The thrill of learning


Ron­ald Tomalis re­cently spent about 90 minutes at MaST Com­munity Charter School, and Pennsylvania’s edu­ca­tion de­part­ment sec­ret­ary liked what he saw.

“I’m im­pressed, guys,” he told school of­fi­cials at the end of the Sept. 20 tour.

The vis­it by Tomalis to MaST, a kinder­garten to 12th-grade school at 1800 E. By­berry Road in Somer­ton, was timed to co­in­cide with the le­gis­lature’s con­sid­er­a­tion of charter school re­forms.

Per­haps the jew­el of the school is the me­dia cen­ter/lib­rary, which fea­tures, among plenty of oth­er amen­it­ies, a Plexiglas-covered in­ter­act­ive floor pro­jec­tion screen.

“This is a beau­ti­ful fa­cil­ity,” Tomalis said.

The third-graders were us­ing Educre­ations, a video tu­tori­al cre­at­or ap­plic­a­tion on an iPad. Al­exa Doerr typed in, “Hi Mr. Tomalis,” and he gave her a fist bump.

The stu­dents love com­ing to the me­dia cen­ter.

“We have a lot of tech­no­logy,” said third-grader Chris­toph­er Hende­r­shot.

Tomalis moved on to the cen­ter’s new­est ad­di­tion, a Pro­methean Act­ive Table, which al­lows for in­ter­act­ive learn­ing by four stu­dents. After he and third-grader An­war Sabeih played a melod­ic tune on a pi­ano app, the two high-fived each oth­er.

In the school’s tele­vi­sion stu­dio, seni­ors Har­ris­on Han­cock and Stephanie Sabu in­ter­viewed the state of­fi­cial, while third-grader Mor­gan Cheese­man provided a weath­er fore­cast.

The sec­ret­ary vis­ited the vir­tu­al fit­ness cen­ter, where kids were play­ing Wii bowl­ing, ten­nis and bal­ance board. He took a turn at bowl­ing and knocked down sev­en of 10 pins.

As­tro­nomy Club mem­bers showed him the gi­ant tele­scope on the roof. The stu­dents have got­ten a great view of Jupiter and the moon, and are even able to see people walk­ing in the Com­cast build­ing in Cen­ter City.

In the tech­no­logy lab, Tomalis watched stu­dents cre­at­ing a movie scene.

“It’s a good way to prac­tice design­ing stuff,” fresh­man Sean Cun­ning­ham told him.

“I think it’s fun, and we def­in­itely learn something,” said class­mate An­thony Zam­pirri.

Tomalis, who was giv­en MaST good­ies from the Pan­ther’s Paw store, said he felt “en­ergy” as he walked through the school. He cred­ited the school’s lead­er­ship with mak­ing good things hap­pen.

The sec­ret­ary was joined on his vis­it by state Reps. Ed Neilson (D-169th dist.) and Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.).

Neilson said suc­cess­ful charter schools must have strong par­ent­al in­volve­ment in this era of lim­ited state budget dol­lars.

“They have a great par­ent base here that sup­ports the school,” he said.

Boyle said that MaST, which was named the U.S. De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion’s Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Re­form’s Na­tion­al Charter School of the Year in 2007, gives fam­il­ies a high-qual­ity op­tion that helps keep people in the North­east. He’s proud the school is in his dis­trict.

“MaST is a won­der­ful com­munity as­set,” he said.

The MaST en­roll­ment is 1,316, with an­oth­er 3,000 on the wait­ing list. CEO John Swoy­er was glad to show off the school to the state’s edu­ca­tion lead­er.

“I thought it went well. The kids were ex­cited that he was com­ing, and his con­ver­sa­tions with the kids were good,” he said. ••


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