Career and Technical education (CTE) programs, driven students as well as supportive teachers and staff are all elements at the heart of the curriculum at South Philadelphia High School at 2101 S. Broad St.
South Philly High offers its nearly 630 students a variety of CTE programs that range from culinary arts and health related technologies to graphic design. Upon completion of the program, students can earn certifications that are accepted in the professional world.
Principal Kimlime Chek-Taylor said that the South Philly High teachers and staff have been going above and beyond to support their students.
“Our teachers love to teach, but most importantly they love our students,” Chek-Taylor said. “The amount of hours that our teachers have put into virtual learning has been amazing. They have learned new virtual platforms, creating their own slides and presentations and getting students involved in the lesson.”
For Michael Jackson, being in his first year as the teacher of the graphic design program at South Philly High, has been all about adaptability and malleability due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Prior to becoming a teacher, Jackson was a designer for 15 years. He worked in publishing and also did freelance illustration work. He teaches sophomores, juniors and seniors in Graphic Design I,II and III.
“We don’t have our standard software, so we’re learning on the go,” Jackson said. “In addition to learning on the go, the students and I are also learning and trusting each other.”
“I’ve definitely seen the growth in the students from the beginning of the year. They are talking more in my classes and they’re showing parts of themselves in small ways and I appreciate that. I’m encouraging them to bring that into their design work,” he said.
“I tell them all the time that the most valuable asset as a designer, illustrator or in graphic arts is yourself,” he added. “You have to figure out a way to let your voice be center stage and I see them starting to do that.”
In the graphic design program, students not only work on hands-on projects but they also learn about digital and print media. One of the big projects that students did this year was the World Aids Day poster contest.
“We had a number of winners selected for the contest,” Jackson said. “The students really did an amazing job. The project set the standard for the year because it’s something that they can really rally around and be proud of.”
Sophomore Miguel Gregory said he wanted to participate in the graphic design program after learning about the industry firsthand from his mom. Miguel won third place in the World Aids poster contest.
“For my poster, I wanted to keep things simple because I know when there is a whole lot of things going on it sometimes can get all jumbled or people can just overlook it,” Gregory said.
“The colors were red and white and then I had a big ribbon in the back behind all the words and everything. The catchphrase I came up with was ‘be invested and get tested.’ I ended up winning third place in the contest, so that made me feel pretty good.”
Jackson said that normally students would be using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for a project like the World Aids Day poster, but due to virtual learning the students were using Photopea for the very first time.
“Photopea actually gets close to some of the things that Photoshop can do,” Jackson said.
“Normally, we would be using Adobe Illustrator, but we don’t have that this year so we’ve been really focusing on the process of sketching and coming up with ideas. We also use typography so they have to learn how to make a logo.”
Sophomore Nancy Hernandez, who is interested in anime, said that she has learned a lot in the program so far. “We learned how to make posters and sketches,” Nancy said.
“We’ve also done different projects. I’ve been improving my photo skills and learning how to use pencils. I’m really enjoying the class.”
Jackson said what he’s hoping students take away from his classroom is the confidence that they can excel in the program.
“The biggest thing I want my students to know is that they can do this,” Jackson said.
“I want them to have faith that even if they don’t go into graphic design, the process of learning, overcoming and excelling are things that can still apply to their own lives. In my class, they’re not learning how to be a professional later in life, they’re learning how to be a professional right now.”