During the summer before the 2019 to 2020 school year, the Science Leadership Academy merged with Ben Franklin High School on Broad and Spring Garden. The merge caused confusion, need for adjustment, and disorder for both school communities. Approximately a month later, an asbestos exposure caused by construction work at the campus caused both schools to be temporarily displaced. We interviewed a SLA junior to gain perspective of the effects that the merger, location changes, and adaptive learning systems have had on her education during her school year.
What was your original reaction to the merge of SLA and Ben Franklin?
Two years ago when discussion began about the merge between SLA and Ben Franklin, I felt optimistic. I was excited to finally have auditorium and a gym at school because the original SLA building lacked these amenities. The building on 22nd and Arch was not built to be a school but instead a reworked office building.
As a junior, do you feel that the location changes have impacted your education during this crucial year?
I personally don’t feel that the location changes have affected my junior year so far, but many of my peers at SLA have been affected by the complications. Many SLA students have access to wifi and Chromebooks provided by the school. On the other hand, Ben Franklin students aren’t provided with computers. I can’t imagine how the Ben Franklin students who don’t have these resources feel. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to complete assignments and communicate with teachers despite the breaks and locations changes.
Did you ever considered transferring schools in light of the events occurring at SLA?
I never considered transferring from SLA. The SLA community and learning style is best for me and despite everything that has happened, we’re still the same school community with the same students and faculty.
Can you explain the atmosphere inside the building at the SLA/BF campus prior to the building being shut down?
We spent a pretty short time at SLA/BF before the building closed for construction. A noticeable part of the building is the glass dividing partition between two schools. This wall was strange at first because SLA students could see the unfamiliar Ben Franklin students but couldn’t interact. Before the location switch, though, SLA and Ben Franklin established an outward bound program for students from both school communities to join for team-building activities. I hope this program resumes when we return to SLA/BF. SLA is striving to unite kids from both schools despite the physical divides between the schools.
Do you feel the citywide media and Philadelphians not affiliated with SLA have wrongfully perceived the situation?
In the beginning of the situation surrounding asbestos exposure at SLA/BF, people outside of the community jumped to conclusions will little understanding of what was happening. At this early stage, nobody except Philadelphia School District staff had details of the problem (including SLA/BF families and faculty). The assumptions and rumors weren’t helpful, but now that the asbestos and construction information is public knowledge, there aren’t as many rumors or wrongful perceptions as before.
Have the location changes and extended breaks from school impacted the project-based nature of SLA?
Location changes and extended breaks have impacted the project-based learning system at SLA… but only temporarily. Not being in a classroom made collaboration difficult for students. However, our teachers understood the challenges we were experiences and adjusted parameters of our projects. Today (October 21st), we went back to school at 440 (empty classrooms in the Philadelphia School District headquarters) and are now operated from a comfortable learning environment. The breaks affected assignments and class discussions but not SLA core values.
What positive outcomes have come since the merge?
Having a permanent school building is comforting. When construction is finished at the SLA/BF campus, our school will finally have a home.
While this change has not been easy for any member of both the SLA and Benjamin Franklin community, many positives and negatives became a product as a result. Not having a ‘home’ or a classroom to work in can really upset the learning environment for both teachers and students. Meanwhile, this change allows for students from two different school communities to interact. Despite all these unexpected, the students appear to have an open mind about the situation and are continuing to go about their school year.
Kate Ratner (280) and Sydney French (280)
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