Tierre Welton acknowledges cutting class and hanging out with a bad crowd while attending Freire Charter School, at 2027 Chestnut St.
Welton’s mom, Teri, directed him toward Excel Academy.
“She said, ‘This is your second chance. This is the school for you,’” he said.
Two years later, Welton is attending class on a regular basis and staying out of trouble. The 17-year-old will graduate in June and credits the teaching strategies at Excel.
“I came here to catch up,” he said. “If I stayed at Freire, I’d be graduating in 2014. Now, I’m graduating on time. It’s a great school.”
Welton attends Excel Academy South, located at 4641 Roosevelt Blvd., on the grounds of Friends Hospital. It’s been in operation since 2009.
Excel Academy North is located at 6600 Bustleton Ave. (at Magee Avenue), in the former David G. Neumann Senior Center. It opened in September 2004.
The privately owned company Camelot operates both schools, which offer an alternative education for over-age, under-credentialed, at-risk students 16 and older. The maximum age is 21.
The schools promise a caring atmosphere, a disciplined and structured environment and an individualized and accelerated curriculum.
The overall goal is to get the students to earn the 23.5 credits required by the School District of Philadelphia and to do so in two-and-a-half years or less.
The formula seems to be working. The class of 2011 consisted of 380 graduates, most of whom are attending college or a vocational school or are in the military. And there’s a waiting list to gain admission.
According to a report by the national organization Jobs for the Future, in one year, between one-fourth and one-third of students advanced four grade levels in math and/or English. More than two-thirds of students achieved skills gains of more than two grade levels. Average daily attendance is 83 percent, which is considered good.
JFF has found that students can benefit by teaching one another and that behavior problems decrease dramatically when students are engaged in and responsible for their learning.
Excel staff has traveled to JFF’s Massachusetts clinical site to observe and learn from an instructional coaching program designed to help schools adopt strategies to foster college readiness.
JFF’s Common Instructional Framework consists of six strategies to build college readiness.
Those strategies are collaborative group work, writing to learn, literacy groups, questioning, classroom talk and “scaffolding,” which encompasses a broad range of techniques that help students connect prior knowledge to challenging new concepts.
“It makes learning more accessible. Everybody is engaged and productive in the classroom. Teachers and students question one another,” said Jen Schmidt, the academic coordinator at Excel South.
The educators believe their professional development was taken to another level because they were able to observe interactions between teachers and students.
Kevin Marx, the executive director at Excel South, said the JFF training helped the teachers learn to “speak the same language” in the classroom.
“There has to be consistency, and they’re all on the same page,” he said. “It culminates in a learning environment and teaching strategies that prepare students for graduation and beyond.”
April Gonzalez, an English teacher at Excel South, likes the school’s common planning time, which takes place on Wednesday mornings.
“We have a set time where the teachers talk to each other and get ideas,” she said.
“We see other teachers use methods, and it creates ideas,” said math teacher Kaitlyn Rauchut.
Their colleague, physical science and advanced-placement biology teacher Ben Murdock, agrees that educators can learn from one another and that classroom interaction among students benefits the young people as well.
“Sometimes, you pick things up better when they come from a peer,” he said.
Daniel Moorhead, an English teacher, believes writing is an important part of the classroom experience.
“There are different ways to communicate, and students learn to express themselves by writing,” he said.
The Excel South students are happy with their choice of a new school.
Rebecca York, 16, formerly attended George Washington High School but thought the school was too big. She likes the smaller setting at Excel.
“The teachers are more personable and very knowledgeable. They care about you and take their time to help you learn,” she said.
Leilanni Basco, 18, used to attend Nueva Esperanza Academy in Hunting Park. She regularly skipped class and, when she did show up, did not do her homework. She’s been thriving since arriving at Excel in September.
“Here, the teachers get to know you and stay after school to help you. And we can complete our homework during a period in school,” she said.
Jerry Graham, 18, stopped going to Abraham Lincoln High School because he was hanging with a bad crowd and there was too much “drama.” The Excel teachers, he said, show the caring and concern of a parent.
“The learning environment is definitely comfortable,” he said. ••
For more information, call 215-904-6235 or visit www.camelotforkids.orgEndFragment