Vaux Massive Image Excessive Faculty builds group past schooling with distinctive PHA funding
The Vaux Big Picture High School opened four years ago with a roar of public and private funding in the millions and a new vision of a high school in the neighborhood.
It is a Philadelphia School District school with unionized teachers and staff, but is operated by an outside education company. The Philadelphia Housing Authority – which bought the Vaux building on the 23rd and the Masters from the school system – is giving the district an additional $ 500 per student annually. Health services, human resource development and community organizations are embedded in the school.
“Success is almost guaranteed,” said then-US Secretary of State for Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson on the first day of school as a foyer full of students, teachers and dignitaries watched.
How did Carson’s bold forecast for a school in one of the poorest corners of America’s poorest metropolis hold out?
This month, 90 young men and women graduated – out of 102 seniors and 126 students who started the program. Forty-two percent of the senior class are in college, business school, or internship, and 84 percent have internships while at school. Others go into the military, union jobs, or other full-time jobs.
But more importantly to the new graduate Enya Sultan, Vaux helped her find her voice and a sense of community.
She loved learning through projects, having plenty of opportunities outside of school, and having a single consultation every four years. Counseling is a core phase of the big picture concept, a class that fosters close relationships between students and a counselor, a time when educational as well as social and emotional concepts are addressed.
There was no traditional seven-hour-a-day schedule. She had an experience that was tailored to her, Sultan said.
“Vaux is a success and it’s just getting started,” said Sultan, who is studying psychology at Howard University. Sultan is not going to leave the school entirely – an alumni advisor will continue to support her.
“At Vaux, they focus on working together,” she said. The traditional way, there are grades and it’s competitive, but here you can be free. It’s structure, but you are able to be yourself when you are here. “
»READ MORE: Can a school change this neighborhood in North Philly?
David Bromley, executive director of Big Picture Philadelphia, the nonprofit education organization that runs Vaux, said he was “excited about the school’s development”.
Reynolds and her classmates “didn’t have a typical four-year high school experience,” said Bromley. “They are dedicated to their passions and interests, they have participated in the dual enrollment and they have created a real sense of community.”
On the way there were hiccups, such as stumbling blocks when setting up the school systems and strong staff fluctuation, including at school director level. And although Vaux was ready to support the students – the staff is trained in trauma-informed practices and the school has an on-site social worker and therapist – there were still challenges in that regard.
Shavonne McMillan became principal two years ago. When she was director of a “no excuses charter” – a school that focused on examination and accountability, discipline, and the firm belief that college is for every student – she wondered about the children who failed to make it through to college had .
“College was the goal, but college is not everyone’s goal – economic freedom should be the goal,” McMillan said. “We’re a college-focused school, but we’re a practice-oriented school that focuses on learning. We know that not every student will go to college, but we know that everyone needs a study plan. “
More complex learners often benefit from the hands-on experience Vaux offers, McMillan said. And many learn things about themselves that they didn’t know.
Take Malayah Reynolds, who came to Vaux and did not consider herself an artist. One day her PE teacher noticed Reynolds scribbling and suggested they enter an art competition.
Reynolds has just graduated as a class representative and is going to Carnegie-Mellon University after Vaux internships at an art gallery and steady staff support in pursuing her passion.
In McMillan’s view, education often reduces young people to numbers – test scores, attendance, grades.
But “there is always a story behind the numbers, and the stories are important here,” said McMillan.
McMillan helped Vaux find its way, employees say. Sales have fallen sharply – only one teacher is leaving this year.
The school principal and teachers know that a big part of the model is the added resources and flexibility their school gives them. The staff are unionized district workers but agree to have more flexibility in scheduling. And the budget enables solid personnel development and more.
McMillan, who was named one of the city’s top directors this year, wants to use the cash she won as a result of this award to award student certificates, such as a pharmaceutical technician program.
COVID-19 has challenged every school, but Vaux’s unique setup has helped it pivot quickly, keep an eye on students and make them grow. The counseling model meant that teachers had a close relationship with their students. The school offered personal learning capsules with tutoring and social and emotional support.
“There were cracks, but nobody slipped through,” said Vivian Shaw, a science teacher and advisor who came to Vaux two years ago after attending a Boston charter school.
“People who make politics or make blanket rules are trying to make the school one size fits all, and that’s not how the students come,” Shaw said.
Kelvin Jeremiah relies on Vaux Big Picture.
Jeremiah, CEO of the city’s housing authority, sees Vaux as an integral part of PHA’s $ 500 million multi-year plan to transform Sharswood. Old Vaux High was closed by the district in 2013, but Jeremiah saw an opportunity. Without a school to serve as an anchor, there would be no church, said Jeremiah.
Jeremiah had tears in his eyes when Vaux graduated earlier this month and he was choking, saying what the students had overcome. Half of Vaux’s students are PHA residents and a third are in special needs education. You got through a pandemic and more.
“Downtown life is tough, but education is your passport to a bright and prosperous future – for me,” Jeremiah told the graduates. In an interview, he said he could “not be happier” with PHA’s investment in Vaux.
Christina Grant, who was the district’s charter school and innovation director, witnessed the early days and first four years of the school, is clear.
“This shows us what a neighborhood high school can do,” said Grant, who is going to Washington DC to serve as the state superintendent for education. “This could be a roadmap – how to manage complex governance structures.”
Liz Dennis, a founding teacher of special education and now Vaux director of special education, agrees that the model is worth spreading.
“We’re not a magnet school, you don’t have to have any qualifications to come here,” said Dennis. “This applies to every single child in Philadelphia – we believe every child deserves this, not just one with grades and test results.”