The senior class of Mastery Charter Schools Shoemaker campus, located at 5301 Media Street in Carroll Park, graduated Friday and began to prepare for their upcoming year at college.
All of the graduating students were accepted to institutions of higher learning and over $2 million in scholarships were earned.
Shoemaker’s students did not always excel. Before the school’s takeover in 2006, the campus was ranked the second most violent school in Philadelphia by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“There were sexual assaults that happened in the building. There was stuff that would get thrown out of the windows in the past. The teacher attendance was really bad. There were fights everyday. There was drug use in the building and even drug selling,” said Katie Schoen, 12th grade dean of students. “It was just kind of chaos.”
Even students remember the school before its drastic switch. “It was kind of wild to be honest. It was rough even just walking through the hallways. The teachers didn’t have the lessons planned all the way,” said student Theodore Fisher. “There were fights and stuff on a regular basis.”
Fisher, like many students who attend Mastery Charter School, saw first hand the massive difference between the Philadelphia public school system and the Mastery way of life. Because the school is a charter school it receives some public funding and at Mastery 90 percent of its students come directly from the surrounding neighborhood.
“The incoming sixth-grade class comes from Blueford elementary, so most of our students come from the neighborhood school, which is up a couple blocks,” Schoen said.
Already with 10 charter schools within Philadelphia, Mastery’s plan is to take over more elementary and middle schools to give students the Mastery experience K-12. This year was Shoemaker’s first year to have students come from Mann Elementary, a school that Mastery also has took over.
“Its kind of exciting to have the first generation of all the way up Mastery kids,” Schoen said.
The difference between Mastery and all others is within its values. The school’s code of conduct is clear that it is the student’s choice to be there, the students are held responsible for their actions, and they must contribute.
Although it is the hard work of the students were honored, there is no questioning that their achievements are reflections of the dedicated faculty at Shoemaker.
“There is no secret to our success, just sheer hard work, dedication and working our butts off. Our teachers are incredible. Our average teacher works like a 10 hour day. They are held to a very high standard, and they hold their students to a very high standard,” said Schoen.
Government and economics teacher Benjamin Cohan has worked at Shoemaker for the past two years and has only ever worked at charter schools.
“The thing about charter schools is there is a high burn out factor because they expect a lot from us but at the same extent I find that the quality of the staff is a lot better,” Cohan said.
The school’s management is aware of the problem and is addressing it, however, it is the relationship and understanding between staff members that keeps the success of the school steady.
“There is also a family aspect to it. We spend so much time together and I think that helps. We expect them to meet that bar no matter what but we give them support to get there.”
The relationship the staff has with each other is obvious even to their students, but most importantly it is their attitude toward their work which sticks out.
“At public schools you can just leave whenever you want and they don’t care because they don’t care about your education. But here if you leave they will call your parents. And I notice they care, I like the love here. I like this school,” said Sherod Gambrell, a Shoemaker senior.
“Our kids know that we don’t play. We are very involved with parents, we don’t let bad behavior slide. We have this whole component of social and emotional learning. We think that without building up character the academic piece just doesn’t hold up. It needs to be backed by something,” Schoen said.
As a result of the staff’s tremendous care, students are also successful. Fisher said he plans on going into social work and returning to his neighborhood to help. Gambrell will be studying biomedical engineering beginning at the Community College of Philadelphia. Shoemaker’s valedictorian, Kishawn Laws, plans on becoming an OB/GYN and will be studying at Temple University starting this summer just to get a head start on some courses.
Graduation was bitter sweet as students begin to scatter and begin at their different universities. “I think we are all going to cry,” Schoen said.