The Vare-Washington School has been at the cutting edge of education, featuring supportive teachers, strong academics and numerous enrichment opportunities for its students.
“Vare-Washington is a good school,” said fifth-grader Elijah Lawrence. “The teachers are great. They are supportive and are willing to help you if you’re having problems with something. They have a lot of programs here. I participate in the music program and play the drums. I just like this school.”
The K-8 school, which occupies the former George Washington School building at 1198 S. 5th St., has a mission to educate, support and challenge students within a positive learning environment while addressing their emotional needs.
“Our goal at Vare-Washington is to build college graduates,” said principal Zachary Duberstein. “We want our students to go to four-year institutions and graduate from those institutions. In addition to that, we want to build renaissance students — students that are great in everything that they touch.
“We just try to give them as many opportunities as possible so they can find what their passions are,” he said. “Compassion and service are some of our core values at the school, so we want our students to not only find something that they are passionate about, but we also want them to be well-rounded and compassionate.
“We want them to look beyond themselves and have a complete understanding of who they are, where they fit in, and what can they contribute,” he added.
Vare-Washington teachers continue to raise the bar of what students are learning by providing rigorous lessons to help enhance their reading, writing and math skills. Students in teacher Jenna Beck’s class have improved their reading score on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test by 13.9 points.
The PSSA is administered annually statewide to students in grades 3 through 8.
“There are a few reasons why the class grew so much on their PSSA’s score,” said Beck, who teaches English language arts and social studies. “We have co-teachers that are in our classrooms with us. We have a specialized teacher, Liz Hailu, who comes in and does rotation with me.
“There are about five kids in each group. We have four stations and they work independently. One group is working with Ms. Hailu and one group is working with me,” she said. “We concentrate primarily on close reading and the skills associated with close readings.
“A lot of the things that they see on PSSA’s, like breaking down the text, analyzing it, using evidence from the text to write an essay — we practice those skills really closely. We’re also upping the amount of time that we’re actually reading,” Beck said.
“We have a text study block after our rotation where we focus on one novel and we have different days called close read days where we are breaking down a chunk of the text,” she said. “Looking at figurative language, practicing a skill, and citing evidence. We also have days where we are just continuously reading for the whole block.
“I want my students to have a love for reading,” she added. “You’re capable of doing anything as long as you work hard at it. They are always people there who can help. I want them to be successful and I’m going to make sure I do everything in my power to make sure that happens.”
Vare-Washington offers a plethora of programs, including band, choir, coding, robotics, chess, scrabble and art. In Geoffrey Ednie’s sixth-grade music class, students are learning the song “I Won’t Back Down” by the rocker Tom Petty, who died on Oct. 2.
“We’re doing the Tom Petty song because he just recently passed away,” Ednie said. “I wanted the students to know how big of an impact he’s had on the music industry. Unfortunately, legendary artists have been passing away a lot over the last few years, but it gives me an opportunity, as a teacher, to talk about these artists to my students.
“In the past, the students learned about Prince, Chris Cornell and many others,” he added. “It’s interesting to see the students’ reaction to these artists because most of the time they are very unfamiliar with their music. I also let the students decide the music they want to learn. Sometimes the songs are not always doable, but I try my best to accommodate my students’ interests.”
Ednie teaches music for all grades at the school in South Philadelphia. He says his goal is to instill students with an appreciation for music and the artists behind the music.
“Starting in second grade, the students play the recorder and that’s where I focus on music notation and reading music. Students start playing the guitar in the fourth grade into fifth grade. Usually, by the end of fifth grade, we start incorporating the other modern band instruments. They also learn about different musicians and how to play their songs,” the music teacher explained about the learning progression.
“What I try to teach my students is that music is a collaborative effort,” he added. “It’s rare that someone is playing music all by themselves. Even a soloist has an accompanist or a soloist is featured in front of an entire orchestra. I’m trying to give the students experiences where they can all learn and perform music together as much as possible. My goal is when a child leaves Vare-Washington, they are more aware of all of the different musical possibilities that are out there and that they have an appreciation of music.”
Sixth-grader Diego Martinez has been a part of Vare-Washington’s music program for the past few years.
“I’ve been playing the guitar for two years,” Martinez said. “I’ve also been playing the drums for the last three years. The music program is pretty cool. We’ve been learning all different kinds of songs from different artists. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Fifth-grader Chris Evelin Gasca Rodriguez plays the violin.
“I have been playing the violin for the last two years and it’s been a lot of fun,” Rodriguez said. “I perform in both the winter and spring concerts. I like learning new music and being able to perform those songs. I just really like being a part of my school’s music program.”