Olney Charter High School, formerly Olney East and Olney West High School, has laid a hopeful blueprint for student success in Northeast Philadelphia. Under the management of ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania the original Olney High School has transformed into the charter that exists today with around 1,765 students from ninth to 12th grade.
With the school closings, innovative approaches to traditional learning methods have entered into the system in an attempt to rekindle the vital relationship between students and their education. By specializing educational strategies, the new Olney High has been able to help tackle the various issues associated with the link between education and poverty, including attendance and literacy ratings.
The debate over charter schools, which are run by private organizations under the guidance of a public body, has been a heavily debated issue. Simply put, can profit-motivated organizations provide a better education than public institutions? The record is mixed.
The curriculum for the five Philadelphia ASPIRA schools has been designed to fit the needs of the school’s particular demographic or special learning needs. Because each charter is responsible for executing its own unique approach to education, finding a successful model has been a constant battle for the Philadelphia charter system.
According to 2012 data, 15 of the top performing high schools were charter schools, 12 were select admission district schools, nine were citywide admissions district schools and four were neighborhood district schools.
Most charters generally take two years to make an impact on student progress ratings once they are enrolled. For two students at Olney Charter, that impact came along with a sense of devotion to their education.
“Now that things are different, I want to be here. I realized that if I want a good life for myself, then I need to go to school,” said Frayby Peralta, a senior at the school.
Peralta attended the high school before its change and was one of a handful of original students picked by the lottery to attend in the following 2011 school year.
Peralta, who holds a Trojan ranking among his peers, has made a promise to himself to raise his GPA and continue to reach for his goal of becoming a U.S. marshal. Student leadership positions called Trojans were integrated into the school’s plan to enforce skills of leadership and respect in the student body. As a Trojan, Peralta is expected to help keep the hallways safe and clear during class transition and to set a positive example for his peers .
“The teachers meet like once a week and talk about students and who’s doing better and who’s not. My teachers picked me as a leader and that’s an honor,” said Peralta.
Peralta, who said that his English class with teacher Hannah Myers is one of his favorites, volunteered last June to assist the teacher with her class in the 2012-13 school year.
“My focus is to work with them and help develop them as people. Frayby is one of those students who has done a complete turnaround. He helps me with a lot in this class, he’s my right-hand man,” Myers said.
ASPIRA’s Director of Business Development Diana Dahl said that the increased security at the school was a major improvement to the student’s sense of safety.
“We hired 30 new safety team members and we provide each school with members on premise during school days. Students feel much safer coming to school now and I believe that’s one of the reasons the attendance has gone up,” said Dahl.
Peralta’s view on school safety, along with fellow classmate Joseph Marshall, showed similar signs of hope for Olney Charter.
“It was divided into East and West. So there was always fights between the two sides. If someone from the other side came over and saw me in a navy blue polo, they’d probably try to jump me,” said Peralta.
The schools previous divide created even more boundaries for students to create between one another, resulting in as little as 178 serious violent incidents in the 2009-2010 school year.
One school security guard said that even the approaches to student safety have been altered to better suit the school. The security staff members are taught to treat each student with respect while maintaining a safe learning environment.
“Nobody was safe before,” said Marshall,” I couldn’t walk down the hallway without getting punched or intimidated in some way.”
Marshall has been accepted into Shippensburg College for political science and attributed this success, in part, to the change of plan within the school. As a senior, Marshall has attended Olney just as long as Peralta.
“It’s been much better since ASPIRA took over. Kids are actually coming to class and learning something,” said Marshall.
Aside from student successes, the school has made progress in its mission to provide variety in experiences for it students, including rips to college campuses, ice-skating and an after-school fishing club contribute to the school’s added benefits of being a charter school.