by Paula M. Riley

Norwood-Fontbonne Academy fifth graders (from left) Nicholas Mustin, Zachary Messa, Alexander Messa, and Jake Guller, reconnect on the first day of school.

Big yellow school buses are back on Chestnut Hill’s narrow streets, and children, clad in crisp new uniforms, fill the sidewalks. It looks like just another September, but a closer peek inside Chestnut Hill’s schools shows that our local schools are constantly changing.

When Norwood-Fontbonne Academy welcomed its students last week, Sr. Mary Helen Beirne, head of school, described the academy as “an excellent school where we are always striving to be more!” This quest to become better is evident in the new facilities and programs students will enjoy in this school’s 92nd year.
Music of the 60’s Civil Rights Movement, Making Silent Movies on an IPad, Healthy Lifestyles for Teenagers and Spanish Culture Around The World are a few of the exploratory courses from which NFA seventh and eighth graders can choose.

“Our exploratory program with its fun, content-driven courses originated from the realization that choice is very much a part of the high school experience,” said Debbie Wood, M.Ed., director of Upper Grades. “We are helping students position themselves so they can key in on their interests and talents and become better equipped for high school class choices and eventually, career choices.”

Seventh and eighth graders enjoy NFA’s Norwood Campus on Germantown Avenue where they gain increased independence and confidence as they prepare for the high school setting. In the newly renovated science lab, students will use Weather Bug Achieve, which streams live weather data for exploration and predictions. Bob Wanton, head meteorologist from the National Weather Station in Mt. Holly, N.J., joins in this instruction.

St. James Anthony Hall Gym, one of three Academy gymnasiums, will undergo a major renovation this fall. Improvements include a new floor, wall padding and collapsible bleachers. New lighting, sound system and cosmetic changes will enable additional drama and musical performances, assemblies and socials to be held there as well.

Enhancements to curriculum and technology will be evident in all grades, Wood explained. New iPads abound, and students will use e-readers in literature circles. Mathematics classes are all now instructed at high challenge level so graduating eighth graders will enter high school with Algebra I completed. The robotics program continues its collaboration with Lockheed Martin and now is participating in the First Lego League using LEGO MINDSTORM NXT to solve a set of challenges.

Each new school year at NFA introduces new co-curricular offerings. This year, students are invited to participate in Lyrical Dance, Matt Paul Sports’ Flag Football, and strings instruction. These courses complement the 40+ existing co-curricular programs in arts, athletics, theater, service, academics, and special interest topics.

As the first elementary school ever accredited by The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, NFA’s administration is looking forward to the fall visit by the MSACS. This event occurs every seven years and produces the school’s accreditation. NFA is also accredited by the American Montessori Association.

As times changes, so too does education. Germantown Friends School is staying ahead of the curve by meeting its mission – “Seek Truth” – by expanding opportunities to do so. This year, students will benefit not only from GFS’s talented teaching staff but also from the expertise of 21 schools across the world. Upper School science teacher Alyson Solomon is teaching a new elective she created titled “An Introduction to Bioethics,” one of nine courses being offered this semester by the Global Online Academy (GOA).

New in 2011, GOA is a nonprofit organization offering world-class online courses, including Comparative Government: Campaigns and Elections, Medical Problem Solving, Environmental Economics and Urban Studies: The Evolution of Cities taught by passionate and gifted teachers from the world’s leading independent schools.

GOA’s mission is to replicate, in online classrooms, the intellectually rigorous programs and excellent teaching that are hallmarks of its member schools, to foster new and effective ways for students to learn and to promote students’ global awareness and understanding by creating truly diverse, worldwide, online classroom communities.

These online courses will be limited to 18 students a class, who will work independently as well as collaborate on projects using Skype, the Internet and the telephone. The courses, offered to students at GFS in 11th and 12th grades, are meant to supplement, not replace, traditional classes.

As a founding member of the Global Online Academy, GFS can now offer courses that would not otherwise be available to its students, as well as share its own teachers’ expertise with students beyond its campus and make signature courses more widely available. The Global Online Academy program brings together great teachers and great students in an interactive, rigorous learning environment; provides a wide range of courses that challenge, motivate and stimulate students, and creates classroom identities that represent global perspectives by tapping into geographical, cultural and ethnic diversities made possible by a rich online environment.

Upper School English teacher Meg Goldner Rabinowitz, offered a GOA Media Studies course last spring.

“We are seeing an interest in teachers in traditional bricks and mortar
classes using materials from the GOA courses, as well as a broader offering
of courses,” said Rabinowitz, who was among a handful of teachers selected
to teach a course during the GOA’s inaugural year. “We have grown from five
courses offered in the 2011-2012 school year to 30 courses being offered in 2012-13. ”

OMC Parish School
In its 150th year, Our Mother of Consolation Parish School is celebrating its rich history and many new students and staff. In its 2012-2013 student population, much of Northwest Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs is represented. OMC School boasts 105 children from OMC Parish as well as students from St. Bridget’s, Holy Child, Our Lady Help of Christians and many other parishes .
In the words of OMC’s pastor, the Rev. Bob Bazzoli, OSFS, “Every student is a unique treasure here at OMC.”

New to OMC this year are 32 families who chose OMC for its superb faculty, outstanding academics, and amazing activities. These families join eight faculty members who bring with them many years of experience teaching students in a variety of subjects. Laura Wright comes from Our Lady of Consolation, a parish school closed in the Northeast, bringing her passion for Catholic education.
OMC’s eighth grade teacher of 40 years William Brennan, retired last June, but Richard Leonard, with 26 years of experience, has stepped into the role of eighth grade teacher. He will support the eighth grade class as they lead the students in the school’s 150th anniversary celebration. This will include the voting and selection of a school mascot.

Some of OMC’s new teachers will offer activities not only to the school children, but to the parish as a whole. Elise Malizia, the new music teacher (formerly from St. Bridget’s) is also the OMC parish assistant director of music. She will develop a children’s choir, cantors and musicians, comprised of OMC school students as well as parishioners who attend area schools.

Colleen Amuso, parent of four OMC students, joins the school in the newly created position of Director of Advancement designed to enhance the communication between the school and parish, neighborhood, prospective families and alumni.

She looks forward to celebrating the school’s sesquicentennial saying, “What is not new to OMC is what has been here since we were founded 150 years ago in 1862: equal focus on Catholic values and academic excellence.”

“OMC is a strong, vibrant, and thriving school characterized by small class sizes, exceptional parent volunteerism, rich and balanced diversity, superb administration and faculty and a genuinely warm and friendly family atmosphere,” she added.

This article is the first of a two-part series on new programs at area schools.