At the Science Leadership Academy the students are treated like adults, says junior Cody Nichols.
Built in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia and the Franklin Institute, the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) is a new student-oriented, project-based program. Put away your No. 2 pencil at SLA, there are no standardized tests aside from the state required PSSAs.
Students work closely together and with teachers to create a variety of projects. Student projects even contribute to the school’s daily activities. SLA’s help desk, for instance, is one of the largest student projects, says Chris Alfano, teh school’s system administrator and computer support specialist.
“We have about 12 students who are assigned to come here, and they pretty much take care of all the school’s repair needs,” Alfano says. All 10th and 11th graders at SLA are required to have an internship that meets once a week.
Students conduct original science experiments, build tools for green energy in engineering classes, conduct simulations of historical moments and trade video Spanish lessons with a school in another country, Principal Chris Lehmann says. “There are all kinds of rich, engaging and powerful projects kids are doing.”
SLA’s one-to-one laptop program is one aspect that makes the comprehensive student projects possible. Every SLA freshman receives an Apple MacBook to use throughout his high school career. The only cost to students is an $85 insurance fee.
Providing students with a laptop allows teachers to harness the Internet for assignments and student discussions. “It really changes the playing field,” Alfano says. SLA Web servers also harness open source tools like Moodle, which provides a home base and virtual school for students to interact beyond class time.
Student interaction with teachers is the most important aspect of SLA, in accordance with the school’s mission. In order to preserve the interaction between students and teachers the school must remain small, Lehman says. “We’re a small school by design. We’re not going to get bigger than 500 students.”
There are only 125 spots available for new freshman students next year. According to Lehmann, SLA has already received 2,000 admission applications and conducted 850 interviews for the limited amount of freshman seats.
In order to be admitted to SLA, students must go through an interview process and present a project they’ve created. Interviews are conducted by teachers as well as current students. The school currently has 484 students including its first graduating class of 117 seniors. Many seniors plan on going to college after graduation.
Although he is only a junior, Nichols is looking at colleges like Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University and the University of Delaware. Nichols, like other SLA students, receives assistance with his college selections from a counselor.
According to SLA’s counselor, Karina Hirschfield, “Colleges in the area and outside the area seem to be excited about the program we have at SLA. Students have received close to $1 million dollars in scholarships, and we’re expecting our students to get well above that.”
SLA has made great strides towards its goal of inquiry-based learning since its inception in September 2006. ts popularity is shown in the attitude of its students.
“SLA is a great school because it brings out the best in everyone,” said Nichols.
Below, a video shot by Technically Philly contributor Jared Pass.
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