by Paula M. Riley
Each September, the Chestnut Hill Local showcases new programs, people and projects area schools have awaiting their students each school year. This is the second article featuring local schools.
J.S. Jenks School
”We are not going to let unrest in the system keep us from doing our job,” Mary Lynskey, principal of J.S. Jenks School, declared.
She was referring to the cutbacks and staff reductions made by the Philadelphia School District, but added that “fantastic” Jenks ‘ parents were letting her forge ahead with her plans.
As is the case each year, Jenks is pursuing multiple initiatives. Its JAM (Jenks Art and Museum) program continues to grow and is receiving great support from Chestnut Hill Rotary and other volunteers. Jenks recently received a $10,000 grant for its music program – students will compose a piece for The Crossing, a professional chamber choir.
The STEM initiative is one of the main focuses for this year. STEM (Science Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) represents the national effort to improve young Americans’ performance in these areas so they can compete with their peers around the world.
At Jenks, STEM is infused throughout the entire curriculum. STEM lessons are intertwined with the K-3 through a themed approach. The fourth- and fifth-grade math and science program has significantly changed this year. Since research suggests that a key indicator of a student’s STEM success in high school is his/her experience with algebra in eighth grade, teachers are compressing the skills in the curriculum to ensure that today’s fourth- and fifth-graders are well prepared for algebra in eighth grade.
Math and science teachers are instructing students in mixed-age groups – half fourth-graders and half fifth-graders. The math and science classrooms were converted this summer into open classroom spaces which include work stations, lab space and instructional areas.
“The entire environment is lush with STEM philosophy in place,” Lynskey said.
Sixth- and seventh-graders will complete STEM portfolios focused on problem identification and solution, with an emphasis on design technology. Each month, students will participate in daylong, off-site laboratory classrooms where the school day’s instruction, including STEM experiments, will be conducted off-site.
The “jewel” of this program, according to Lynskey is a new internship program she is implementing for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. For a period of six weeks, interns will shadow local STEM professionals one day a week at businesses such as Lockheed Martin and Weavers Way. As an extension of these targeted experiences, Lynskey is hopes to sponsor summer camp for a small group of fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders.
“We want to give kids experiences beyond the world they live in and open up the rest of the world around them so that they can engage in the global workplace,” Lynskey said.
Across the school, Lynskey provides other illustrations that Jenks is doing well despite the status of the school district. There’s a dragon-boat team, rock wall in the gym, a newly renovated art room, culinary club, children’s garden, reading program and much more. She attributes these to generous parents, Friends of Jenks and partnerships with community organizations.
Jenks is not the only local school with a focus on technology.
Norwood-Fontbonne Academy (NFA) starts off this school year by equipping every member of the eighth-grade class with a Chromebook laptop.
“These offer computing for our students in the context of our signature curriculum – research, scholarship and the development of social consciousness,” said Sister Mary Helen Beirne, Norwood-Fontbonne’s head of school.
For several years, NFA students and teachers have used Google Apps for Education to enhance students’ learning experiences. The Chromebooks will be used to further enhance this experience and meet the needs of 21st century learners.
They will be used in all subject areas as students will work on the Chromebooks in each class. At home, students will have access to their work through the Google cloud and continue what was begun in the classroom.
“The Chromebooks allow for continuity between schoolwork and homework with more timely teacher feedback and response,” said Michael Mannix, seventh- and eighth-grade teacher.
The new technology will assist students’ pursuit of studies across the curriculum and will help maximize student engagement.
“These will be used to challenge students and promote social connectedness through collaboration,” said Colleen Hemberger, media studies teacher.
Students, when conducting research, will be able evaluate and analyze a variety of resources to compare and contrast, evaluate, and delve deeper into their evaluation of sources and their validity. Hemberger believes this is a more efficient use of time and teaches critical research skills.
The move to a one-to-one platform is significant to NFA as it represents a unique offering it believes most elementary schools of its size do not offer. It represents the transforming relationship between teacher and student and the academy’s commitment to preparing students for high school where technology is not taught but rather used as a tool.
“The one-to-one platform builds on the established routines of the Google accounts that students have been using since third grade. Chromebooks will further develop stewardship, etiquette, and responsibility in our students,” said Mannix.
Each year all students are presented with lessons on Internet safety, digital citizenship and ethical online behaviors. This will continue with an emphasis on responsibility and respect for property. Lessons go beyond how not to use, but why, and what’s necessary to use technology properly.
Last year, 40 iPads were added to school’s technology program for young students and integrated at every level of school, beginning with pre-K students.
NFA leadership is making a conscious effort to maintain the highest standards in technology and considers the Chromebooks the latest progression of its concerted and strategic efforts.
See “What’s New at School, Part III,” next week featuring Crefeld and Waldorf schools of Philadelphia.