Northeast Times

Making big leaps at Excel

Re­becca York, 16, sits in a classroom on the Ex­cel Academy South cam­pus. The pro­gram is de­signed to help stu­dents who have fallen be­hind in their stud­ies at oth­er schools in the dis­trict,

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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.org 

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You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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