November 23 — 12:00 am, 2006

Olney students seek model for going small

As part of their ongoing “small school campaign” for transforming Olney High School, 25 members of the Olney Youth United for Change (YUC) chapter and several community members visited South Bronx High School in New York, November 8.

YUC is a 15-year-old student organizing group that includes chapters at Olney and four other Philadelphia high schools. The group has spearheaded efforts to transform Kensington High School through the creation of four autonomous, small high schools.

The Bronx school has many of the elements that the Olney YUC students say they want to see in a new school. Three mini-schools of 350 to 400 students organized around themes have been started up within the school. When the last regular class graduates next year, the mini-schools will have fully replaced the traditional high school.

Small schools seek to create closer relationships between staff and students. Olney student and YUC member Christina Holly commented that South Bronx High School “was very well organized.”

“I liked the relationships between the students and the teachers and the principal. It seemed more like a family than administrator and student,” she explained.

Olney student Chaunae Berry added, “I like that the school had updated textbooks. I like that the teachers knew all the students that were in the classroom.”

The students are looking for a small school model that is practical for the Olney situation. Many felt the South Bronx school met this standard.

State Representative-elect Tony Payton of Philadelphia, who accompanied the students to New York, commented, “When our commitment is to education, we have to follow a successful model like the one they used at South Bronx High School for Olney High School.”

Olney High School was divided last year into two separate schools, Olney East and Olney West, each of which now serves about 800 students. YUC members say that the changes to the high school were poorly planned and that a successful small school conversion needs to involve much more than physically dividing the school into separate units.

The next step planned by YUC is to share the results of their research with the community. For more information about the campaign, call YUC at 215-423-9588.


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