End Extinction (in the Park)

By Stasia Sumpaopol, 6th grade teacher

As part of the workshop I attended at the Institute for Conservation Research at the San Diego Zoo this past summer, I was able to rent a kit from the zoo that provides technology for the middle school students in my End Extinction intensive course to learn about the zoo's recovery efforts of desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert.

Researchers at the zoo use spatial ecology to help understand the interaction between tortoises and their environment over space and time. Understanding more about their interaction helps the zoo to determine best practices around their breed and release program so that translocated tortoises have better chances for survival. In order to collect data, researchers use radio telemetry to locate and observe tortoises in the wild which is tricky since these reptiles spend 95% of their time underground in burrows. 

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TPS students got to experience the challenges in locating hiding tortoises at Schuylkill River Park this week thanks to the generosity of the zoo. Each student was equipped with a receiver that was programed to a plush tortoise and transmitter. Tortoises were hidden all over the park, and students had to locate them by using the receivers.

Once they located a tortoise, students gathered information about its health and behavior in order to make determinations about suitable environments for release in the future. Students were able to determine that overall, desert tortoises released into wash habitats, tended to fare better as the environment allowed for easier burrowing, access to shelter sites, and an abundance of edible plants. 

8th Graders Take DC

By Lois Traub West, Director of Civic Engagement

The 8th grade’s spring overnight trip to Washington, D.C., last Thursday and Friday was the culmination of a year’s worth of preparation - in their cultural studies classroom and in the art studio.

A 7:30am departure from TPS got our students to the United States Capitol just in time for their personalized tours by the legislative staffs of Senator Casey’s and Senator Toomey’s offices. Unfortunately, Senator Casey was unable to meet with the students touring with his staff. Senator Toomey spent a few minutes with the other half of the class, who asked questions about his positions on the separation of families at the border and the need for more rigorous background checks on gun purchasers. We are hoping Senator Casey can visit TPS by year’s end.

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Another stop on our DC adventure was the Newseum, a museum focusing on the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Students prepared for this visit by examining photographs in the museum’s Pulitzer Prize–winning photography gallery and by learning about the Berlin Wall in a Monthly Constitutional presented by Mitchell Orenstein, chair of Penn's Russian and Central European Studies Department. A popular gallery at the Newseum was the newscaster’s booth, where students were filmed giving weather, sports, and news reports.

An early evening visit to the Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial set the stage for a monument study that students will pursue later in the year.

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One group had the opportunity to visit the Frederick Douglass Historic Site, and the other took front-row seats on the House floor, while staffers for Congressman Evans and Congresswoman Houlahan answered questions about the House and about issues related to the students’ cultural studies research reports.

A visit to the National Portrait Gallery completed the trip. A study of portraiture in art classes back in the fall set the stage for this visit, which included seeing the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama.

Asked about the highlights of the trip, 8th graders responded: “Definitely the National Portrait Gallery.” “Bonding with my classmates.” “Riding the ‘train’ in the basement of the Capitol building.” “ Touching a piece of the Berlin Wall.” “Seeing the photography exhibit at the Newseum.” “The Vietnam War Memorial.” “Sitting in the House of Representatives right next to the podium.”



A Visit from an Emmy Award Winner and TPS Grandparent

Jade and Gina holding the Olympic torch that Gina carried and two of her Emmy Awards.

Jade and Gina holding the Olympic torch that Gina carried and two of her Emmy Awards.

On Friday, TPS middle schoolers were lucky to experience a presentation with TPS grandparent Gina Hemphill Strachan. Gina is the granddaughter of Olympic track and field athlete Jesse Owens, and she famously carried the Olympic torch at the Games Opening Ceremony in 1984. Today, she is the grandmother of seventh grader Jade and an 11-time Emmy Award winning television producer.  

Gina showed students the video of her running with the Olympic torch and spoke about questions the experience inspired: What can I do? Who am I? What can I create? She realized that while she may be the granddaughter of a famous athlete, her passion was storytelling.

She asked students, “What are you passionate about?” Students responded with a wide range of answers: art, school, comedy, soccer, football.

