Months after word that the city’s first arts and science-focused charter high school would take over space at the former GlaxoSmithKline building at 16th and Vine, the first class of teenagers is making its way at the String Theory School.
“We’re developing the next leaders of a creative society,” said String Theory COO Dr. Jason Corosanite. “We’re developing an innovative way to rethink education.”
The backbone of that rethinking is changing the way in which students are applying what they learn. As Corosanite explained, the String Theory School, which operates two middle schools in addition to this new high school, places emphasis on content creation, not fact regurgitation. The school has also taken a page out of the “university” handbook by having students select a major in addition to their standard daily classes.
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“We have vocal, ballet and instrumental [majors],” Corosanite said. “Digital design and communication arts, and two tracts of science IT engineering/robotics tract and a health sciences biotechnology tract.”
By incorporating these majors, students are given an outlet in school to pursue their interests. Going along with the creation centric theme the school is pushing allows the kids the opportunity to make things and see the fruits of their academic labors.
Another way in which teachers at The String Theory School are nurturing the idea of innovative education is throwing out the textbooks. As one of only 37 Apple Distinguished schools in the country, the String Theory School is able to provide each of its 250 ninth graders with an iPad that serves as their textbook, notebook or anything else they may need in the classroom and at home. In addition to each student having an iPad, each teacher is given a MacBook and each classroom is equipped with a 60-inch TV connected to Apple TV.
“Instead of having a smart board… it’s everybody working, collaborating and then being able to send what they’re doing from the iPad up to the [TV] screen,” Corosanite said.
The seven story curved glass building that overlooks the parkway is full of amenities. For instance, the school is home to a Hollywood-grade motion capture suite.
The 20 by 20 space is surrounded with 12 infrared cameras that allow the students movements to be captured, rendered and turned into any number of things on a computer screen. And while the suite was built primarily for character design and creation for the Digital Design students, Coronsanite explained that all students would get to make the most of it.
“Ballet majors will be able to come into the space and be able to capture dance and movement. Science majors will be able to work on biomechanics. When Engineering and Robotic [majors] design quadrocopters or quadrorotor drones…they can use that in the motion capture space to get feedback and exact precision.”
In addition to the motion capture suite, a science classroom is fitted with a professional grade aquaponics system, essentially a self-contained ecosystem.
The system will allow students to investigate deeper into the subject matter, cultivating and growing both the vegetables and fish they are studying rather than just looking at pictures of them in a book.
It also provides homegrown food for lunch. Corosanite says the cafeteria is modeled after a casual Center City restaurant like Cosi or Panera. The menu is a far cry from greasy burgers and soggy tatter tots. Instead, students are provided with paninis, salads and eventually the salmon and tilapia being cultivated in science class.
The school also plans to add a library, theater and television studio in the near future, said Corosanite.
Currently The String Theory School’s enrollment sits at 250. Sixty of those students graduated from The String Theory’s K-8 program this past June and the remainder of which were lottery winners, according to data provided by the school. Of nearly 3,000 applicants only 190 students were fortunate enough to be accepted into the school.
Those lucky 250, however, are students from all across Philadelphia. One of the things The String Theory School set out to accomplish upon its opening was providing a place that is accessible to all Philadelphians.
“Being located where we are, so close to Center City, we can bring in students from east, west, north and south,” Corosanite said.
Beginning next year the K-8 program will also move into the building at 16th and Vine and the student population will balloon up to 1,800 when at full capacity, said Corosanite.
The String Theory School method is starting to gain traction outside of the City of Brotherly Love, too.
Coronsanite said that what they have achieved here in Philadelphia is starting to become a national model for how to create a top-notch charter school. Plans are already in place for a school to be opened in Georgia next year, but for the time being The String Theory School is Philadelphia’s pride and joy alone.
“This is the most exciting high school the city has seen in a generation,” Corosanite said.
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