Technology: A New Model for Schools

Students walking down the hallway in between classes

At the Science Leadership Academy the students are treated like adults, according a junior at the Science Leadership Academy, Cody Nichols. The Science Leadership Academy (SLA) is a new student oriented, project-based school. The school is working in partnership with the Philadelphia School District and the Franklin Institute. There are no standardized tests besides the state required PSSAs. Instead the school is inquiry driven and project based.

Students walking down the hallway in between classes

Students work closely together and with teachers to create a variety of projects. The school, which is located at 2130 Arch St., is built around the students so much that student projects contribute to the school’s daily activities. SLA’s tech room, for instance, is one of the biggest student projects, according to Chris Alfano, SLA’s system administrator and computer support specialist.

“We have about 12 students who are assigned to come here, and they pretty much take care of all the school’s repair needs,” said Alfano.  All 10th and 11th graders at SLA are required to have an internship that meets once a week. “The school is very project based,” said Nichols.

Other student projects include conducting original science experiments in science classes, building tools for green energy in engineering classes, simulations of historical moments in history classes and trading videos with a school in another country in Spanish classes, according to the principal, Chris Lehmann. “There are all kinds of rich, engaging and powerful projects kids are doing,” he said.

SLA’s one-to-one laptop program is one aspect that makes the comprehensive student projects possible. Every SLA freshman receives an Apple MacBook to use throughout his high school career. The only cost to students is an $85 insurance fee.

SLA's principal Chris Lehmann handing out report cards

Providing students with a laptop allows teachers to harness the internet for assignments and student discussions. “It really changes the playing field,” said Alfano. SLA web servers also harness open source tools like Moodle, which provides a home base and virtual school for students to interact beyond class time, according to Lehmann.

Student interaction with teachers is the most important aspect of SLA, in accordance with the school’s mission. In order to preserve the interaction between students and teachers the school must remain small, according to Lehmann. “We’re a small school be design, we’re not going to get bigger than 500 students,” he said.

There are only 125 spots available for new freshman students next year. According to Lehmann, SLA has already received 2,000 admission applications and conducted 850 interviews for the limited amount of freshman seats.

In order to be admitted to SLA, students must go through an interview process, and present a project they’ve created. Interviews are conducted by teachers as well as current students. The school currently has 484 students including its first graduating class of 117 seniors. Many seniors plan on going to college after graduation.

Chris Lehmann discussing school events with a colleague

Although he is only a junior, Nichols, is looking at colleges like Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University and the University of Delaware. Nichols, like other SLA students, received assistance with his college selections from his counselor. According to SLA’s counselor, Karina Hirschfield, “Colleges in the area and outside the area seem to be excited about the program we have at SLA.” Students have already received close to $1 million dollars in scholarships, and we’re expecting our students to get well above that, said Hirschfield.

SLA has made massive strides towards its goal of inquiry-based learning since its inception in September 2006. SLA’s progress and popularity is shown in the attitudes of its students. “SLA is a great school because it brings out the best in everyone,” said Nichols.

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