Every year, Philadelphia’s Community Schools honor the hard work and support that schools have received from members of the school community. Their hard work and dedication regularly improve the lives and wellbeing of their entire communities.
The Community Schools Award is given to an exceptional student or adult who, over the past school year, has helped to engage and drive the work of the Community School initiative within their community.
Coordinators and principals at each school select one or two award winners at the end of the year. We’re excited to introduce you to this year’s award recipients, who have been champions for their schools!
Congratulations to all of our community and staff honorees, including:
Zor Montes, Cramp Elementary School
Zor Montes is the Case Manager of the school’s STEP program, which provides multiple tiers of support for students’ and families’ social and emotional needs. Ms. Montes is new to Cramp School this year but she’s already made a huge impact and has connected families to vital resources in the community.
Additionally, Ms. Montes has worked tirelessly to identify families and students in need of the services of Cradles to Crayons. Working together with Will Reed, Cramp’s Community School Coordinator, she has helped over 70 families access clothing, strollers, diapers, and much more.
“She goes above and beyond to help our students and families and truly displays what it means to have a community spirit,” said Reed.“She deserves this year’s Community School Award for an outstanding individual adult.”
Harris Daniels, Dobbins CTE High School
As Dobbins’ resident Media Arts and Film teacher, Harris Daniels has been instrumental in supporting students and families during the time of COVID-19. He led and produced the school’’s first ever virtual graduation in June, and has supported both teachers and students as they acclimated to a digital learning environment. Mr. Daniels has also supported the school’s other community initiatives, including the annual Community Dinner, the Male Leadership Conference, and more.
“This is a well deserved honor for Mr. Daniels,” said Dobbins Coordinator Charles Reyes. “He goes above and beyond for the community and has been a staunch support for this work for many years.”
Rachael Wyatt, Hamilton Disston School
A proud parent of second-grader Cadence, Rachael Wyatt is an active Disston community member. She currently serves on the School Advisory Council and provides valuable insight as a parent. Ms. Wyatt also regularly volunteers to support at Disston events such as Cookies with Caregivers, Family Literacy Night, and Career Week.
“Mrs. Wyatt is the epitome of an active parent for a school,” said Disston Coordinator Ester Roche-Curet. “I am so glad I can always count on her.”
Gerneice Woods, F.S. Edmonds School
“Mama Woods,” as she is known to the school community, is an active parent volunteer at Edmonds. She supports the school’s central office, arriving promptly every morning at 8:30 am. When the bell rings at the end of the day, Ms. Woods helps with signing in students participating in the Boys and Girls Club OST Program after school.
Robin M. Torrence, Community School Coordinator at Edmonds nominated Mama Wood., “Mama Woods has consistently assisted me with every Community School event that I have had since being in the role of the Community School Coordinator. She has participated in every Parent Café, and steps right in and makes sure things are completed. She refers to each and every student as ‘one of my babies’ and they all love her.
Maggie Clerkin, Edward Gideon School
Maggie Clerkin, a teacher that began working at Gideon this school year, stepped up immediately to support the Gideon community. She has quickly become a regular at food distributions and after school events.
Said Greg Wright, the Gideon Community School Coordinator, “Ms. Clerkin has been a joy to partner with. She is a strong advocate for collaborative leadership and always makes sure students and community members are at the table.”
Sharonda Smith, Samuel Gompers School
Sharonda Smith has been a member of the Gompers teaching staff for 11 years and currently serves as the school’s mindfulness teacher, as well as the teacher leader for the school’s student-run disciplinary board. Ms. Smith sees teaching as an opportunity to make the largest impact on students’ lives, even beyond academics.
Said Gompers Coordinator Rennie Parker, “Students have shown a great appreciation for her passion, and are learning to take the time to breathe before allowing a situation to escalate into something negative. Ms. Smith is a great example of what it takes to reach our children on all levels.”
Kristian Ogungbemi, Kensington Health Sciences Academy (KHSA)
Kristian Ogungbemi began her time at KHSA as a student teacher, before becoming a part of the full time staff as the Global Leadership teacher. In addition to teaching, Ms. Ogungbemi supports the school’s partnerships with outside organizations, resulting in internships and learning programs for students that take place across the city.
