Diorama Day

After spending last week creating individual dioramas that show a scene in a particular biome within their CYOC (Create Your Own Country), sixth graders spent the beginning of this week transforming our four classrooms into a desert, a chaparral, a grassland, and a rainforest.

Diorama Day allowed students to share their academic and creative skills with families and fellow students. It was a treat to watch them show off their invented plants and animals alongside real ones to our larger community. This project and learning celebration capture the project-based learning, integrated studies, and fun that make 6th grade at TPS special. (Photos by Kate Riccardi Photography)

African American Family Night

On December 4, TPS hosted the 2nd Annual African American Family Affinity Dinner. About thirty-five people gathered to build community, construct a greater sense of belonging, share stories, and network with different families.

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The night was guided by a light program that featured a welcome from Head of School Lisa Sun and from Division Directors Erin Gordon and Yves Kabore. Dinner conversation was infused with prompts to generate conversation around experiences as TPS community members. Attendees felt the energy and excitement in the room, and they appreciated the opportunity to gather.

TPS is dedicated to hosting a wide-range of interest groups and events for parents and families to meet, socialize, and form relationships. As a result of the African American Family Affinity Dinner, attendees were inspired to create a Black Parent’s group that will plan events that promote community.

December Monthly Constitutional

Fighting for fair school funding. Ensuring equal access to school. Dismantling the school to prison pipeline.


These were the issues brought to our 8th grade constitutional scholars Tuesday morning by Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center. Deborah mentioned Pennsylvania’s low ranking in the nation regarding equitable funding of schools, discussed how an anti-immigrant climate has impacted work to remedy issues of access, and shared some of the Law Center’s recommendations to stop the use of educational practices that have the effect of pushing students, especially students of color and students with disabilities, out of schools and toward the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Student questions addressed the funding of magnet schools and the trend toward having armed guards in schools.

People of Color Conference Reflection

By Roxanne Parker, 6th Grade Teacher

Two weeks ago, The Philadelphia School sent a cohort of teachers and administrators, including me, to the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference (PoCC). It was a transformative, weighty experience – I could not feel more privileged to have gone.

As I was walking out the door to head to the conference with my coat and suitcase, many of my students stopped me and asked where I was going. When I told them, there were a variety of reactions ranging from “Why aren’t you taking me?” to “Why do you need to go there?”

Both reactions, I think, underscore the importance of such conferences.

There were incredible, shining moments, like when the heads of school of color were called to the stage to be recognized. We got to see our very own Lisa Sun cross the stage and be recognized for the work she has begun to do at TPS. The conference hosts noted that six years ago, the stage looked sparse, but this year, the heads of school could scarcely fit on the stage.


There were also difficult moments, such as discussing the ways students of color can feel alienated or unsupported in primarily white institutions. These discussions resonated with me and settled in my heart; I am a woman of color, new to TPS this year and coming from a school led by people of color and filled with students of color. The Philadelphia School is an amazing institution, but the culture shock I felt was real. It was inspiring to dig deep in conversations about how we can support students experiencing that same culture shock.

These conversations are difficult and uncomfortable, but that is what makes them important. Next year, I hope to present at the conference, focusing on ways teachers coming from public schools can support themselves and others who are transitioning to independent schools. I am so grateful to work in an institution that sent me to PoCC, and cannot wait to continue the work.

Music Surrounds

The Philadelphia School fills the weeks before Winter Break with musical performances by every single student in the school, be they participants in an all-school sing-along or performers in a winter concert.

Last Friday was the Preschool Sing-along - probably one of the cutest and heartfelt performances of the year!

On December 12 the Junior Unit/Middle School Concert featured 8th grade bands, the Junior Unit Chorus, the Sandra Dean String Ensemble, and the sixth grade. Music will range from “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen to "La Rejouissance” from The Royal Fireworks Music by George Frideric Handel to “Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika” arranged by Joseph Shabalala, Nick Page, and Donna Bostock.


On December 14, Encuentro time will be devoted to an all-school sing-along.

Finally, on December 18 - the day before Winter Break - we will be serenaded by the Primary Unit and the Third Grade. Their concert will feature the Primary and Junior Uint Choruses and the Junior String Ensemble. The audience will enjoy “La Musette” by Johann Sebastian Bach, “Tree Song” by Kenneth Medema and arranged by Robert Sterling, “Dansi Na Kuimba” – to highlight just a few.

