One of the best kept secrets in the Philadelphia School District is Alain Locke Elementary School. Located at 4550 Haverford Ave., Locke’s vision is to offer an educational program that prepares students to get into the best high schools in the city, as well as continue their education pursuits as they earn prestigious honors and degrees in college and trades around the world.

“I love going to school here; it’s so much fun,” said first-grader Ziyan Hemingway. “Everyday I’m doing something new. I’ve learned a lot so far in my classes. My favorite subject right now is math; we’re learning how to add and subtract.”

Named after writer, educator, patron of the arts and “Philosophical Dean” of the Harlem Renaissance Alain Leroy Locke, Locke Elementary is a K-8 school that currently has 467 students. The school’s culture is driven by strong academics, dedicated teachers, community partnerships and various programs.

“One of the things that I like about my school is the teachers,” said fifth-grader Gary Carson. “The teachers do a really good job of teaching us past our grade. Ms. Waters really does a good job of finding different ways to make learning fun and interesting.

“Math is my favorite subject, so Ms. Waters challenges me in math by having me participate in First in Math,” he added. “She also teaches me different things in math that seventh-graders are actually doing. It’s always good when you have teachers who will go the extra mile just so you can do well in school.”

Locke has a partnership with Drexel University, where university students comes in and work with Locke students in math and science. The school also has a family resource center, after school programs in math and literacy and math programs, including First in Math and Achieve 3000.

“One of things that I like doing is First in Math,” said first-grader Kafi McCain. “I really like math and playing games, so I get to do both on the computer. I’m pretty good at First in Math, once you get the hang of it. I really like learning new things and at Locke I’m learning a lot.”

In Dara Messing’s first-grade class, students will be learning how to read, count money and tell time.

“I think that first grade is the most important year,” Messing said. “The amount of growth the students have throughout the year is really tremendous; I love teaching children how to read. This year my students will be learning how to read, blend sounds, sight words, comprehension skills and finding details in stories.

“In math, they will be learning addition and subtraction, counting coins and telling time to the half hour,” she added. “In social studies, the students are learning community skills and in science their learning solid, liquid, gases, rocks and sand. I always say everything you need to know you learn in first grade, so I want my students to take away a multitude of skills with them when they leave my class.

“Most importantly, I want them to have a passion for learning.”

First-grader Jamirah Washington also likes having Messing as his teacher.

“She’s a really good teacher,” Washington said. “I’ve learned so much since being in her class. She finds different ways to help us understand what we are learning. Instead of just teaching us about different things, she shows us what she is talking about. I really like her as my teacher. I’m looking forward to learning more in her classes.”

Students in Jiana Waters fifth-grade are learning about hurricanes.

“Lately the students have been asking me a lot of questions about different things in science,” Waters said. “I try to teach them in what they are interested in. [When] there was a hurricane coming, I decided to do a lesson on hurricanes.

“In social studies, I’m teaching U.S. history, but we’re also starting something with the Liberty museum,” she added. “That will be like a service learning project for the students. Academically, I want my students to leave my classroom with positive experiences and a passion for learning. I want my students to take what they learn in my class and continue to build on [it] and put [it] to use.

“I want to see them succeed.”

Fifth-grader Dasani Zozula found the lesson on hurricanes so interesting she has decided to do a report on it.

“There are five different things that need to happen in order for a hurricane to occur,” Zozula said. “Those levels include: tropical wave, tropical disturbance, tropical pressure, tropical storm and, lastly, a hurricane. Learning about hurricanes has been interesting. I’m looking forward to see[ing] what I learn in science class this year.”

Contact staff writer

Chanel Hill

at (215) 893-5716 or

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