Said KHSA Coordinator Antonio Romero, “Collaborating on projects like after school programs or pilot internships with Ms. Ogungbemi this past year was like working with a family member. This is because she leads with her heart and truly loves our students and our city and knows how much they have to offer to each other. Thank you Ms. Ogungbemi.”
Patty Fox, Alain Locke School
Ms. Fox, a literacy coach at Locke School, goes above and beyond for her students. She encourages them to try their hardest and to be the very best that they can be.
Said Coordinator Pam Evans, “She has been an advocate for Community Schools since its inception at Locke. She has helped with pantries, baked banana bread for our volunteers, donated to our closet, researched and shared resources, and helped to advertise events and services. Ms. Fox has embraced the community school model fully and we appreciate her presence as a partner.”
Reverend R. Wesley Tink, Logan Elementary
Rev. R. Wesley Tink, better known as “Pastor Wes,” is the Executive Director of Front Step Inc. Front Step partners with the Logan and Nicetown communities to provide programming for children and families. For the past four years, Front Step has sponsored the “Care and Compassion Award” at James Logan Elementary. This award is given to four graduating 5th graders that have shown care and compassion in school and their community. In addition to the Care and Compassion Award, Front Step has an ongoing initiative providing uniforms to Logan students.
Collette Butler shared that “Pastor Wes is always thinking of ways to connect organizations within the community with each other to serve and empower the Logan/Nicetown community and always willing to support the James Logan Elementary family.”
Quinetta Bowden, Overbrook Educational Center
As Director of Middle School Academics for SquashSmarts, Quinetta Bowden is a frequent guest in classrooms at Overbrook Educational Center (OEC). In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Ms. Bowden and her team have played an integral role in supporting students and families through remote education support and resources.
Said Coordinator Caroline Robinson, “As a visible member of the OEC community who works tirelessly to provide our students with unique opportunities, and empowers them to succeed as scholars and leaders both in and out of the classroom, Quinetta has been a shining example of what partnership in a Community School should look like.”
Carana Bennett, Richard R. Wright Elementary School
Carana Bennett has been a source of great support and helpful resources for Wright families for many years. She has previously acted as the main support for partners such as Eat Right Philly, Philabundance, and Arden Theatre. Ms. Bennett was also instrumental in supporting food access partnerships at the school, helping to connect families in need on a regular basis. With her help, Wright was able to sustain nutrition lessons for kindergarten and fifth graders, monthly produce stands with Share Food Program and Eat Right Philly, and a regular food backpack distribution from Philabundance.
Said Caitlyn Nichols, the Wright Community School Coordinator, “She has been nothing but supportive since my arrival and is always open to discuss current and future partnerships to serve the students, families, and community. She has made me feel welcome at Wright, and I cherish the guidance she has provided me during my first year as the school’s coordinator.”
Sean Korman, South Philadelphia High School
Sean Korman serves as manager of the nearby Starbucks and has supported South Philadelphia High School Coordinator Janelle Harper and the Southern community for many years. Every month, Mr. Korman and his team support the school’s 95% attendance goals by providing incentives from the store. Sean also played an important role in multiple school career fairs, bringing in other managers and store employees to speak with students about possible career paths. Prior to COVID-19, Sean also started the Spectacular Students program at Starbucks, recognizes four students from each grade who are currently in good academic standing.
Said Janelle, “Sean is such a hard worker and cares so much about seeing students succeed. It’s a joy to work with him. I am proud to choose him as the award recipient this year.”
Alexandra Wolkoff, Southwark School
As Director of Education for Puentes De Salud, Alexandra Wolkoffand her team run year-round after school and summer programming for Southwark’s Latinx families. In “normal” times, Ms. Wolkoff plays an integral role in promoting the mission of community schools through her commitment to building authentic relationships with families and community members. During the COVID-19 crisis, Alexandra and her team have been integral in connecting families to vital resources.