And . . . the musical performances will continue in January, with a Kindergarten Sing-along Concert on January 29.

Immigration Series Launched

This week, 8th graders were fortunate to experience a dynamic and moving presentation from TPS parent, Girna Adkins, as the first of a series of speakers who are bringing representation to the 8th grade Spanish class theme “We the people. Hispanic Immigration in the United States.”

Girna shared her family history—a compelling story of immigration in words and photographs. The first image the students saw was a photo of Girna’s grandmother’s house in the Dominican Republic. The one-story house played a central role in Girna’s connection with her Dominican heritage.

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Girna’s parents were born in the Dominican Republic and found themselves at a pivotal moment in the history of their country. During the tumultuous ruling of President Joaquín Antonio Balaguer Ricardo, a time coined “the twelve years” that spanned from 1966-1978, political opponents were jailed and sometimes killed. Girna’s father’s active opposition of the Balaguer regime forced him and his wife to emigrate in 1971. Fleeing under duress, they had to leave their two-year-old daughter behind with the girl’s maternal grandmother.

Girna’s parents were granted temporary asylum by the United States and later visas. They lived in New York City, where Girna was born. “I could be considered an ‘anchor child,’” Girna shared. “I don’t like that term.”

Girna’s parents split up and her mother, Gladys, found work at a suitcase factory. Gladys remarried and Girna’s stepfather helped raise her. In Girna’s household growing up, they only spoke Spanish. She did not learn English until she entered preschool at age four. Girna recalled when she first learned the word “the”—a pivotal moment in her American journey. She felt pride when quizzing her mother on the word’s spelling (who guessed it was spelled d-a). Girna felt like she was officially American.

At age seven, Girna traveled with an aunt to the Dominican Republic for the first time. Gladys was unable to leave the United States for if she did, she could not return.

On this trip Girna met for the first time her grandmother and her sister, Daira, then 12, as well as many extended family members. Girna spoke about how she stayed in the house that her mother grew up in, which still had no running water. She spent the summer collecting water from the river for cooking and cleaning. The house sat amid a mango grove. Girna and her cousins waited to hear the sound of a mango drop from a tree and got a thrill collecting the fallen mangos before the animals could steal a bite. Her grandmother was the first in the community to have electricity, so friends and neighbors gathered at the house to watch television, bringing coffee and desserts to share. “Spending this time in the Dominican Republic at my grandmother’s house connected me to how my mother grew up, to my family, to my heritage,” she said.

Finally, Gladys received a green card, and that same day she booked a flight to the Dominican Republic to reconnect with her first-born daughter. Daira, who was then 14, had not spent a moment with her mother since she was two. After that visit to the Dominican Republic, Gladys was determined to have both of her girls living with her in New York. She petitioned to get Daira a green card, and seven years later Daira became a US citizen.

Today, Girna is married to her college sweetheart, Tim, and they have two sons, Darius and Mateo, both students at TPS. Because Tim is not a Spanish speaker, it has been challenging to integrate Spanish into their daily lives. This can be a point of contention within Girna’s family. “To some of my family, I’m not Dominican enough. But often when people meet me for the first time and see what I look like, they can’t imagine that I was born in the United States,” Girna shared. “I’ve embraced this unique identity, but it can be difficult.”

Girna’s grandmother’s house is now unoccupied, but it remains in the family. Girna, Tim and their sons make sure to visit the house and reflect on the memories when they travel to the Dominican Republic.

At this present time in the United States, when the topic of immigration is so prevalent, Girna voiced how her daily routine is impacted by fear of being “other.” She showed the class her passport card that she carries with her every day, explaining that if citizenship were revoked for people who have been referred to as “anchor children,” she would fall into that category.

Girna’s compelling storytelling inspired students to reflect on their own identities as they navigate their middle school world. Girna touched on how many middle schoolers want to be as similar to their friends as possible—but that one day, they will value what makes them different, what makes them individuals. The students nodded their heads in agreement.

Thank you, Girna, for sharing your immigration story with our students. If you have a TPS 8th grader in your life, talk to them about this presentation.

Spanish middle school teachers Marco Velis and Cecilia Genzlinger are passionate about the launch of this series. “I was excited for this speaker series, but never imagined that the stories shared would be as powerful as this,” Cecilia said. (Photos by M. Velis)