Jenks name change reflects renewed curriculum focus

Come September, John Story Jenks School in Chestnut Hill will officially be called Jenks Academy for Arts and Sciences. 

The change, which was officially approved by the School Reform Commission earlier this summer, comes on the heels of a renewed focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — curricula, as well as a recent push to update the arts offerings at the school, according to Principal Mary Lynskey. 

Two years ago, Lynskey and her staff introduced a bolstered arts program to the school dubbed JAM — Jenks Arts and Music — where students can pick up an instrument, sing in the choir or participate in the school musical. School programming is supplemented with extracurricular activities.

Finding a way

In an era of tight budgets and slashed programming across the School District of Philadelphia, Lynskey said she relies heavily on grants and funding from the school’s community to help with programming costs, especially when the school decided to expand its STEM offerings this year. 

A $1,000 grant from the Dow Chemical Company, for example, is helping to support feeding costs for an animal lab at the school. 

She has also built partnerships with local organizations like the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and Chestnut Hill College. Through these partnerships, students have the opportunity to work in labs at the college and immerse themselves in a day of nature play at the Schuylkill Center.

“The name change really came up when we decided to add in the science piece. We got very excited that we could really focus our students in on paths based on their talents and their abilities,” said Lynskey.

Emphasis on hands-on

Jim Fitzsimmons teaches the STEM subjects to fourth and fifth graders at Jenks and said he has noticed a focus on hands-on learning has made a difference in the attention span and interest of his students. 

His students cycle through different project-based stations throughout class. 

“I’ve seen kids blossom and come into their own,” he said. “What we are doing is getting back back to what learning is all about. We want to encourage the love of learning in our school and that takes place by exploration and having kids experience hands-on activities.”

Grades six through eight will have a physical science lab, while fourth and fifth graders will focus on life sciences. The younger grades will benefit from a Lego lab and model train displays to help them learn spatial sense and shapes. 

“When we are talking about shapes, we don’t want them to just do it out of a book or online, we want them to have every sensory experience they can to drive it home,” said Lynskey.

Rockets and space

This year, select students who showed a particular aptitude and interest in the sciences had the opportunity to attend a NASA space camp. Lynskey said being able to send the kids to NASA for a week is providing them with something they never would have gotten at the school. 

“It will be a rich experience that puts them in the heart of everything at NASA,” she said. “They are going to come back with a knowledge base that they never would have gotten in the classroom.”

The cost of space camp was funded through school fundraising and NASA scholarships.

When the students return to school in the fall, they will be part of a “core leadership team” to encourage STEM learning throughout the newly branded school.

“Education is rapidly changing,” said Lynskey of the efforts. “We want to keep up.”

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