Named after the founder of Philadelphia’s Temple University, Russell H. Conwell Middle Magnet School is a high performing school where goals are reachable and success is the norm, both inside and out of the classroom.
“Conwell is a really good school,” said eighth-grader Steven Colon. “It is a preparatory middle school, so the school definitely does a good job of prepping you for high school. The classes are hard and the teachers challenge you. They don’t baby us, they let us know early on that we have to work hard in order for us to succeed.”
Located in the Kensington section of the city, Conwell is the first middle school in Philadelphia and one of just a few magnet programs geared toward students in grades 5-8. Some of the extra-curriculum activities at Conwell include the Reading Olympics, choir, band, orchestra, yearbook, chess club, student government, stacking cups, peer mediation and technology club.
“Conwell gives the students different opportunities, so that we can learn new things,” said eighth-grader Mazin Ahmed. “No matter what you’re interested in, there is an activity or program at the school that’s catered to what you like. My favorite subject right now is actually science. It’s very interesting to learn about different things in science and how to make the world a better place.”
Adding to the students’ enthusiasm about Conwell is the high caliber of teacher quality. Students appreciate the academic aptitude of their teachers as well as the personal investments they make in the students.
“The teachers at Conwell are great,” said eighth-grader Alex Choi. “The teachers really connect with us; they help us every step of the way. They make a personal investment in all of us. They not only challenge us academically, but also personally. They even take us on great trips. Last year, one of my teachers took some of us to a Sixers game. Everybody had fun and the game was intense; it was a good experience.”
One program that is constantly evolving at Conwell is art. In addition to students learning about different color schemes, shades and shadows, they also learn about social issues through art itself.
“Mr. Koller has taught us so much in art,” said eighth-grader Charles Martin. “Everything he teaches us is really fun and exciting. We’ve learned about different color schemes, shades and shadows. I personally like painting in art. We did something where we had to do a self-portrait and we had to draw a celebrity that we like. We’re constantly doing different things in art.”
Students in Peter Koller’s art class recently worked on an AIDS quilt, which is hanging in the hallway of the school.
“One of the things I love about Conwell is that the students are very proactive about their education,” Koller said. “They are active learners and are always looking to make a connection between the classes. Conwell has a long tradition of art education. One of the things that I like doing with my students is giving them background information before the project.
“One of latest big projects I gave the students was the AIDS quilt that we did for a contest,” he added. “I could just have had students do a poster with an AIDS ribbon, but that doesn’t really push the idea of what AIDS really is. The AIDS quilt project that I had the students do is a national thing. People who have family members who have died from AIDS celebrate that family member by making a quilt panel.
“I changed the subject matter a little bit for the students by studying an artist who died from the disease Keith Haring. They just make an awareness concept of how to prevent AIDS or AIDS as a world epidemic, and to use Keith Haring simplified figurative style to communicate their idea.”
In Lindsay Groft’s general instrumental classes, seventh- and eighth-grade students are learning how to differentiate various genres of music, how to express themselves creatively and musically and how to play various instruments.
“Every once in a while the students get to do a listen-and-describe to a bunch of different music and genres and then they get to express themselves through words, writing and pictures,” she said. “The students did some drawings where they listened to music and then described the scene through pictures. We get to incorporate a lot of different things with the music and the arts.
“Right now, I just do general music, but I’m also the instrumental teacher for the band and orchestra. But we have itinerant teachers that come and go throughout the week that teach our lessons. My goal is to have the students leaving Conwell reading music as just the curriculum part of it. If they want to pick up a guitar or another instrument they already know how to play because they can read the music.
For eighth-grader Akmir Yotif, being in the music classes allows him to express himself creatively.
“There are so many different opportunities here in the arts,” Yotif said. “You’re constantly learning something new. You’re not just learning about notes, how to read music, and how to play different instruments, but you’re also getting a background on different genres of music. I’m learning about the history of music itself. It’s really a new experience for me and I enjoy the classes.”