Category Archives: Education

“I will remember Ms. Hantman forever!”

Some teachers make a lasting impact on their students. The lessons they teach extend far beyond academics and, sometimes, can influence our life’s trajectory. Recently I interviewed 12 students of Lisa Hantman, a 3rd grade teacher at Philadelphia’s McCall Elementary School. The students, who ranged in age from 9 to 20, had vivid recollections of their time in her classroom. In this audio slideshow, played at Need in Deed’s Teacher Soiree and 30th anniversary celebration, they reflect on the role she has played in their lives.

“Push Through”: The story behind Jasmyn Wright’s viral video

When I first heard Jasmyn Wright’s motivational video on Facebook, now gone viral, I wanted to hear more. After all, Jasmyn teaches at a Philadelphia public school. And her “mantra/rap” was picked up by The Gap and used in the mega retail store’s fall back-to-school campaign.

So I went to Frederick Douglass, at 21st and Norris, to hear the back story. Here’s Jasmyn. And here are links to:

Being a presence for grieving children

A few weeks before Christmas, Jack and I witnessed a horrific car accident on Lincoln Drive –an overturned SUV with a mother and two children as passengers. From what we could tell, the mother did not survive. First responders extricated the little ones from their car seats. The image that stuck in my mind was two Disney backpacks sitting by the side of the road. What will life be like for these two motherless children? I wondered.

The experience prompted me to do what I know how to do: tell a story. I approached The Center for Grieving Children, a nonprofit whose counselors help grieving children heal and grow through their grief, and asked if I could produce a story about their work. They enthusiastically agreed.

Interviewing several of their clients, who ranged in age from 8 to 21, gave me insight into their losses and the ways they’ve learned to cope. Not surprisingly, it helped me heal, as well. Here is their story.

Using play to improve school culture

Twice a week during Independence Charter School West’s after-school program, Teacher Parrish teaches “junior coaches” games developed by Playworks parrish-hana , an organization that uses play to improve school culture.

In this episode of Growing Independence — the weekly podcast I produce for the school — we hear from Teacher Parrish; Coach Hana, the Playworks liaison; and students who are reaping the benefits.

Who knew play could build leaders?!!

Growing Independence: The story of a school

What happens when a successful, established charter school wants to clone itself in a new neighborhood, where the demographics and culture are entirely different? And what if the leader of the school is a first-year principal who has the job of hiring a whole new staff? What’s it like to get the project off the ground? Do parents buy in?

These are questions I wanted to explore in Growing Independence–a weekly podcast that documents Independence Charter School’s bold experiment in the high needs community of Southwest Philadelphia.

Every week I stroll the halls and playground looking for stories, told by staff, parents and, increasingly students, who this year span Kindergarten through 3rd grades. I’m learning a lot — Spanish, for one, since this is a language immersion school. Can you pronounce the Spanish word for the color yellow? Or sing the days of the week in Spanish? I can . . . now.

shannons-kids To listen to other episodes of this weekly story, check out Independence Charter School West’s Soundcloud page. Maybe you’re like me; you want to hear what happens!


Meet Momo: A Girl with Grit


Momo, West

Refatun Momo, who emigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh at age 16, is known to her friends as Momo. They also know her as a young woman of tremendous strength and fortitude. You might call it “grit.” That’s what Fran Melmed and others on the JMB Award committee call it. They presented Momo with their annual award at West Philadelphia High School in early June. Listen to Momo’s story to find out why.

Jill & MomoMusic: Pianochocolate, “Promenade”

Photos: BDundon; Conrad Benner,


Cool Jobs: What a wanna be when I grow up

Who knew what it takes to create a video game? Or design a cool pair of kicks? Or build a building??? The more than 550 seventh graders who attended Cool Jobs learned a lot about jobs in the creative economy and met some very cool people in the process.

Over three days Fresh Artists, the nonprofit behind the event, arranged for more than 550 seventh grade students from 12 Philadelphia public schools to visit the event space Moulin in East Falls to meet with a range of not-so-starving artists, designers, and other creative professionals. The goal: introduce kids to jobs they can love for life.

A “dream wall” near the exit offered an opportunity for kids to write what they might want to be when they grow up. Some were clearly influenced by the presenters they’d met. I interviewed several students to see what they were taking away from the experience.


Palates to Palettes: savoring art

Fresh Artists is an innovative nonprofit that amplifies the talent and generosity of public school children. Their unique formula of “lateral philanthropy” enables cash-strapped schools to benefit from free art supplies and innovative art programs.

An example of their innovation is a program called Palates to Palettes — a way for kids to experience the joy of fine dining, learn about careers in the creative economy and hone their observation skills.

This fall I followed a group of art teacher Deva Watson’s middle school students from Wissahickon Charter School as they spent a day at the Philadelphia Museum of Art critiquing still life paintings, then drawing a similar tableau of ingredients from the gourmet meal they then enjoyed at the museum’s restaurant — Granite Hill.

Join us as we follow the students on their sumptuous tour.

Photo: Jason Varney

Play On, Philly!

How much stamina and perseverance do you have? I bet it can’t begin to match that of kids in Play On, Philly! — a rigorous IMG_7840 after school program that uses music as a way to teach young people important life skills.

I spent several rehearsal sessions with the orchestra on the St. Francis de Sales campus this spring and learned first-hand how determined these kids are to prove their worth — not just in music, but in life.

You can hear for yourself.


First person narratives give voice to the voiceless


Jenny Dougherty teaches English Language Arts at Freire Charter Middle School.

Want to get Philadelphia 8th graders to write? Ask them to create first person narratives — or poems or raps — about the experience of gun violence. That’s what Freire Charter Middle School teacher Jenny Hopkins-Daugherty did, and her students rose to the occasion. Jenny credits Need in Deed’s My Voice framework as the inspiration for this idea.

Hear them read their work:

Jamal Hughes

Fainese Morris

Kevin ScottBrian & David King

Nafir Royal

Brian Johnson

Blair Hatch