On any given week at Cook-Wissahickon Elementary, you may hear students reading a book out loud or see them get their hands dirty during a science experiment. And it is not just for fun. Instead, it is a part of the school’s efforts to show students new experiences and to help them achieve in the classroom.
“I love going to Cook; I’m always learning something new,” said Chelsea Marfin. “We never do the same lesson every day. We’re always doing something different in class. I like it because it makes learning fun for me.”
Cook, at 201 E. Salignac St., is a K-8 school that has 400 students.
“I really like working on the computers,” said first-grader Dylan Bearden. “We do different activities. There is this one game and it’s called Jet ski, and every time you get the answer in math right you go faster on the jet ski. It’s a lot of fun because through the game I’m learning more about math. This is really a good school and I love going here.”
One of the things that makes Cook so great is that it is a staple in the community. The school has numerous community partnerships including Philadelphia University, East River Bank, PECO, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation.
“One of the things that make Cook so special is that we have great support system from the families and from the community,” said first-year principal Melanie Lewin. “We all come together with the same mindset of giving and creating the best educational experience for the students. We could not do any of what we do if it wasn’t for them.”
A few years ago, Cook implemented a new form of teaching. Starting in first grade there are two sections in each grade. One teacher focuses on math and science and another teacher focuses on literacy and social studies.
“We started this process a few years ago,” Lewin said. “The thought process behind it is that everybody has a strength. Some teachers’ strength may be literacy or math. That teacher should be able to teach to their best content area. By doing that, students would receive the information in a much stronger way.
“At Cook, that process starts in first grade,” she added. “In middle school, our seventh- and eighth-graders also have two sections in each, but one math teacher for seventh and eighth, one for science, and social studies. The middle-school teachers really get to know their students because they have to loop it with their kids. We’ve seen some great things since doing this. The students are more engaged and making progress. The teachers are also enjoying it because they’re teaching to their strengths.”
Sang-Sang Walh teaches first-grade math and science. In math, students are learning how to add and subtract. In science, they are learning about solids, liquids, gas, rocks and minerals.
“The students tend to gravitate toward the activities that are more hands-on, so I try different activities with them where they will not only learn, but also have fun in the process,” Walh said. “My students really enjoy science out of the two I teach, mainly because they always do a different project in science. My goal as their teacher is to prepare them for the next level. I want the students to have a craving for education, an enjoyment of attending school, and to be lifelong learners.”
First-grader Olivia Colella has a lot of fun in Walh’s class
“I really like Mrs. Walh’s class,” Colella said. “She makes both math and science fun. Each week we’re doing something that’s new and exciting. Learning is fun when you’re in Mrs. Walh’s class.”
Robin Jacobs is the literacy and social studies teacher for first grade at Cook. Students in her literacy class are learning how to improve their reading levels, develop strengths in their writing, and enjoy the wonderful experience of being in the first grade.
“The children at this school have been absolutely wonderful,” Jacobs said. “The children have a thirst for knowledge and they are willing to take in what they learn. They’re outgoing, they encourage one another, it’s really beautiful to see. I love being their teacher.”
First-grader Molly McGurk says reading is her favorite thing to do at school.
“One of the things I like doing at school is reading,” she said. “My favorite book is ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ because the cat makes such a mess in the book. I really like going to this school. I’m having so much fun here. I love my teachers and I’ve learned a lot from them.”
First-grader David Broomel also likes to read and write at school.
“Some of the things I like doing in school is reading and writing,” he said. “Right now, I’m learning how to write sentences and read different books. I really like to read because reading can take you to any place in the world. It’s also the best way to learn about different things, too.”