The City (School) for Everybody
Chris Singler, Upper School Director"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody." ― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Friends Select strives to use the city as our campus. Teachers do so in many ways across the school, with some institutional relationships having deep historical roots and some newly planted. In examining and considering the ways that teachers use the city to improve program offerings, it is helpful to break down the intention, connection, and benefits of getting out of our building at 17th and the Parkway.
All of the school's trips, excursions, field studies, and connections outside of the building enhance the curriculum in some way. When the 11th grade ventures to City Hall to learn about voting and voting booths, Brian Kors has taken a giant step to make the lesson relevant and real to the students in his class. When Natalie Mayer takes her Anatomy and Physiology class to the College of Physicians, the lessons are multiple: about the topic at hand; about a world class institution just blocks from school; and about how cross-disciplinary (and cross-institutional) work is a model for good learning. When Heather Fortune takes her ensemble class to see a rehearsal of a piece of music that they will soon perform, her students recognize the professional respect that Heather affords all of her students. She seems to be saying, you are capable of this. And so it is with multiple examples across the school year.
The connections students and teachers make outside of the building are many and rich. On the personal level, there are the most obvious kinds of learning and thinking happening: some exhibits and ideas are best seen in person. On a civic level, the act of getting to know other people, institutions, and ways of being in the city are part of being a Philadelphian (even if only for during the school day). On a professional learning level for teachers, the cross fertilization of moving away from print, from online sources, and from the four walls of the classroom often brings the rewards of new thinking, new directions, and new information. In short, these connections (to self, to the world, to each other) are perhaps the most important potential of the experiential and tangible learning that takes place all around the school. This year's SummerSessions program is an example of this.
"We value the rich diversity of our urban setting and the opportunities and challenges it provides for the education of our students." So ends the first paragraph of the school's mission. I've wondered for awhile about "the challenges" that the city provides. Is it the lack of space? The traffic? The variety of people students and faculty might run into during the day? I'm not sure about the original intent of the statement, but I believe Michael Gary's drive to keep us focused on being a private school with public purpose helps shape these words into action. All of the above -- the connections, the curriculum, the trips -- are great, but without a mission to connect across boundaries, to lift up the neighborhood in which we reside, to make Friend Select's education accessible to as many as possible, it's all navel gazing on some level.
I believe our next steps as a school need to be the following: 1) to deepen city-curricular options across all disciplines; 2) to invest in teachers and program to expand experiential and professional development; and 3) to think about partnerships in the city as a triangle, with Friends Select at one point, a great institution at another (the Academy of Natural Sciences, for example), and a mission-centered action at another (connecting with another school, living our testimonies of peace, etc.). By leveraging these three resources, Friends Select can live up to the promise of the city as our campus for the good of all.
I invite you to watch the video below and experience one of our longstanding partnerships with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.