Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School

With sixty percent of graduating students reading at grade level, and Classrooms For the Future funding on the way, administrators at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School realized there was much more they could be doing to reach all the students in their school. Doing so meant implementing a diverse array of reforms, from boosting literacy to integrating technology to post-secondary preparation, and focusing on students reading below grade level as well as those "in the middle," who, while they might graduate, might do so without any real plan for the future.
With sixty percent of graduating students reading at grade level, and Classrooms For the Future funding on the way, administrators at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School realized there was much more they could be doing to reach all the students in their school. Doing so meant implementing a diverse array of reforms, from boosting literacy to integrating technology to post-secondary preparation, and focusing on students reading below grade level as well as those “in the middle,” who, while they might graduate, might do so without any real plan for the future.

Preparing Them All

Teachers and administrators alike lead the reform process at Plymouth-Whitemarsh.

Scene Photo

PW students are entering a new era of post-secondary preparation.

Plymouth-Whitemarsh students look much like their peers across suburban Pennsylvania, adorned in jeans, hoodies, and oversized backpacks. Up until recently, though, almost 40 percent of these students were graduating reading below grade level. This fact sparked a conversation about reform at the school that caught fire among faculty and administration. The result? PW PrEP—Plymouth Whitemarsh High School Graduates: Prepared for Every Possibility.

PW PrEP Plan

The primary goal of PW PrEP is to provide every student in the school with both a quality high school education and a plan for their future after graduation. This wide-ranging reform plan that reaches almost every aspect of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.

Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School information

Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School website

Creating community is important when implementing change in an expansive high school. To stay connected with teachers and each other, students attend a weekly advisory period to get support with homework, tests, SATs, career preparation, and other “real world” issues. Funded largely by Pennsylvania’s Project 720 grant program, these meetings are part of a larger career-counseling program whose aim is to help every student develop a post-secondary plan.

Pennsylvania’s Project 720 Grant Program

More about improvements to the career-counseling program

Advisory lesson plan



A key element in the reform process was identifying and nurturing teacher leaders. Although developing leadership in the faculty did not happen overnight, getting teachers to understand their own roles in the reform was an essential part of the process.



Once a week after school, Principal Monica Sullivan and the Academic Council, a group of teacher leaders, gather to discuss new programs, strategies, and interventions being used around the school. Today, this group meets in the conference room to hear a report about a new extended-day math program. Math teachers Maria de Luca and Maryann Russo lead the meeting, which quickly turns into a group discussion.



 

 Giving Up the Chalk

Social studies teachers learn the instructional value of new technologies.

Scene Photo

CFF funds help social studies teachers transform learning.

The social studies department was the focus of Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s Classrooms for the Future grant. Funds were used not only for laptops, but also to build infrastructure, including the introduction of the “hub,” a server that offers the ability to create interactive websites that include calendars, discussions forums, weblogs and wikis. Because their social studies teachers were taking the lead with technology before the grant, administrators also chose a technology coach with a background in that content area.



 

 Making Reading Part of the Program

Literacy is integral to every content area at Plymouth-Whitemarsh.

Scene Photo
Dynamic teaching and a relevant curriculum boost student engagement.

At 7:35 AM on a Wednesday morning, the first bell marks the start of the day at Plymouth-Whitemarsh. Down one hall, students in Reading Rock and Roll, a required class, are moving slowly at this early hour.

English teacher Dana Moyer and band director Tonia Kaufman launch into a lesson about the link between rock and roll and charity. After a quick review of a reading strategy and some engaging reading from Dana, students break into small groups, working together to identify question types and then answering the questions.

Reading Rock and Roll lesson plan



Reading Rock and Roll is just one example of Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s commitment to improve literacy skills, a pressing need for a school with only 60 percent of graduating students reading at grade level. In addition to adding this special literacy program, the school added a reading coach and changed graduation requirements to include five mandatory English courses, two of which occur in the ninth grade year.

Scene Photo

Content-area reading is a focus at Plymouth-Whitemarsh

In one of these classes, English Workshop, co-teaching helps students get individualized instruction. As they take their seats, ninth graders pull worn copies of Animal Farm from their bags and prepare for class discussion. Reading specialist Maureen Haegele works with English teacher Rebecca Richmond to provide a literature study that incorporates reading strategies. Unlike Reading Rock and Roll, which has a specialized curriculum, English Workshop uses the standard English curriculum, but meets for a double block. After discussing their reading selection, students move to the computer lab where they work with a software program that provides students with materials geared to their individual reading levels. The teachers use the computer-generated data to tailor individualized instruction.

Animal Farm lesson materials

Haegele can be found in classrooms throughout the school, including a ninth grade science classroom where students are preparing for a vocabulary test. She and science teacher Kelly Wistreich engage students in a vocabulary matching activity. Haegele leads the activity, and when one group provides an incorrect word, her colleague almost seamlessly takes over, encouraging students by reviewing the scientific concepts in the selection.

Science lesson materials


 

 Boosting the Middle

Teachers find support for college hopefuls in AVID.

Scene Photo

Committed teachers keep AVID students organized.

With the students in their first block classes, the hallways are quiet. Social studies teacher Jennifer Hannold sits on the floor outside a classroom, a pile of large notebooks spread out around her and her assistant, a student from a local college. They are checking these student binders using a precise rubric. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a program geared toward the very students Plymouth-Whitemarsh needed to reach—those in the academic middle, who may have never considered themselves college material. The binders that Hannold checks are an essential part of the program as they house students’ Cornell notes, a requirement in each of their academic classes.

AVID website

Though it is in its infancy, the program is already a success with many students and parents. One father, who was transferred out of state, immediately began looking for a high school that was implementing AVID because of the positive impact it had made on his student.

Scene Photo

One-on-one interaction is typical in AVID classes.

Hannold and colleague Bryan Weiner meet with students during second block. Today is a typical class. After reviewing upcoming assignments in their other classes—AVID students are required to take an honors or AP class as part of the program—the two guide students through a mini-lesson on test-taking skills, then transition to an online study skills inventory.

Test Taking Strategies lesson materials

Study Skills Inventory