There is a lot of positive energy going around at the Southwark School in South Philadelphia. There is innovative teaching, an immersive bilingual program, community partnerships, and numerous programming based around the arts — all helping to complement a rigorous academic programming for the nearly 900 students.
“Out of 162 schools we were ranked 11 in attendance,” said assistant principal Natalie McHugh. “We’re really proud of that accomplishment. Our teachers and staff has done an amazing job. We have a variety of programs that makes kids want to come to school. Nothing is easy, but we work hard and work as a community to make sure our kids get the best opportunities possible.
“You have to give the community what they want, but most important you have to know your community,” she added. “We have gentrification going on in this area. That’s why we have the bilingual program, STEM, pre-CTE, and the arts We want to give our students an opportunity to succeed when the get to high school through the curriculum and programming that we offer. We’re trying to be in the mix with everyone else and keep ourselves relevant. Our blueprint of doing that is through being a community school that has a vigorous curriculum along with a variety of programs and partnerships.”
A pre-K-8 school at 1835 S. 9th St., Southwark is a diverse community school that ensures its programs cater to the students, their families, and the community. One of the newest programs at Southwark is the dragon piano program. Led by instrumental music teacher Rebecca Moats, the pilot program is geared toward kindergartners.
“This is an intensive music education program specifically for the kindergarten class,” Moats said. “Three times a week those students gets extra music with me and I also work with their home room teacher to incorporate music into their daily class. The students are already touching the keys, but they are also going to be learning the fundamentals that is necessary to become piano players and musicians.
“This is our pilot year, so we haven’t opened it up to the families just yet,” she added. “Depending how the program goes, we may open it up where the parents can opt into the program itself. Our goal for the program is that by eighth grade these students are proficient performers of the piano.”
In addition to teaching the dragon piano program, Moats also teaches music for all of the grades at Southwark.
“I see all of the students at Southwark,” Moats said. “The middle schoolers come to me twice a week. In the middle school elective, we are learning not just how to sing in choir, but we’re also learning pianos, ukuleles, music history with music theory, and music in their environment and in their community. My goal as their teacher is to have the students be lifelong music appreciators so that they can continue to help the arts develop.”
Students who are in the seventh and eighth grades have a plethora of elective programming that they can participate in including fine arts, STEM, computer technology, music, dance, and journalism. Among the popular electives for students is the choir, which is starting from the ground up.
“Our first gig was for the ceremony for the community garden outside the school’s grounds,” said vocal music teacher Siobhan Dotson. “We’re really building on what Ms. Moats developed over the last three years. The students can read music to a certain extent. We’re kind of taking that further into a vocal world with solfa reading and two part harmonies. We’re starting to build up our repertoire.
“With the holidays coming up, the students will be learning holiday music,” she added. “Our goal is to eventually put on a junior musical. The choir right now is just for seventh- and eighth-graders, but I do have future plans to involve third to sixth as well. What’s special about Southwark is students has the opportunity to seek different things out. We have seven different programs that kids can express themselves in.”
While seventh-grader Yerancy Acevedo has been singing and dancing for a few years, she’s hoping that her experience in the choir will help her become a better performer.
“I wanted to join the choir because I thought it will help me become a better singer and performer,” Acevedo said. “One of the things that I personally want to learn in the program is how to hold my breath longer so that I can sing longer notes. My notes are not strong, so that is something that I definitely want to get better at while in choir.”
Another popular program at Southwark is student council. In student council, students learn the importance of organization, collaboration, and giving back through fundraising.
“In student council, we don’t have set titles for anyone,” said upper school coordinator Jessica Downs. “It’s more everyone working together to reach a common goal. I want the students to have a sense of community and that they have ownership of what is going on on the third floor. I want them to also leave something behind that is positive and be role models to the kids that are coming up.”
For eighth-grader Matthew Phun, being a part of student council is a great way to give back.
“With student council, we mainly help with different fundraisers,” Phun said. “We try to raise money for the eighth grade or for the whole school. We try to help out with trips and different activities for the school.
“We recently did a fundraiser for breast cancer where the money we raised went toward the Susan G. Komen Foundation,” he added. “I think student council is a great way to be a part of the school community and help out with different things. I really like being a part of the program.”