“We Love. We Dream. We Do.” is the motto at The U School in North Philadelphia.
Located at 2000 N. 7th St., The U School is a competency-based high school that prides itself on challenging young people to create high quality projects while also giving ownership over their learning by giving them an opportunity to become independent learners.
The U School experience is through a process called “design thinking,” an approach to creative problem-solving that begins with understanding the need of the user (student). Students become designers who solve real-world problems in their communities through planning, research, dreaming, and testing their ideas.
The school also engages its students through its challenging college-preparatory curriculum, innovative teachers, and extensive programs.
“We give students grades based on their performance and not their practice,” said founding principal Neil Geyette. “We also designed a school that allows students to go at their own pace. Those are very challenging ideas in schools. Our young people have been really amazing in stepping up.
“It’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of agency. The transition of doing that is not easy because school doesn’t normally give young people power. It’s a big shift for kids in how we make school operate
“We’ve really evolved as a school over these last few years,” he added. “We’re now in our fifth year and we’re meeting the needs of what kids are bringing to the table. We’re really excited to see the kids who are soaked in the model and really took control of their learning and manage their lives. We’re excited about perfecting what we do and get better and adapt to kids needs.”
In 2017, The U School had its first graduating class with 51 eligible seniors to graduate. Of that class, 92 percent of students finished their FAFSA and 90 percent were accepted to a two- to four-year college, technical, or trade school. The students also received $868,960 in scholarships.
School counselor Paula L. Crawford is continuing to prepare students for the next level by offering them an array of services for college and career readiness.
“Built into The U School DNA is advisory (POSSE). Every year, the advisory classes looks different,” Crawford said. “Sometimes the period is twice a day and other times it is once a day, but these periods are at least 60-70 minutes. There is college and career programming through Naviance in advisory classrooms. I also follow the curriculum of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors.
“Starting in ninth grade, we do various college and career exploration activities,” she added. “Each year there are tasks that are required by the district every grade level to meet; we roll those out in the advisory period. I do rep visits through Naviance where I upload our school calendar and an admission representative from post secondary schools can sign up to come in and meet your students. We also do college visits when we can.”
Crawford said that her goal as a school counselor is to not only help students prepare for their future, but to also show them that no dream is not too far within reach.
“Whatever the students chosen fields are we want to make sure that they have what they need to be successful, Crawford said. “We want them going into society as positive productive members. I believe our young people are resilient, they’re extremely creative, and they have to know that they are stronger than what they believe.
“They can meet any challenge,” she added. “We always tell our students ‘Find what you love, dream about what you do, and then go out and do it.’ They dictate their futures, not anyone else.”
To help students prepare for taking college courses, The U School has a partnership with Arcadia University. Once a week a professor from Arcadia comes to the school building to teach a college course.
“We do a lot of independent work in the class, which is similar to what we’re doing here because the U School is based around the students being independent and taking control of their learning,” said senior Breyonna Scott. “Right now, we’re learning how to write argumentative essays. This class is also helping us with our senior project. I’ve definitely learned a lot since being in the class.”
Another program that is popular among students at The U School is the Mural Arts program. The program has students working on a variety of projects both inside and outside of the building.
“I’ve always had a love for art and writing, so I thought that this program would be a good fit for me,” said sophomore Nakeya Williams. “The first project that we did in the program was we made our own tiles with alcohol ink. We’re currently working on another project where we plan to build a mural on the back wall of the building. This project will have the community involved as well.”
Junior Shannon Thompson joined Mural Arts after her teacher Charlie McGeehan recommended she join the program.
“I thought this program would be a good fit for me because I already did a similar program over the summer,” Thompson said. “I love art and I do a lot of professional sketching, but this program has helped me a lot with my craft.
“I already knew about different coloring schemes, but they’re teaching me how to do more lining,” she added. “They were also telling me that I don’t always have to use a piece of paper, pencil, or computer for my work. I can also use a sponge, paint brush, oil, or a piece of glass. It’s a great program.”