School of the week: Lankenau High takes family approach to students' success
The Philadelphia Tribune. Victoria Cassell. November 03, 2020.

Lankenau Environmental Science Magnet High School takes pride in preparing their students for college and the outside world.

According to the school’s website, its mission is geared to helping students develop their potential to become environmentally conscious, productive and successful in their chosen fields of study and career.

This is achieved through the focus of environmental science. Through this lens, students are exposed to beekeeping, gardening, aquaponics, hydroponics and even work closely with the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.

While the school is unable to provide hands-on training due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their science teachers are supplementing with online resources.

In his fifth year as principal, Joshua Levinson says he believes in his students and knows that they can be successful.

“We’re a small family environment, where we take pride in knowing everyone and our team truly cares about the individual students. I tell our students every day that at Lankenau we believe in you. We know you can and will be successful and our whole team buys into that approach and we work to achieve it. But it all comes down to is that we have the best students, teachers, staff, parents, partners in the school district, in the city of Philadelphia and we truly believe that, but it’s really our small family environment,” he says.

Aside from their spirited environmental science approach, Lankenau also focuses on the college and career process aiming to help students develop their individual plan for when they graduate. Levinson says that even though Lankenau is a college prep school, they understand that college isn’t for everyone. So he wants all students to start the process from day one to ensure that they leave with a plan.

“Since I’ve been here we have really focused and looked at our mission, what we want our students to do once they leave Lankenau and what we want to develop our students to be,” Levinson says. “Two years ago we had a group of teachers over the summer develop a model for traits that we want our students to leave Lankenau with and we call it the ‘grow model’; where we want our students to be goal oriented, resilient, organized worthy scholars and we define what that looks like. And we actually built an advisory program and model where students are taking their academics, their attendance pieces and putting it together and self-reflecting on what they’re doing well at, setting their own goals and setting goals for areas that they need to improve upon.”

Former Lankenau student, Alexis Musgrove is now the school’s counselor. She chose to come back to help expose students of all grades to the college process. The Lankenau alumni has been able to assist the school and students with college fairs, college tours and a career exploration series. Even with the virtual shift, she has been able to work with other schools in the district to provide nearly 100 college visits and college programs, as well as assist with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) support.

The magnet high school in Upper Roxborough, won the school district’s FAFSA challenge in 2019. They also work closely with Steppingstone Scholars (a nonprofit group that offers students resources for access to college and the workforce) and have a college access and equity coordinator who works with students a few days a week to provide college support and resources. Lankenau also partners with College Thoughts to do college essay writing for their senior class.

Inner Strength Foundation for Teen Mindfulness also works with the school, which allows all of their ninth-grade students, as well as some of their upper-class students to take a mindfulness course. Throughout the multi-month course, they are exposed to mindfulness techniques and strategies. School staff also receive some training.

“Our students have learned that sometimes you just have to stop and think and breathe before you respond or react. So we’ve seen such a positive impact from Inner Strength, as well as, our partnership with Steppingstone Scholars through college and career access,” Levinson says.

Last year the school received Middle States Association accreditation and won the School District of Philadelphia’s School Progress Report for three years of progress. The Middle States Association helps school leaders establish and reach their goals, develop strategic plans, promote staff development and advance student achievement.

Levinson addsed that the school sends home weekly video messages to parents and the community. Daily advisory and community meetings are also held to support students through socio-emotional learning and progress checks provide them with various resources. Virtually, they have an average daily attendance rate of 98%-99%.

“To show the grit and determination of our students, Lankenau is not on any direct SEPTA routes and all of our students take buses to get to Lankenau. And we have a lot of our students that are waking up and traveling on SEPTA, two and three buses to get to their yellow bus stop, to get to school by 7:15 — when we’re in the normal program. So it just shows the determination of our students and we have very high attendance rates when we’re in-person as well as in virtual. It really shows that our students are incredible, our staff is truly inspirational, incredible and work to ensure that our students are successful,” he says.

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