Spruce Hill: The City School Teacher and Her Impact on the School Community

Samantha Maki is a first grade teacher at The City School in West Philadelphia. (Courtesy: Samantha Maki)

Text by Kaitlyn Hoey

Samantha Maki always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Since the age of six when she would give out tests to her friends during playdates, teaching was her passion. The first grade teacher has been at The City School since 2020, working hard to make a difference in the lives of her students. 

How did you end up at The City School? 

I am from Hamilton, New Jersey, so I do not live in Philadelphia. I commute back and forth and it is awful. I went to school at Cairn University in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. So, I am certified in Pennsylvania and because of that, one of my professors sent me the job offer because it was really hard a couple of years ago to find a position. So that’s why I’m dealing with the commute. But yeah, I just came here and interviewed, and I just really liked the school. 

Do you have any techniques that you use to help students engage and just find their love for learning and coming to school?

Yeah, I am pretty lucky with this class that most of them do enjoy learning. But I definitely have had more reluctant learners in the past. I found small groups to be the most helpful for that. Just giving them more attention, especially with the little ones, attention is what they need most of the time. So any opportunities to work one-on-one or in small groups are typically better. But these guys feed off of our energy. So if we are hyped up about something, they are going to be excited about it.

Ms. Maki pushes the desks together to allow the students to work in groups. (Courtesy: Samantha Maki)

What would you say is the main goal of The City School that you want kids to leave with feeling that they have accomplished?

Yeah, it is kind of in our mission statement. So it is training students’ minds, disciplining their hearts, bringing light to the city, one child at a time. So obviously, we care about academics, but we also care about them as people getting to their individual needs, whether that’s more social, emotional, or academic or behavioral, trying to just see them as one person, not just that they are all the same because they are not. We want them to obviously learn more than what they came in with, but also feel cared for and loved.

Can you talk a little bit about extracurricular activities offered and what’s the most popular with kids? 

About half of them are involved in Soccer Shots, where we have an outside program that comes in and does soccer with them once a week. I think that is the only thing we have started this year. It has been weird with COVID. And what we’re able to do, in terms of outside stuff. But normally we do have choir as well, where they get to stay after with our music teacher, and he will do some special music. And then when we do concerts for them, they get to perform their extra songs that they worked on. 

Do you guys offer any other programs for students who might be struggling at school or home?

Yeah, so for academics, we partner with Learnit. This year in terms of support, we have reading, math and OT [occupational therapist]. So that’s getting to academic and even just fine motor skill needs. They come in throughout the week. You get a different support person every day pretty much to get those needs based on who really needs it. Their MAP testing scores are what we use, that is a standardized but adaptive test. They do that every season. And that is how we determine who needs academic support. And then our OT, just as a screening, sees who cannot really cut with scissors yet, or who is having trouble holding a pencil, things like that. 

Some of the many books on offer to students to borrow at The City School. (Courtesy: Samantha Maki)

For the more socially emotional, we have a student care director. Her name is Jessica Scott. She is very supportive of all our schools. So we have this campus, we have another elementary campus, and then we have our middle and high school. So she kind of just floats around. She is only here once a week with us because obviously other needs are happening. But she is able to see students individually when they just need counseling support. And she partners with the parents to get them outside support if that is needed.

What would you say is The City Schools’ biggest difference compared to other schools?

I think the difference is just in our approach. They get a little more attention when they are in smaller class sizes. I have an assistant as well. We typically have two people in the classroom, and you are not going to get that in a public school most of the time. And like I said, there’s a lot of support for the whole child, not just academics, too.

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