpatrick said.

Staff member Betty Garner keeps students in line and peace throughout the hallways. She knows students’ first names and greets them as they walk to class. As a grandmother, she said she sent her grandchildren to MYA because “students are well behaved” and of the “small school atmosphere.”

“I like to check out the schools. I like the idea of the school. I liked it for my grandkids because it keeps them focused and we have some good teachers,” Garner said.

In Veronica Clymer’s information technology class, students learn practical skills when looking for a job. Students learn to research information about companies and write resumes and cover letters. She teaches students to be confident and prepared for interviews. Jokingly, Clymer laughs with the class about the statements made by people who are unprepared for job interviews.

“I had a student a few years ago and I said to her, ‘Listen.’ She had problems with her speech. I said things to her like, ‘Look. You can come to an interview and be completely dressed well, dressed for success. Your résumé, your cover letter, your references are all there and then you sit down and you open your mouth and you kill the whole interview,’ Clymer said.

She tells the eighth-grade students to think about their high school interviews. Clymer teaches students to be mindful of the language they use in a work place environment.

“Every time she spoke, it was always as though she was back in the neighborhood with her friends. I said to her, ‘You have to learn to turn that off.’ I’m not saying it’s not good to speak that way because if you speak that way with your friends and family, that’s fine,” Clymer said.

Eighth-grader, Raheem Naughty listens attentively in Clymer’s class as he takes notes. Naughty spends his time at the Kimmel Dance Center and local church. He is also a member of the MYA drumline and school band. Naughty said he is prepared for high school because of the efforts of his teachers.

“My favorite part about this school are the teachers because they really help us out a lot. Whenever we need them, they help us,” Naughty said.

“I like the teachers because a lot of them are young and relatable,” David Redmond said in seventh-grade science class.

“They give me a lot of opportunities to do better, to do good and the [school’s system] helps you stay on track and do all of your homework.”

Anjane Woolford said she is looking forward to learning new “stuff” in Cheryl Bryant’s fifth-grade class.

“I like Ms. Bryant and how she teaches stuff in different ways,” Woolford said.

Bryant is a first year teacher at MYA and a novice in the middle school environment. However, she was a reading specialist for several years in various Philadelphia elementary schools. Bryant said MYA students’ eagerness to learn is impressive.

“The children are very enthusiastic about learning. They love learning. They have a thirst for knowledge. They want to learn more. That inspires me to want to do more,” Bryant said.

“I try to meet the needs for each student. Whether giving them enrichment or support, they actually help each other a lot. That helps me when they want to help each other.”

As Woolford works on her State Fair project, she opens her textbook to find information about the state bird, flower, history and special attractions of New Mexico. Each student in the two fifth-grade classes is responsible for making a poster of their assigned state.

The fifth-grade class does several engaging assignments. Bryant said her favorite project was when students drew their shadows. In the morning, students drew their shadow and made a prediction if their shadow changed when they drew their shadow again during the afternoon.

“When they got out there, they were just so excited. I think it was one of the most exciting projects they have done this year. They were just excited about seeing and finding out the fact that if those things really did come true, what they had predicted,” Bryant said.

“I’m challenging them more. I look forward to giving them some more challenging work and hopefully some more excited projects.”

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