The Thomas Mifflin School, located at 3624 Conrad St., continues to grow and improve its reputation in the community despite budget cuts.
The implementation of an open-door policy has helped improve the school’s reputation, Principal Leslie Mason said. Every Thursday morning community members are welcome to go on a tour of the school, take a closer look at the curriculum and ask questions.
“The school had a negative reputation for a long time, but our open-door policy has helped many community members to see that nothing bad is happening here,” Mason said. People in the area are starting to have a more positive opinion of the school, she said.
Michelle Shaw-Carpenter, the building manager, said in the past many people only viewed the school under the umbrella of the Philadelphia School District. Since they have implemented the open-door policy, many community members are starting to see the school isn’t plagued by many of the issues other public schools in Philadelphia face, she said. The school doesn’t really have any problems with violence, gangs or drugs, Shaw-Carpenter said.
Public school enrollment in Philadelphia decreased by almost 52,000 students from 2002 to 2012, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ new report. While the public school system in Philadelphia is facing the issue of dwindling enrollment, Thomas Mifflin continues to attract more students. “People pay property taxes to fund our school, and with other schools closing in the area, many people are choosing to send their children here,” Shaw-Carpenter said.
The budget cuts in Pennsylvania equal a loss of $1,406 per student in the Philadelphia School District, according to the Education Law Center. While the city’s budget cuts have put a major strain on the school financially, Shaw-Carpenter said the staff and faculty are very dedicated to making a difference in the children’s lives. Mason said despite financial hardships they still manage to perform well. “The reason that they’re willing to look at us is because of rising test scores and no violence,” Mason said.
In 2006 the school received $8 million in renovations funded by a capital improvement plan. The improvements include a new library, computer lab and gymnasium.
Lower grades now have new Apple iMac computers in their classrooms and the higher grades have Promethean interactive learning boards. “The renovations have given the students a new perspective and enthusiasm for learning. It has helped the children to get excited about learning and has also helped them to be more technologically savvy,” Shaw-Carpenter said.
The renovations have helped to encourage the children and advance their skills. It has also given the school the space needed to have things like school dances and other extra-curricular activities.
Mason said violence has plummeted and they no longer need to keep a police officer on duty. The school also works with Peaceful Posse, an organization which helps to teach children how to deal with their anger in a healthy way. “Many of our children come from communities plagued with violence, and we want to give them non-violent approaches to dealing with their problems,” Vanessa Marshall, the school’s art teacher, said.
Marshall said they wanted to incorporate art into the program. The second grade class is currently working on an anti-violence quilt to bring them together as a group.
Wendelyn Anderson, a technical associate for the textile and print design program at Philadelphia University, has also been working with the children on the project.
While the main focus has an anti-violence theme, it also allows students to get in touch with their creative side and learn new skills. Anderson said the younger students are working with block printing, while the older students are learning screen printing. “Projects like this give the students an opportunity to see that there are careers for creative people out there,” Anderson said.
By Jon Ristaino and Kailey Meitzler