Kenney warmly welcomed at Baldi Middle School

Mayor Kenney met with students and teachers at Baldi Middle School, the school district’s biggest “true middle school.”

True middle school: Mayor Jim Kenney met with teachers and students at Baldi Middle School last week. JOHN COLE / TIMES PHOTOS

Last Wednesday, Mayor Jim Kenney spent his early afternoon at C.C.A. Baldi Middle School in Bustleton. Kenney’s visit included stops in multiple classrooms working on different projects to fielding a variety of questions from students ranging from what the mayor does in his free time to his stance on Net Neutrality.

Upon Kenney’s arrival, he was greeted by Baldi principal Luke Hostetter and other faculty members. Kenney’s first stop in the school was to Hostetter’s office. He was joined by multiple educators to discuss certain statistics that make the Northeast Philly middle school stand out.

Baldi is currently the biggest “true middle school” in the School District of Philadelphia with 1,440 students enrolled, averaging approximately 470 students per grade. The school also boasts a very diverse student population with over 30 different languages being spoken by the students, the most popular non-English language being Russian. In fact, there are currently a total of 218 “English language learning students” in the school as well.

During Hostetter’s three-year tenure thus far, the school has seen significant increases in enrollment and students receiving specialized services.

“I’m happy that the mayor is able to come up to the Northeast and see the diversity we have with students, not just with the cultures that go to our school, but the learning needs and challenges that we have to provide, the appropriate services for all of our kids,” said Hostetter.

The two specific specialized services that Hostetter is referring to are the special education population and the English language learners. The school has added more than 25 students receiving special education since the beginning of his time as principal and went from having 127 “English language learners” to currently 218.

“We are a school that has a lot of students from other countries and that are learning English for the first time, and him coming to visit and see some of the work we do is really important,” Hostetter said. “Sometimes, all you see is negative headlines about schools in Philadelphia, but there’s a lot of great work going on here at Baldi.”

The diversity and size of the school are certainly a reason to make the mayor give the school a look himself, but it was actually a specific invitation sent from a teacher that brought him in this day. That teacher is Mary Salamone.

Salamone has taught in the school district for 27 years, with over 10 of those spent at Baldi. Before she taught at Baldi, she was a fourth-grade teacher at Gilbert Spruance Elementary School, located in Castor Gardens. Salamone used to sponsor a “guest reading program” there in which she asked for volunteers from the community to read to the students and speak about their careers. Kenney, at the time a councilman, was a recurring guest for Salamore’s class at Spruance, and in the past even enabled entry for her students to the RiverRink for skating, invited them to attend City Council meetings and to visit his office, and dine with him at an Irish restaurant on Walnut Street.

“When I decided to focus on community service projects this year, he (Kenney) was the first person I thought of to serve as a positive role model,” said Salamone. “Our middle schoolers are in need of good political role models these days, as some of our leaders are less than ideal.”

The first classroom for Kenney’s visit was Salamore’s class, hard at work on making fleece blankets. These blankets will be donated to children with cancer who are going through chemotherapy treatments. This was not the first time Salamore has done this project with her class, but wanted Kenney to be able to participate in the assignment himself. Kenney also answered a multitude of questions before leaving the room to check out other classrooms.

Kenney also stopped in algebra, social studies and graphic arts classes to interact with students.

The faculty at Baldi were pleased with the visit and may have even spurred a new project as a result of Kenney’s tour.

“I thought that it was very beneficial to their own planning to know that he took many steps before becoming mayor,” said Salamone. “It also gave me an idea for a new endeavor called, ‘From Kid to Career,’ in which I could invite successful community members to the classroom to talk about their careers and how they achieved their goals.”

Kenney was given a gift basket with custom Baldi T-shirts that were made in the graphic design lab in the school along with a box of chocolates. ••