John H. Webster Elementary is home to approximately 900 students. The elementary school, which has pre-K through fifth grades, is in the Kensington section of Philadelphia on Frankford Avenue. At Webster, the teachers and staff go above and beyond to make their students feel special and this is continuing even through the pandemic.
Proud Principal Sherri Arabia says that Webster’s staff and teachers make the school a special place and that even though transitioning to virtual learning has had its challenges, her students remain resilient and engaged. Arabia is also a 2020 Neubauer Fellow, who helped increase reading growth at the school. Additionally, the school’s School Progress Report (SPR) increased 12% overall. This includes a 5% increase in achievement, a 24% increase in progress and a 7% improvement in climate.
“I feel like I have teachers that really go above and beyond for their students and care about their students. It’s not just a job to them, it’s their passion,” she says. “So I really feel that’s what’s special at Webster school and I think the students know that when they walk in that building and they feel the love from everyone in that building. I’ve been there for five years and we created that culture together.”
School Climate Support, Viviana Virola-Romero is a perfect example of how dedicated Webster’s staff and teachers are. With Webster’s attendance rates slightly lowered from last year, Virola-Romero works hard to ensure that every child is accounted for. When a child is absent, Virola-Romero goes through every child’s name on the list, calling parents and guardians. Because of Virola-Romero’s efforts, the school’s attendance rate has risen by 3% every day.
The school’s mascot, Waldo The Wolf, is another great example of the staff’s love and commitment for their students. Before the shutdown, Waldo The Wolf would take time during lunch to visit students in class to have a dance party. Through the virtual classroom, Waldo The Wolf still makes an appearance with videos to keep the students’ spirits up. The top five classes that have the highest attendance every month get to pick between five rewards and one of the rewards is a class dance with Waldo.
Webster also stands out with their diligent morning and after-school announcements for parents and community members.
Webster works hard to keep their social media accounts updated. Instagram (@websterelementaryschool), Facebook (@johnhwebsterelementaryschool), Twitter (@JohnHWebsterES) and ClassDojo are all a part of how Webster maintains their communication with parents and the community.
Reading Specialist Maria Binck also shares family reading videos on Instagram once a week, while also providing reading strategies to students and their families.
Before the school’s switch to virtual learning, students of every grade enjoyed once-a-week yoga classes. The classes were a treat hosted by Temple University nursing students and took place across the street at Open Door Ministries Community Center’s library. The Community Center also allowed students to check out books once a week. Webster hopes to team back up with Temple nursing students to add the yoga classes to their virtual curriculum in January.
Through the School District of Philadelphia’s Opioid Task Force and The Safe Corridors Program, about eight families in the community have volunteered to walk students to and from school. The “foot school bus” ensures that children walking alone are accompanied by an adult to guarantee that they reach their destination safely. This is just another example of how involved and dedicated the school and the surrounding community are to its budding generation.
Arabia says she loves her job, the students and staff and would love to get more families invested into programs at Webster.
Arabia, who will be celebrating her anniversary as principal on Nov. 30, says “We’re a hidden gem, that’s what I tell parents. Parents are afraid and Webster probably always had a bad reputation in the neighborhood and I mean they had different principals for five years, principal after principal, it was constant turnover and I’ve been there for five years now and I’ve built many relationships with my families. I don’t get many disgruntled families to be honest and we’ve built a community.”