At this Philly school, students learn skills to serve them beyond the classroom

Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus School Principal Tangela M. McClam (center) with Joanne Brothers (L) and Tamara Young (R) (Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Chanel Hill

PHILADELPHIA — The Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus School has a small-class setting, rigorous teaching, dedicated teachers and staff, and engaging class assignments and programs where students are supported to reach academic excellence.

Located at 6523 Lansdowne Ave., Cassidy is a K-8 school that provides its nearly 440 students with the education skills and tools that will help them reach their highest potential, officials said.

“Some of our goals for this school year has been to make sure that our children are again exposed to the standards and the materials that they need to be exposed to by grade level,” school Principal Tangela M. McClam said. “We want to increase our attendance and make sure our children grow at least one year’s worth in reading. We’re really making sure that we’re providing equitable instruction for students and we believe that the equity is in the details of teaching and learning.

“We have to teach to the standards and the standards are the same for everybody across the board. We’ve been really supporting our teachers in knowing what the standards are, what the major work is for that particular grade and drilling down so that we can teach the parts of the standards and then make sure the children are mastering what they need to master at every level in order to be successful.

“We want our students to walk away from Cassidy knowing that they were provided with the best education and that they can use this education as a launchpad to be college and/ or career ready,” she added.

McClam said the school has also seen gains in their middle school autistic support program. She said the success of the program is due to the hard work of the middle school autistic support teacher Yaszmeen Muhammad and classroom assistant Keisha Hammond.

“Our autistic support students move with regular students when they go to lunch and/or prep,” McClam said. “However, for the most part the students are with Ms. Muhammad who does amazing job with her students. Last year, she had 11 students take a test, which is the special ed version of the PSSA, and out of those 11 students nine scored proficient or advanced.

“They really do an amazing job with the students not only with the children in here, but exposing them to the rest of the school,” she added. “They run our monthly events like our PBIS rewards. They run our school store. The kids teach the children skills like counting and customer service. They find different things to integrate in the school day, so that they can use the skills they learn in a natural environment.”

In Tracey Jackson’s fifth-grade math class, students always start their day off with a morning meeting. During the Tribune’s Learning Key visit, the students were learning about growth mindset in their morning meeting.

“At 8:45 a.m. every day we have a morning meeting, so typically we do something for socialization,” Jackson said. “We have a second step program and it teaches you how to deal with your emotions, but this week we’re doing growth mindset, which is a different way of thinking for success.

“We also do a lot of group work in my class. They will work on a Do Now, which is based on something that I taught previously,” she added. “I usually write it on the board and that takes about three minutes. After we go over that, we then move on to what I will be doing for the day.

“I teach it, the students work together on it, and then they work independently,” she added. “I will then go around the classroom to see what the students know how to do. Sometimes I also work with a group of students. My goal as their teacher is to help them see that they’re capable of doing math and that it’s a subject they will use in everyday life.”

Fifth-grader Jaden Spotwood said he’s learned a lot in math class this year.

“We’ve been learning fractions, decimals, and how to multiply mixed numbers,” Spotwood said. “We’re always learning something new in this class. Ms. Jackson does a good job of teaching us our lessons. If we don’t get something, she’s willing to work with us until we do; she’s a good teacher.”

Using Google Suite, learning the basics of coding, and working on different projects are just some of the things that seventh-grade students are doing in Tennille Bennett-Patterson’s computer class.

“We use Google Suite, so I try to expose them to the most popular Google apps as well as the basics of coding,” Bennett-Patterson said. “I try to introduce them to different career paths that I possibly can. I’m the digital literacy teacher for all grades as Cassidy, so lessons are based around the grade that I’m teaching.

“Kindergarten and first grade they’re learning the basics of the computer and website. How to use the mouse, how to sign on and off, and they work on different literacy applications. I also expose them a little bit to coding through something called Sparrows.

“Third grade to fifth grade are learning Word and Google Docs so that they can do book reports or presentations,” she added. “With the middle schoolers, they’re learning more technical stuff like coding, Excel, Word, Google Docs, and logical games. My goal is to have all of my students be confident and efficient in using the computer.”

Seventh-grader Makhi Chamberlain said he’s working on Google site to development a website about himself.

“I’m still in the early stages of putting my page together, but we’re supposed to create a page to advertise ourselves,” Chamberlain said. “On our website we’re supposed to have our hobbies, goals, and achievements. We’re creating a website, so that when we apply for high schools we can show the different schools what we’re all about.”

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.