Said Liz Hejlek, the Southwark Coordinator, “We are so grateful for Alexandra’s dedication to the mission of community schools, for always showing up – including helping us distribute 700+ Chromebooks! – and most importantly, for her hard work supporting Southwark School families.
Amanda Johnson, William Tilden Middle School
Amanda Johnson, a program lead at Turning Points for Children, has been instrumental in supporting food access at Tilden. At Tilden Middle School, Turning Points for Children partners with Philabundance to provide fresh produce and food for the Southwest Philadelphia community. When the Tilden Community School Coordinator left midyear to pursue new public service opportunities, Ms. Johnson stepped up to keep the FAWN food pantry running smoothly and continue meeting the needs of those with food insecurity.
Pastor Gerald Waters, George Washington High School
Pastor Waters heads the Proclamation Community Church in Northeast Philadelphia and has been an integral member of the George Washington community for many years. He currently serves on both the School Advisory Council and the Community School Committee, helping to guide the vision and implementation of the community school model at Washington. This year, he also served as one of the keynote speaker at the school’s “Take Back the City” event, which focused on empathy-building and anti-violence measures.
Said Community School Coordinator Caitlyn Boyle, “[Pastor Waters’] church funded our food pantry, provided financial sponsorship for our Community School Fair, gifted the most beautiful Thanksgiving baskets to families in need every year – and I could go on. Pastor Waters has a heart of gold and is the true embodiment of the community school spirit.”
Vivian Virola, John H. Webster School
As a mother of a Webster student and member of the school’s climate staff, Vivian Virola is invested in the success of all members of the Webster community. She regularly goes above and beyond for students, checking in on their well-being and finding ways to engage families in taking a more active role in their own mental wellbeing.
Shira Smillie, Coordinator at Webster, said, “Ms. V does so much for Webster School. Although technically she is on climate staff, she is a Renaissance woman. She goes above and beyond for students and staff and truly seeks to make Webster a better place. From home visits to talking with students who are having challenges, to outreach to families we can count on Ms. V to get the job done. We love Ms. V!”
We also would like to congratulate all of our student honorees this year, including:
Jordan Mayer, Dobbins CTE High School
“Jordan has been a very active student and has been since his arrival at Dobbins. He is a graphic arts student and leads the student-led monthly community meals program, supporting the design of invitations, menus, decorations, and coordinating programming throughout the night. Jordan is a student that loves to be involved with school activities and initiatives. Jordan was part of the original team from Dobbins to participate in the ASPEN challenge. An awesome student and well deserved recipient of this recognition.” – Charles Reyes, Community School Coordinator
Jaylaih Johnson, Hamilton Disston School
“Jayliah Johnson is an awesome middle school student at Hamilton Disston. Staff at Disston can always count on Jayliah’s help. She is a wonderful member of our Student Council by always making time to attend meetings and events. Jayliah offers up great ideas and isn’t shy about expressing her opinions. For the Student Council’s Smile Drive, Jayliah designed the poster and helped collect hundreds of toothbrushes and toothpaste to benefit the homeless. She also was a huge help on Family Literacy Night. I look forward to her help next year as student activities grow at Disston.” – Ester Roche-Curet, Community School Coordinator
Aleah McCoy, Edward Gideon School
“Aleah McCoy is one of the biggest supporters of the community school initiative at Gideon Elementary. Over the past three years Aleah has been involved in every component of community engagement at Gideon; positively influencing her peers and improving the lives of the community members. Aleah’s acts of service include clothing distributions, food distributions, planning health fairs for the community, and assisting in cooking demonstrations. For the past two years, she has taken an active role in Gideon’s family reading night, assisting students in grades K-3 until 6:30 PM every Thursday. Aleah is a leader in the school and community and I am proud to have worked with her during my time at Gideon.” – Greg Wright, Community School Coordinator
Keyon Hamilton, Samuel Gompers School
“Keyon is an eighth-grader at Samuel Gompers Elementary School. Keyon is very active in the Student Council at Samuel Gompers. In addition, he is very active in the Justice Council. In the Justice Council (also known as Youth Court), students who have committed minor infractions in school are seen before a group of their peers to decide what the consequence will be for their infraction. Keyon came to the Justice Council every day willing to participate in any role in the Justice Council. He even made sure that all of the proper paperwork was distributed and made a huge contribution to deciding the best dispositions for students. He always came with a smile and encouraged others to do their best. Keyon was also a very vibrant participant in my mindfulness classes. He always gave great insight and he helped to create robust discussion. Keyon is an asset and a joy to be around.” – Rennie Parker, Community School Coordinator
Aryanith Hernandez, Kensington Health Sciences Academy (KHSA)
“Aryanith Hernandez is not just a beloved graduate of Kensington Health Sciences Academy, she is a phenomenal person. She exemplifies the core values of our Community School: Inquiry, Appreciation, Integrity, and Community. Aryanith inquired about all the many programs or initiatives that were made available to her and her classmates. She appreciated not only the programs, like the Student Council she is a founding member of and the fellow students as well as the staff who made them possible.
