December Monthly Constitutional

By Lois Traub West, Director of Civic ENgagement

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.

Autumn Days at Our Country Campus

It’s our last autumn week out at our country classroom at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. Here are a few fall highlights . . .

  • Preschoolers made their first visit. Photos on social media of their first venture into fort building inspired nostalgic comments from high school alums; one commented, “Wow. I feel sad since I don’t go outside at all during the school day. Really took that stuff for granted.”

  • Kindergarten students explored the woods and used tools to find evidence of the types of creatures who live there. After a discussion and a vote, they chose rabbits and worms as subjects to study more in depth.

  • Primary Unit learned all about trees — the parts of the tree, how to identify different types of trees, the role of chlorophyll, and more — while also taking time and to build forts, play games, and explore the space.

  • Third grade investigated properties of seeds — focusing on how and why seeds disperse.

  • Junior Unit learned practical skills like using a compass and orienteering.  Students even had an opportunity to meet and work with Greg Ahlswede, a local orienteering champion and current coach of the junior national team.

  • Sixth graders made connections between what they observed happening to sediments and other land materials at the Schuylkill Center with the large-scale version of the same processes that formed Fish River Canyon in Namibia.

  • Seventh grade students studied the concepts of ratio and proportion. They were photographed at the Schuylkill Center in front of structures they built, and they then used the photos to compare structure heights.

  • Eighth graders created a live-action theme-based role play at different ponds at the Center. They also had guided lessons with Center educators about macro-invertebrates in ponds and learned how they help indicate pond health. 

It has been a fun and meaningful fall season at the Schuylkill Center, and we look forward to reconnecting with this beautiful natural site in the spring.

Greeting New Philly Immigrants

Today a few Family Circles created cards to be delivered to refugee families who will be arriving in Philly in January from Congo, Burma, and Eritrea. The families will receive the cards as part of a welcoming basket of toiletries and other essentials.

It was moving to see elements of the TPS curriculum being shared with our mixed-aged groups. Students who studied immigration in 3rd grade shared their understanding of immigration and explained how various "push factors" could force families or individuals to seek safety in a new country. Similarly, middle schoolers applied their knowledge of these African countries to show others where to find them on a map.  

Preschoolers Design Treehouse

The Lavenders and Milkweeds groups divided and conquered a structural elements challenge for our treehouse project this week in preparation for Jonathan (Eila’s dad) and Eric’s (an architect colleague of Jonathan’s) visit to TPS.

Divided into three groups, the preschoolers excitedly convened, ready to use glue, craft sticks, cardboard, yarn, and markers to brainstorm and create models and drawings for windows, ladders, and an ideal structural shape of the treehouse for Eila’s backyard. Each group had an opportunity to practice presenting their ideas to their peers before we invited Jonathan, Ilana (Eila’s mom), and Eric into the classroom for a mock charette—a meeting to review the design elements by way of scale models and drawings.

Post-charette, we gathered as a large group to briefly summarize and discuss ideas for the project. Each child used a sticker to vote for their preference in window, ladder, and structural shape choices. With his awe-inspiring drawing talent, Eric created a technical drawing of a treehouse envisioned by our preschoolers. As the architect/engineer team was getting ready to leave, they noted that ours was the easiest charette they’d ever orchestrated! 

Museum of 6th Grade Countries Opens!

The Museum of 6th Grade Countries opened this past Wednesday. Parents and students from other classrooms visited the museum on Wednesday and Thursday to see an exhibit of dioramas created by the 6th graders.  

The dioramas represented countries created by the students. Each diorama showed one scene in one biome in the student's country. The biomes, geologic features, and water resources all followed the laws of nature. Students created imaginary plants and animals with adaptations for survival and reproduction in their specific biomes. Each student also wrote a folktale that explained something about the history of their land.

Experiencing History Through Art

Each year our eighth graders, who are immersed in a deep, year-long study of the U.S. Constitution, make a series of visits to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is impressive how well students are able to pull from their experiences in language arts, in cultural studies, and in art to appreciate the museum experience.

Through the study of paintings, furniture, and other decorative arts we were able to see the influence of ancient Greece and Egypt on design in the post-Revolutionary period and to understand how art helps tell the story of life at the time of the Constitution’s creation.

An exploration of 19th- and 20th-century American art included discussions and activities centered on Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer as exemplars of a new psychological and narrative style. 

Our most recent trip was an exploration of modern and contemporary American art as expressions of American values and concerns.