How one Philly school is working to create well-rounded students

Students at Penrose School in Philadelphia chat in the hallway (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Chanel Hill

PHILADELPHIA — There is a lot of positive energy going around the Penrose School in Southwest Philadelphia.

There is innovative teaching, a gardening program, community partnerships, and numerous programming based around students’ interests — all helping to complement a rigorous academic programming for nearly 545 students.

“Penrose is a good school,” said eighth-grader Pamela Godoga. “There are a lot of different things to do here and the teachers are really supportive.”

Located at 2515 S. 77th St., the K-8 school’s vision is to provide students with opportunities to achieve their highest individual potential, both academically and socially, in preparation for life beyond high school.

“In order to further engage our middle school students, we’re starting to implement an elective program where two days a week the students get to choose a class of their interest,” said principal Carol Casciato. “We gave them five choices which include art, piano, school finance, which is through the school store, STEM, and an aviation program.

“We really want to bring in as much real world stuff as possible and get them to experience as much as possible. Our goal has been to really expose our students to opportunities that they won’t always have access to. There is so much opportunity out there, especially in Philadelphia.

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“We want to make sure the students really have an idea of what they want to do when they’re choosing their high schools,” she added. “We also want to introduce them to a variety of career paths. We want to help them find their interests, so that we can help them be fully prepared for their future.”

One of the programs that has been popular among the students over the last couple years is the gardening program. Led by social studies teacher Kevin Giorno, the program gives the students a chance to beautify and service the school grounds.

“I think years ago Penrose had a school garden, but it fell apart over time,” Giorno said. “I wanted to bring the program back, so this is our second year that the program has been activated. The first thing we did to get the program back up and running was to get the flower beds.

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“We had a donation from the Delaware Valley Fairness Project. They provided us with the soil, the flowers, the flower beds, and provided us with plants throughout the year so we could change them as the seasons change. Last year, we also applied for a grant from Whole Foods and they provided us with a $2,000 grant to manage the garden.

“They also gave us suggestions on what to plant, which was extremely helpful,” he added. “Gardening in the winter time is also not easy, so we did some sprucing up outside of the building. We did door decorations and made sure the school was clean and welcoming. Those ideas came from a survey the students did on what they could fix.”

After already having an interest in the outdoors and nature, seventh-grader Leah Montgomery decided to join the gardening program to learn even more about

“I like being outdoors and exploring nature, so I thought the gardening program would be a perfect fit for me,” Leah said. “Since being in the program, I’ve learned the different types of vegetables. I also learned that bugs are kind species and some of them even help plants grow and be healthy. My favorite things to do in the program is to water the plants and collect some rollie pollies.”

Seventh-grader Xavier Carrion has kept a busy schedule since being at Penrose. Not only is he in the gardening program, but he is also the secretary in student government.

“My favorite thing to do in the gardening program is weeding,” Xavier said. “I do landscaping with my grandpop, so I’m used to weeding and watering, but I do want to know about plants. In addition to the gardening program. I’m also in student government.

“We only had one meeting for student government so far and in that meeting, we talked about dress down days, having fundraisers, and trying to update some things in the school,” he added. “Both programs are a lot of fun. That’s why Penrose is such a good school, because there are so many different things to do here.”

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