TPS Preschool Hair Shop

The Phoenixes and Griffins preschool groups expressed a great deal of curiosity about the hair on their heads while drawing self-portraits earlier this fall. After revisiting a favorite book, Natasha Tarpley’s I Love My Hair!, and hearing a new story, Michael Strickland’s Haircuts at Sleepy Sam’s, the children decided to set up the TPS Hair Shop. They created a list of items we’d need to open our very own shop. (Ask your children what they suggested!) The list included cardboard for doors, pretend scissors, capes, hair dryers and spray, an envelope for money (to pay the stylist, of course), and the iconic "swirly barbershop pole."

This week the children hosted two very special “guest experts”  as part of their Hair Shop project. Jack and Louis’s mom, Lisa, joined us to talk about her work as a dermatologist. She showed us a special tool — a lighted dermatoscope — used to magnify her patients’ hair. Your children were so curious and eager to look through the dermatoscope themselves. We learned about conditions such as alopecia, and Lisa shared images of children who look a little different because their bodies have trouble growing hair. She reassured us that those same kids live very happy lives, and sometimes grow up to be NBA basketball players!

On Thursday our own Keisha Smith (administrative assistant in the early childhood building) shared her expertise in hair-braiding. Keisha has a cosmetology degree and, using our classroom mannequin, demonstrated techniques and products that are used specifically for African American hair. She showed us how to smooth the hair using coconut oil, then part the hair, and create cornrows and braids (or plaits). Many of us tried braiding our own hair as we watched Keisha at work!

Earlier in the week a special client stopped by the Hair Shop for some TLC. Athletic Director Bart received the best of hair care!

Preschoolers and Anansi Stories

The Unicorns and Dragons – two of our preschool groups – have been reading stories about Anansi the spider, a classic trickster of folklore. Anansi stories originated in Ghana and are now enjoyed worldwide.

The preschoolers  acted out a hilarious version of "Why Spiders Have a Thin Waist." A bed pillow with eight stuffed legs became our Anansi spider. In his greedy haste to attend two festival feasts on the same day, Anansi's sons each pulled on a rope tied around his waist to signal the start of the feasts. In the blink of an eye, our pillow spider developed a tiny, pinched waist. The classroom erupted in uproarious laughter and one preschooler commented that Anansi now looks like a floppy-eared bunny.

Monthly Constitutional: On Race & the Justice System

by Lois West, Director of Communications

This past Tuesday's 8th grade Monthly Constitutional was an especially rewarding experience for me. TPS alum Ben West '93 – my son – was a featured guest, along with his colleague Natasha Taylor-Smith. Ben and Natasha, assistant federal defenders in Philadelphia, spoke about what drew them to public service, particularly to the defense of indigent clients in a justice system that treats individuals differently on the basis of race and class.

Natasha spoke of her first appearance in court as a law student defending a mother who had lost custody of her daughter. She was proud of her client, who had overcome homelessness and unemployment and found a home for herself and her daughter. She argued passionately in front of the judge – who, she realized in mid-argument, was asleep on the bench.  Burned into Natasha's soul, that experience led to a personal and professional commitment to serve with integrity, passion, and respect and to an eventual run for a judgeship herself.

A different kind of judge inspired Ben to go into public defense. As a high school student, he interned in the courtroom of Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge C. Darnell Jones II. (The judge is now a federal judge, before whom Ben is scheduled soon to appear with a client.) Judge Jones, who is African American, was troubled by what he perceived to be racial inequities of the criminal justice system. Ben recounted the day when the judge wept openly in court as he sentenced a young African American man to a lengthy prison term. The judge asked, “What will it take so that I never will have to send another young brother to prison?”  Ben told the students that he feels he has a responsibility to help reverse the disparate racial effects of our criminal justice system.   

Natasha and Ben's 50-minute presentation to our 8th grade constitutional scholars somehow also managed to include a discussion of merit selection versus election of judges in Pennsylvania, federal versus state jurisdiction, and the 4th and 13th Amendments.

The final question directed to Natasha and Ben was, "When you were in middle school, was there anything you were studying that you weren't particularly passionate about but has had a big impact on your life or career?" Natasha mentioned reading nonfiction, which she now realizes opened new places and new perspectives to her. Ben mentioned Spanish, in which he is fluent. He explained, "My Latino clients appreciate this, and I can establish a better and more trusting relationship by speaking with them in the language in which they can best communicate."  

As an alumni parent, I will be forever grateful to my children's teachers at The Philadelphia School for reinforcing the values of respect, equity, and social justice. (A special thanks to Marco Velis for the Spanish!)

Honoring Octavius Catto

Last week fourth and fifth graders in Junior Unit C hiked to City Hall to see the newly installed Octavius Catto statue, the first public monument honoring a specific African American on Philadelphia's public landscape. As part of their hero studies, they have been learning about Catto's life and civil rights contributions.  

On the way to City Hall the children engaged in a friendly competition: They hunted for historical landmarks related to heroics and received extra points for finding landmarks with stories that also related to the civil rights movement.  

December's Monthly Constitutional

This past Tuesday's 8th grade Monthly Constitutional featured TPS alum Ben West '93 and Natasha Taylor-Smith. Ben and Natasha, assistant federal defenders in Philadelphia, spoke about what drew them to public service, particularly to the defense of indigent clients.

Natasha and Ben's 50-minute presentation somehow also managed to include a discussion of merit selection versus election of judges in Pennsylvania, the practice of stop and frisk, federal versus state jurisdiction, mass incarceration, and the 13th Amendment.

The final question directed to Natasha and Ben was, "When you were in middle school, was there anything that you were studying that you weren't particularly passionate about but has had a big impact on your career?" Natasha mentioned reading nonfiction, which she later realized had opened new places and new perspectives to her. Ben mentioned Spanish (with Marco!), explaining, "I am fluent in Spanish, and I can speak directly to my Latino clients without using a translator. My clients appreciate this, and I can establish a better and more trusting relationship with them by speaking with them in the language in which they can best express themselves."  

Cretaceous Age Enters the Classroom

Paleontologist and geologist David Wilcots of Dinosaur Fossils and Adventures spoke to first and second graders about fossils. Students got a chance to touch a dinosaur bone from the Cretaceous Age (130,000,000 years old). The children loved hearing about the most recent, oldest, largest, and  smallest dinosaurs and fossils. They were so curious about how and where people find fossils and how animal bones can “turn to rock.” 

What better way to close out our geology unit than with such a fascinating and inspiring guest!