Laura H. Carnell Elementary School was one of four schools given approval by the School District of Philadelphia to redesign the academic structure of their school. The other schools are Chester Arthur Elementary, Jenks Academy for the Arts & Science and Tilden Middle School.
Project Based Learning (PBL), through the national curriculum organization Expeditionary Learning (EL), is now implemented in their classrooms; however, funding must be raised externally. This is the first of a three-year implementation for Carnell.
With PBL, students have the opportunity to come up with projects that address an issue in their school or community and create a solution. Nearing the end of the first year since the programs were introduced, Principal Hilderbrand Pelzer III already calls it a success.
Along with the redesign of the curriculum and staffing, Carnell also started a Family Resource Center (FRC) in January of this year. The FRC is a place for the students’ parents to come to for various needs. Whether they are job hunting, trying to learn English or wish to be part of a community with people of similar situations, the FRC is a place they can come to for just about anything.
Pelzer is focused on deepening the relationship between the school and the community. He desires to create a school that is interconnected to the neighborhood with many partnerships.
One of the community partners is the Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA). Jen Leaman, an OCCCDA employee, is working in Carnell to build the Family Resource Center.
Leaman said she hopes the FRC becomes the place that parents think to come to in situations of need. There’s a struggle in getting them to know even in cases where they lose their food stamps and can’t pay the mortgage, that the school is a resource for them to be able to go to for help, she said.
“That’s not all we’re here for,” said Leaman, “but at the same time, if that’s affecting your child in class, then we are here for that because that is a stress on the family. We want to figure out how to work on that to help your family and help your child.”
Leaman hopes, through the FRC, the students at Carnell will succeed academically as the gap is bridged between school and home. She is encouraging others who have specific skill sets to come to Carnell and volunteer in the FRC, even if it is a one-day workshop.
“I’m really excited to see where it goes,” said Leaman. “This is year one, so what happens from here?”
– Text, images and video by Ashley Shackelford