For more than 160 years, the Philadelphia High School for Girls, commonly referred to as Girls High, has served as an educational mecca for academically talented young women in the City of Brotherly Love.
Founded in 1848, the school was originally known as the Girls’ Normal School, and was located at the Old Model School on Chester Street. It had only 88 students and six teachers. Girls’ Normal School is the first public school in Pennsylvania to offer a secondary education to girls, and was the first municipally supported school in the United States.
Today, Girls’ High is located at 1400 West Olney Ave., at the corner of Broad and Olney streets, and has blossomed from its humble beginnings into a sprawling, campus-like structure that houses grades 9-12 and has 1,100 students.
“We are focused on excellence,” said principal Dr. Parthenia Moore. “We let the students know that they can embark on every career.”
“Each student who has entered the doors of the school has ensured that through her diligence to reach academic success she was prepared to attend colleges and universities across the country sharing the lessons learned with her peers,” she added. “The rigorous course work, the continual staff support and the school spirit and traditions assist in the preparation for each of our young women.”
The Girls’ High student body consists of culturally diverse, scholarly young ladies from across the city. The school offers various Advancement Placement courses, and an assortment of different languages, including French, Spanish, Latin, German and Italian.
“Girls’ High is one of the top schools in the city and I’m so proud to be a student here,” said sophomore Kayla Hickson. “We’re not only getting the best education through academics and various programs, but we are also learning from each other. You’re literally learning in the classroom and out. It’s the best overall education anyone could receive. I’m really enjoying my experience.”
The spirit of excellence, sisterhood and networking not only resonates with the students, but also the Girls’ High faculty. In Louis Austin’s African-American History class, students can be seen working on various stations in the classroom. The setup in the room is extraordinary, as each table in the room is set up like the Broad Street Subway.
“When I call a different station out, the groups already know what area of the classroom to go to,” said Austin. “The students are currently working on a unit about abolition. There are eight different assignments for this particular unit. We’re covering a bunch of abolitionists that are projected on the screen. Some students are watching videos, others are interpreting primary sources and some are writing literary reviews. It really gives the students an opportunity to learn about various abolitionists through the eyes of various sources.”
Girls’ High takes particular pride in its arts program and students’ remarkable artwork is showcased throughout the school. In Joseph Marchetti’s ceramics class, students are learning how to use and build clay.
“With ceramics, I try to get them from a material they never touched before to master a great skill that will become a great experience for the students,” Marchetti said. “The students will learn how to build with clay. Then we will start looking at cultures, where students will research their own culture and background. I will also ask the students to go back 200 years and research women during that time period. They will then have to build a pot around what they researched. The biggest thing I believe students will take away from ceramics is patience. With clay you have to have patience. I want them to be creative and use this class as a way to explore their creativity.”
Junior Taylor Gaither loves art, so much so she’s willing to try anything new that is art based.
“We’re learning how to make pinch pots in ceramics right now,” Gaither said. “We’re learning slow techniques in how to pinch the cup very slowly. When it comes to clay, I’m learning it’s really all about the technique. Once you have the technique down, you are able to do what you want to do.
“I love art, so I want to try anything that is art based. I love to sketch,” she added. “Ceramics is a nice and new experience for me. I really enjoy something that I can use my hands with. Mr. Marchetti has done a great job of introducing me to ceramics and it’s really cool to explore another art form through the eyes of our art teacher.”
Students also have numerous extracurricular activities to choose from, including sports, drama, National Academic League/Philadelphia Academic League, science club, debate club, various culture clubs and robotics.
“The robotics program at Girls’ High is based on the national robotics program,” said senior and leader of the robotics team Chelsea Sainte. “The robotics program has major competitions in Pennsylvania and world competitions. With the competitions, you have an obstacle course and you build your robot based on the obstacle course. You want to get the highest score as possible.
“After our competition, we will continue to work on our robotics by going to Drexel and Penn for various workshops,” she added. “We’re in the process of trying to get more girls in the program itself. A lot of the girls on the team will be graduating, so we’re trying to help build the team for next year. We want the girls to know about STEM careers and robotics. Our goal is to really get robotics out there as a school. Robotics is known in our school, but it’s not really big yet and we’re trying to change that.”