Mayor Jim Kenney and state Sen. John Sabatina Jr. joined MaST in celebrating an award from the U.S. Department of Education.
On Nov. 21, MaST Community Charter School, 1800 Byberry Road, welcomed Mayor Jim Kenney and state Sen. John Sabatina Jr. to celebrate the 2017 National Blue Ribbon Award.
MaST has been no stranger to high accolades, as the school has racked up significant awards from various local and national outlets, but this award comes from the United States Department of Education.
MaST was notified that it was in consideration for this prestigious award during the summer, but found out it had been selected during the beginning of the school year.
“We already knew MaST was special and we’re so pleased that now the whole country knows,” Kenney said.
There were more than 30,000 schools in consideration for the 2017 National Blue Ribbon Award, with just 342 receiving this distinction. MaST is just one of two schools in the city of Philadelphia that received this award in 2017 and the only charter school in the state of Pennsylvania.
John Swoyer III, MaST CEO, credits the bond between the faculty and students for the school’s continued success.
“MaST is much like a family,” Swoyer said. “We try to think outside the box about learning and where it’s going.”
Some of this “outside the box” thinking is evident in the school’s forward-thinking approach to teaching with technology.
Over the past several years, MaST has converted several spaces throughout the school for various unique purposes.
The Library Media Center, Lego Build It Center, High School and Middle School Makerspaces, the Wii Fit Center and the recently completed STREAM Neighborhoods have helped adapt the learning environment at the K-12 school.
When the administration contemplates new projects such as those listed right above, student engagement is pivotal into making the spaces as productive as possible.
“Who’s more innovative than kids today?” asked Swoyer.
MaST considered itself ahead of the curve in the teaching with technology phenomenon as it was using “e-readers” back in 2007.
“What excites kids more than learning through technology nowadays?” Swoyer said.
Nidhia Kalaparambath, National Honor Society student in 12th grade, is cognizant that the tech programs at the school have given her a unique learning experience.
“We get to go through a lot of tech classes and it really makes us more prepared for when we graduate because our classes are really advanced and our teachers prepare us really well,” said Kalaparambath.
As Kenney and Sabatina walked through various classrooms to engage with students, they had the opportunity to walk through the brand new “STREAM Neighborhoods.”
“STREAM” stands for “Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts and Math.” The hallways are now divided into six, interactive sections of “museum-like” 3-D displays centered around the various subjects above.
Alison Marino, lower school assistant principal at MaST, detailed the summer-long effort to bring the “STREAM” to life at MaST.
With the addition of television screens and interactive boards in the hallways, students are now learning inside and outside of the classroom
“We wanted to become an outdoor classroom,” said Marino.
The administration worked tirelessly through the summer to ensure completion of the project would be by the time the students had arrived back at school.
“It was a summer-long project,” Marino stated. “So when our students came back to school this year, it was truly a first new day of school because they never saw this (STREAM) before.”
After the tour of the new STREAM was completed, Kenney and Sabatina joined students and faculty alike in a large room to address the students on this significant achievement.
The school’s choir sang Geronimo by Sheppard right before the addresses began.
“We’re all so proud of the amazing students at the school for their achievements,” said Kenney. “Their hard work is already paying off and will continue to pay off as you continue your education.”
Kenney stressed the success of MaST can and should be duplicated in all neighborhoods in the city of Philadelphia.
“I know MaST offers a great example of what we stand to gain by continuing to invest into Philadelphia students and their school,” Kenney said. “We can replicate this in every neighborhood in the city. Unless we do that, we will never, ever, ever (reduce) the poverty that we’re mired with.”
The city of Philadelphia has a 26 percent poverty rate, and Kenney believes this won’t change significantly without the investments in education.
Sabatina is the representative in Harrisburg for where MaST is located.
Sabatina issued the following statement in regards to this national award.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that MaST charter is one of the best schools in the city and it’s easy to see why. When you see kids excited and ready to learn with a dedicated staff of teachers and administrators at helm, it’s a picture of what public education can and should be. I’m proud to have MaST in my district and even prouder to stand with them today to celebrate their much-deserved distinction as a National Blue Ribbon school.”
In closing his address, Kenney referenced the current political climate and believes MaST is a model to follow in and out of the classrooms.
“It’s been a very difficult year in this county. There’s a lot of divisiveness and upheaval that’s going on in our society,” Kenney said. “I think if we stick together as Philadelphians and human beings, regardless of our religion, race or ethnicity, we will all be better off for it. This school is a perfect example of that continuity.”
With students ranging from 41 ZIP codes, MaST has opened a second location in Lawncrest and has its sights set on adding more locations.
The school has put in a request with the School Reform Commission for 2,600 seats at a new location.••