Summer in the City: A SummerSessions Q&A with Director Desiree Harmon

Friends Select’s SummerSessions program has flourished in the last 12 years to offer a wide range of courses that utilize the school’s location in Center City to offer in-depth, exploratory learning. Desiree Harmon, Friends Select’s middle school dean and director of SummerSessions, recently discussed how the program continues to evolve, and what parents and students can expect this year. SummerSessions classes run from June 17 through August 2, and registration is now available.

What is the SummerSessions program?

DH: SummerSessions introduces students from all around the city to what we do in our program here. At Friends Select, we have the beauty of being smack dab in the middle of the city, and a lot of our programming uses the city as a resource. So we took our summer program and extended it a little bit further, and used the resources in the city to enhance and teach programs in the summer.

What can students and parents look forward to at this year’s SummerSessions?

DH: This year for SummerSessions, one of our shining stars is City Sketch, with our middle school art teacher Fred Kogan, where he takes students out in the city, teaching them different art techniques. They go to a different location everyday, so you might find them in Rittenhouse Square, or up the parkway at the Rodin Museum, or in Macy’s at the shoe department as they’re looking at fashion. They’re all around the city, learning art techniques and getting a taste of everything we have to offer.

Who are some of the faculty members who will be teaching these classes?

DH: We have Tr. Sarah Kelly, who is the chair of our upper school math department, who is starting this year, taking over the Geometry class and teaching two sections of Algebra Readiness. We have a Friends Select classic, Tr. Ralph Reinwold, who is coming back to teach his Calculus class. We partnered last year with Drexel University, and we have one of their professors, Scott Quitel, who is coming back to teach his class, Nature, Grittiness, Grit, Entrepreneurship in the City, which is a taste of what he does on the college level.

What benefits do students get from taking academic courses over the summer?

DH: For math courses, students are actually able to use those to advance in their school math program, or to review concepts if they’re not sure about them. For other classes, like Nature, Grittiness, Grit or City Sketch or Jewelry and Glassblowing—which was a new class last year—students get other fun experiences. They get to be in the city. And one thing about our community here, our students love Friends Select. They love being here all the time, so they do get to spend summertime with some of their favorite faculty, and being in the city, and learning some new techniques. So you’re learning, but it’s summertime and fun and different.

Could you explain the differences between City Lab and City Academy?

DH: The City Lab is more art-based, not learning that they’re going to do as an extension of their school year. Like I talked about with the math courses; a lot of students used their geometry or pre-calculus to advance in their math curriculum. So the City Academy is more academic-based, and the Lab is more fun activities and fun things you would like to do. This year, as a part of our Lab that’s new, we also have some offerings for lower school for rising third and fourth graders. We have some art classes with Tr. Dan Deslaurier, and we have a Maker’s Space class with Tr. Allison Frick and Tr. Max Budnick that we’re looking forward to running for the first time.

In what ways has this program evolved over the years?

DH: It’s blossomed! When I first started working, the program had about 30 kids, mostly Friends Select kids. Last year for example, we had 93 students who came from 20 schools all around the city of Philadelphia and southern New Jersey. So we had a representation of different public, parochial, and private schools.  

Is there anything else students and parents should know about this program?

DH: Our program is unique because of who we are, our location, and what we do in the city in terms of going out and using organizations, parks, and museums that we have right at our fingertips. It’s so ingrained into who we are that it’s a natural part of the learning process. And I think students and parents really get to see that. It’s an extension of what we do all year long. But again, it’s summertime, so we get more fun in the sun out on the Parkway.