If students expressed dreams of going to Hollywood or becoming the next star athlete, Gina encouraged kids to “think big” and explained that those dreams can be achieved even if you are not the star on stage. She gave examples of the roles behind the scenes in support of the person on camera or on the field: producer, director, stage manager, agent, trainer—just to name a few.

Gina told the story of her single attempt at following in her grandfather’s footsteps as a track star. With her grandfather in the stands watching, she was the last one to pass the baton in her race. When she met up with her grandfather after the race, she was nervous that she had disappointed him. Gina was surprised and encouraged by his uplifting response when he said he was proud of her because she did her best on this day.

Gina urged our students to consider the myriad of opportunities that surround their passions, and she shared the lesson she learned from her grandfather’s supportive words, “I don’t have to be first or be the best in order to be great.”

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White Privilege Conference Reflection

Julia Carleton and Brian Johnson at the White Privilege Conference in Iowa.

Julia Carleton and Brian Johnson at the White Privilege Conference in Iowa.

The White Privilege Conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa provides an opportunity for individuals to feel empowered and prepared to advocate for equity and justice through working towards self and social transformations. As a school, we have been attending this conference since 2016, and we are proud that three faculty and staff members attended this year: Julia Carleton, Brian Johnson, and Brian Jordan.

Julia Carleton, Junior Unit D teacher, reflected on her experience at the conference:

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this year’s White Privilege Conference in Iowa. The conference brought together a group of over 1,000 educators, non-profit workers, organizers, and students, all devoted to learning more about white supremacy and committing to actions that dismantle it. Some experiences that were particularly memorable for me were a keynote from Dr. Heather Hackman about the bodily effects of racial oppression, a keynote from Dr. Ivory A Toldson on how statistics about Black people reflect racial bias, a workshop about equitable ways to assess students’ learning, and a workshop about how affinity spaces engage white people in anti-racist work. For me, the conference was extremely informative and invigorating, and I gained more clarity on some of the ways that I, as a white person, can and must engage in anti-racist work. The conference also led me to recognize how much learning I still have ahead of me. I was humbled and motivated by the generosity of the presenters and participants there who shared their experiences and wisdom, and I look forward to sharing what I learned with my colleagues at TPS.

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Kindergarten teacher and half of the musical duo City Love, Brian Jordan, performed songs from their album of children's music about diversity, equity, and inclusion called, The Future Is Bright.  

Brian Johnson, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), gained valuable knowledge and fresh ideas to continue the meaningful DEI work he has been directing at TPS.

From Being an Ally to Changing the World

By Sanjana, 6th grade

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On March 14, six TPS students had the opportunity to attend the Middle School Diversity Conference at the Haverford School. Our experience there was amazing.

We heard from the extraordinary speaker, Dr. Rodney Glasgow. He spoke to us about the conference’s theme: kinship and friendship. We heard about how he was bullied in middle school, and how being a bully taught him an important lesson. He told us about what it meant to be an ally, and shared stories of allies in his own life. We experienced his memories as if they were our own. Then he invited students up to tell their stories. We heard about how other kids were bullied by classmates and even teachers.

That was only the beginning though. The day that followed was just as moving. We gathered in groups and we discussed issues of diversity at our schools. It was interesting to hear about every person’s experience. A lot of people shared how their school “brushed problems under the rug,”; how they would ignore it when their students were being bullied; or how they are trying to make a change. It made me think how lucky I am to go to a school that talks about these issues and where every voice is heard.

We also heard from Homa Sabet Tavangar, who told us about global citizenship. She reminded us of our power to be an ally. She gave us a role model, Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old climate change activist. We talked about issues we were passionate about and how we could be like Greta.

We learned a lot, from being an ally to changing the world.

Berlin Wall Revisited

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Today Penn professor Mitchell Orenstein was our Monthly Constitutional guest speaker. In preparation for the 8th grade’s visit to the Berlin Wall exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, DC, later this week, Mitchell spoke about the rise and fall of the wall. He talked about the lasting political and psychological symbolism of the Berlin Wall, and he touched on the differences between socialism, communism, and nazism.