Hamilton Disston becomes a community school

Hamilton Disston School hopes to bolster relationships with families and the surrounding community by becoming a community school.

Head of the class: Ester Rochet-Curet became Hamilton Disston School’s community school coordinator at the beginning of the school year. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

When Kareem Thomas became principal of Hamilton Disston School last school year, he realized he wanted to see more involvement from parents and greater relationships with the surrounding community.

“I knew that was something we needed to address if we wanted to essentially get more people involved in the school community,” he said.

That’s why he applied for the school to become a Philadelphia community school, which focuses on bringing needs and resources to the entire school community. Disston became a community school at the beginning of this school year, and the school has already seen some change by bringing programs like nutrition classes and cookies with caregivers to bring community members and families into the building.

“The idea is let’s get families participating in the school, let them know they’re welcome here and let them know the good things we’re trying to do,” said Ester Roche-Curet, community school coordinator at Disston.

Roche-Curet came to the school at the beginning of the year and is facilitating the survey process. Students, parents and community members are able to have their voices heard about what programs to bring to the school. She has also helped foster relationships with the Tacony Library, where some students take classes, and Eat Right Philly.

The goal is also to introduce more events to keep students and the community engaged. This month, the school is celebrating 12 Days of Disston with a theme students can participate in each day. The school will introduce adult education, ESL classes and a career fair next year.

“The end goal is to help the students academically and find ways to make the literacy rates go up,” Roche-Curet said. “It’s a large school that could benefit from having additional resources.”

Roche-Curet has worked in schools for more than 10 years and said Disston was the most diverse school she’s worked in. The 844-student body breaks down to be 38% black/African-American, 35% Hispanic/Latino, 16% white, 2% Asian and 8% multiracial. Twelve percent of students are English language learners.

Disston earned a 28% on its 2017-2018 school progress report, placing it in the “Watch” category from the school district. The school earned a 5% in its achievement category that measures performances on standardized assessments, and an 18% in the climate category, which measures parent/guardian engagement. Both of these grades land in the “Intervene” tier from the district.

However, the school earned a 55% in the progress category that measures growth on standardized assignments and progress toward graduation, climbing from 38% in the 2015-2016 school year. That lands in the “Reinforce” tier.

Thomas said he’s already begun to see positive impact on the school when it was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Sixers Strong program to paint the building and leave school supplies at the beginning of the year.

“When kids returned to the school in September all three floors of the building were freshly painted, and I know that was attributed to being a community school,” Thomas said.

The school is still looking for feedback from the community. Stay up to date on events and find community school surveys at facebook.com/disstondragons/.