Seeking to be in a class above the rest

Alexander Adaire School officials reflect on progress, eye changes in the future

Looking ahead: Alexander Adaire School Principal Anna Jenkins speaks during the Friends of Adaire meeting on Wednesday, June 14.

By Lindsey Nolen

In passing, change is evident in the schoolyard of the Alexander Adaire School, 1300 E. Palmer St. Yet, spanning far beyond just construction, numerous academic and extracurricular changes have also taken place during the course of the previous school year, as discussed by Principal Anna Jenkins at the Friends of Adaire meeting on Wednesday, June 14.

“The first year I was here, at the end of the year I was asked to come to Fishtown Rec and speak to the community about what we had done, what we had planned to do. We had created a five-year plan then which we’ve tweaked a couple times since,” said Jenkins, third-year principal at the school. “This [update] has become a tradition now, and it’s something we all look forward to.”

She explained how, since her arrival to the school in 2014, she has placed great focus on the climate, stemming from complaints about the schoolyard and the students at recess time not having much to do. That year a socialized recess program was established, and moving into next year, Playworks, a national nonprofit that supports learning and physical health by providing safe and inclusive play to low-income students, further assisting with the school’s recess program.

“We’re going to have a coach one week a month every month for the entire year, and we’re also going to try to expand that as much as possible,” Jenkins said. “Not only is the recess coach in the schoolyard, but they’re also having a gaming period for every class. My goal is that the week the coach is there that they’ll be running it, and that the teachers will be able to implement it the other weeks of the month.”

Next, she addressed the push to expand the school’s arts and music program. In doing so, the school has purchased many additional supplies and has been able to host concerts, art shows and have murals put up throughout the school. Along with these internal expansions, this year students were also able to explore real-world applications of liberal arts education through a visit to the Woodmere Art Museum.

“Continuing our liberal arts approach, we’ve really tried to increase our student achievement,” Jenkins said. “This is a great school, it always was a great school, but for several years they didn’t do well on testing. I know a lot of times when I met with parents one-on-one, that questions would come up.”

She explained during the 2016–2017 school year another goal was to accumulate data that represented the school in a more positive way. Thus, this year they worked on achieving their highest gains in scores, and were able to reach a 5 percent increase in math, a 2 percent increase in reading and student attendance was very high.

“We have a report card the school district does and we moved multiple tiers, and we’re up to a model in some areas,” Jenkins said. “A lot of the work that we’ve been doing since years one and two is beginning to pay off.”

As the existing curriculum within the school gradually strengthens, Jenkins explained she is also trying to incorporate foreign language learning opportunities, in particular Spanish. Although she said she would love to add Spanish as a class at the school, because the funding does not permit her to do so, an after-school teacher has been providing instruction for the second year to interested students, rotating halfway through the school year.

“The other thing that we’ve looked into is the Bilingual Butterflies, which is a program we would love to have during the school day,” Jenkins said. “One of the things I’m noticing this year is that everything is becoming more expensive.”

Given the financial climate, she stressed fundraising throughout the year is extremely important and necessary to paving way to an ever-improved school. She explained that Adaire only gets so much money from the state, and that because the school isn’t considered especially high-needs, the school community needs to depend on each other to help bring money in.

These funds help students to be given increased opportunities, and to have the means necessary to reap the greatest educational benefits. Demonstrating the increase in the potential for learning given the resources, this past school year Adaire identified its decision to include blended learning, accelerated learning, new technology and a strengthened STEM program.

Jenkins also noted she now begins each school day with “words of wisdom,” which consist of statements focusing on an array of topics such as kindness or gratitude. Other additions at the school this year were a behavioral health program, therapy sessions and a Corporate Alliance For Drug Ed program for students, and a diversity inclusion committee and a monthly grant writing committee amongst adult volunteers.

Moving into the upcoming school year, Jenkins also plans to add a guitar club, more student teachers, a grant-dependent cooking lab, aquaponics classes, architecture and design classes and three, rather than two, kindergarten and first-grade classes. She also wishes for Adaire to be named a Community School by Mayor Jim Kenney.

“One of the reasons I do a five-year plan is because you’re not going to do everything in one year, you have to stagger it out,” Jenkins said. “For us it’s three years in, and we’ve put a lot of time and work into it so far.”