You get a feeling that good things are happening at Harding Middle School! We went to visit on Friday, 2/24, the day that three banners, now hanging at the main entrance of the school on Torresdale Avenue, were dedicated. ArtsRising is an effort to make quality arts education available for all of our children in the city. When you visit their website, you will see their partners and sponsors. These wonderful programs need funding and our support. Schools can apply to be an “Artzone Hub” and there are site visits, surveys and consideration of other criteria before you are selected. If you would like your school to get involved, you can find out how here. Seven artzones or communities have been identified in the city thus far and Harding Middle School is our “hub” here in Frankford. You can read a profile about Harding here on the ArtsRising website .
These banners are a sight to behold but just as important is what they represent. Principal Michael J. Calderone explained that the banners depict the Arts, Academics and Athletics at Harding. It is by design that the Academics banner hangs in the middle because Academics is at the center, the heart, of all that Hardings’ staff and students are achieving. For the last three years, students have improved their proficiency levels as measured by the state’s PSSA tests. In the spirit of the moment, I am getting ahead of myself here. When you enter Harding Middle School, you are struck by the grandness of the lobby, even after 85 years. This school was built to showcase design and achitecture at the height of our Roaring 20’s! We were immediately greeted warmly by three students, Raina, Johnathan and Joe, who after reminding us that we needed to sign in, would be our escorts to the Independent Media Center. The IMC, which houses the library and a wall of Apple iMAC computers for sutdent use, had a classroom of students waiting expectantly. Due to the weather, the dedication ceremony could not be held outside.
Ambrose Liu, ArtsZone Coordinator, welcomed everyone. The Director of ArtsRising, Varissa Mickens, explained that while 45 students directly participated in the banners we see, they are meant to represent the dreams of all of the students and the community’s dreams for them. In a very visual and vibrant way, these banners express the dreams that Harding Middle School administration, teachers, parents and students are working to bring to life. These dreams go beyond the school walls to the larger Frankford community and beyond as well. Ms. Mickens congratulated the students telling them that they should be proud of their efforts and she thanked Principal Calderone for his belief in the power of arts education and his support of the program.
Mr. Liu explained that the teaching artist, Betsy Casanas, co-founder of Semilla Arts Initiative, partnered with Harding teachers John Papiano, Technology Teacher, and Jon Tietz, Visual Arts Teacher, and students to design and create these banners. Semilla, meaning “seed”, is how Ms. Casanas describes the way that art “plants” in students a feeling of empowerment, where as young as they might be, they are able to use their “strong and powerful voices today” to impact their communities. Ms. Casanas went on to say that this was just a beginning in future projects with the students that would integrate with their curriculum. Stained Glass depicting events in History and learning about light in Science. If you teach students “how” to do something, they will continue to use this creative power in their lives.
Speaking of student voices, several students from the Def Poets Club shared their works with us. You can see it here for yourself.
State Representative Tony Payton and Jason Dawkins, a representative from City Councilwoman’s Maria Sanchez-Quinones’ office were in attendance as well. Kimberly Washington, Coordinator of Northeast EPIC Stakeholders, spoke about growing up in the immediate area and that the Northeast EPIC Stakeholders are working to improve the quality of life in Frankford and Northeast Philadelphia. What impressed me, also, is the collaborative effort that went into this initiative. It does take all of us to work together for the good of our young people and the future of our communities! To experience this uplifting moment, you can watch it here. To all who participated and supported this project, you have both our congratulations and thanks!