George Washington hosts first community school day

The community school held a fair to connect students, families and neighbors with local organizations, and Mayor Kenney spoke about what to expect from the future of Philadelphia schools.

A community that cares: Above, Mayor Jim Kenney spoke about the future of education in Philadelphia at George Washington High School on Saturday. The school hosted its first community day fair in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Education to reintroduce itself as a community school to the neighborhood. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTOS

The fields behind George Washington High School were packed with kids in bounce houses, the school’s marching band playing and police officers on horseback this Saturday.

The school hosted its first community day fair in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Education to reintroduce itself as a community school to the community.

Mayor Jim Kenney, state Rep. Kevin Boyle and Councilman Al Taubenberger were in attendance and gave a few words about the future of education in Philadelphia on the sunny weekend afternoon.

“We’ve seen really incredible programs flourish at other community schools in their first year,” Kenney said. “Many of these programs come from strengthened connections between city departments and our school district, including new career pathways for high school students.”

Caitlyn Boyle, the school’s community school coordinator and Kevin Boyle’s wife, said that the school is still in the process of surveying students and neighbors for specific needs to focus on, but that post-secondary education and job training seemed to be a major focus of preliminary surveying.

In his address, Kenney said “all” students would receive a post-secondary plan to help them prepare for college or the career of their choice.

The Northeast Times previously wrote about the school becoming a community school, and what it would mean for students and surrounding neighbors. Community schools serve the needs of the “whole student,” looking at their education and lives outside the school to provide what the students need most.

Principal Susan Thompson said that getting students real-world experience has been a major focus of the school in the past few years, and will become an even bigger focus. Last year, 24 percent of students graduated with either college credits or certification from the NOCTI exam, which provides participants with industry-based credentials.

Thompson said International Baccalaureate students leave the school with college credits and that she is trying to organize more partnerships for apprenticeships that will get students in the field to receive real-world experience in the near future. The school already has partnerships with Orleans Technical College and Holy Family University.

The fair happened just one day after Kenney announced his intention to dissolve the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, a five-person board that was dominated by the state, and outlined a path to become independent from state control.

“Yesterday was one of the most significant days in the history of education policy in the city of Philadelphia,” Rep. Boyle said to the crowd.

The SRC, which Northeast native Christopher McGinley sits on, will vote on whether or not to dissolve itself on Nov. 16. Judging by the way Kenney spoke at the fair, he seemed pretty certain the board would reach its conclusion upon the vote.

“I know that as we return to local control of our school district under a mayoral-appointed board, we will have the opportunity to create many more connections, because city government and the school district will be working under one common vision,” Kenney said.

More than 700 people attended the fair, which was packed with businesses and organizations giving out information. U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, state Reps. Ed Neilson and Martina White, Chief Education Officer Otis Hackney and Director of Community Schools Susan Gobreski were among officials in attendance.

Among the extensive list of organizations in attendance was the Philadelphia Health Access Network, which is partnered with community schools.

PHAN will be at George Washington Nov. 16, 30 and Dec. 14 from 3:30 to 6 p.m. so that nearby residents could enroll in health insurance. Anyone interested should call 267–908–9100 to set up an appointment, or walk in during those hours.

George Washington students were able to show off their skills at the fair. Art students set up stands to do face painting, and culinary students passed out food.

Also in attendance was PhitPhilly, a student-run nonprofit created earlier this year by students who participated in a competition to change their community.

“We decided to take on childhood obesity,” said student Amyah Cotton, who was one of the founding members of the nonprofit. Darshita Patel and Elizabeth Gutierrez were also participating students.

PhitPhilly won the competition, and is continuing as an organization that offers nutrition lessons to fellow George Washington students, and will soon spread to other schools. It’s still growing, but is hoping to create a sustainable plan to improve health in the city. A current initiative is to bring more gyms to locations in Center City.

They also created an app available for download, PhitPhilly, that contains meal and exercise plans.

Other businesses present included Scholastic, which gave out one free book to each student.

“I came to the school in ninth grade and from what I’ve seen change, it really feels like the school has become my home,” said junior Sajjaf Malik, as she handed out books. “The school has gone through its downs, but now we’re going through our ups.” ••