“Aryanith would be the first to let you know how much she’s grown. We all go through challenges and she’s risen to her challenges with integrity. Not only does she care about programs and opportunities, but Aryanith cares about people…period. This is evidenced by her founding of Girl Up, a young women’s wellness program that she will be bringing back to KHSA next year. We are proud to celebrate Aryanith Hernandez today and thank her for her commitment to our school community.” – Antonio Romero, Community School Coordinator
Ayanna Williams, Alain Locke School
“Ayanna serves as a school safety representative as well as the 8th-grade student council president. She has been a model student who has worked tirelessly with community school programming. Aniyah has worked with our school pantry serving the public, attended, and participated in community meetings on and off-site. Locke will miss her pleasant attitude as she moves on to high school. We wish her well on her next journey.” – Pamela Evans, Community School Coordinator
Frank Brennan, South Philadelphia High School
“Frank Brennan is an energetic young man who represents the best in the overall expectations of a high school student. He has excellent attendance, a role model, excellent grades, volunteerism, adherence to school policy and procedure. Frank is a member of the South Philadelphia High School JROTC and Student Government. He also volunteers in the SPHS Community Closet and mailroom. Additionally, he assists in setting up the gym for sports events.
“In addition to his work ethic, Frank’s compassion for staff and fellow classmates makes him a truly exemplary student. Just one of many examples of his compassion is when Frank developed a plan to assist a friend when he found out her mother had passed away. If he sees a challenge, Frank begins working through obstacles to achieve his goal, not giving up. His belief that all things are possible really makes Frank stand out. These qualities and more reflect Frank Brennen as a shining example of a young man worthy of praise and accolades. He has earned the respect of his peers and appreciation from his teachers.” – Janelle Harper, Community School Coordinator
Ney Paw, Southwark School
“Ney arrived in Philadelphia as a refugee and has worked tirelessly ever since to learn English and be a successful student. Ney is an integral part of the student council. She is the head of most upper school fundraisers, including weekly pretzel sales. She volunteers for every before- and after-school function with a smile, including Southwark’s Title I Winter Meeting & Dinner which took place on a Saturday evening. Ney is also a member of Southwark’s Safety Team, where she helps ensure that arrival and dismissal go smoothly and that other students know where they are supposed to be when a lot of people are around. Finally, Ney is involved in the Burmese community and an important part of her church group.
“Ney is a natural leader and a hard-working student. She is reliable, determined, and kind. Ney embodies all the qualities of a community leader, and Southwark School is proud to name her as our 2020 Community School Champion.” – Liz Hejlek, Community School Coordinator
David Varghese, George Washington High School
“David quickly became my go-to guy for any and all event support this year. He would regularly check in with me to find out what was on deck, and he would regularly mobilize his friends any time assistance was needed. He volunteered his time at our Community School Fair, our annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner, at the 7th Police District’s annual appreciation event, and at our first Take Back the School endeavor, all from start to finish. Whatever was needed – from physical labor to language translation – David met the task with enthusiasm and a smile. He is on his way to La Salle University in the fall, and they are so lucky to have him!” – Caitlyn Boyle, Community School Coordinator