Freire Charter Schools Launch New TECH School in North Philly
At TECH Freire Charter High School, head of school David Shahriari wants the students to know “success looks different for different people.”
“At the end of the day, we’re not a school that says every kid has to go to college,” Shahriari said. “What’s important to us is that we’re providing kids with a quality education and when they graduate here after four years, they’re living positive, productive lives.”
TECH Freire (2221 N. Broad St.) opened for its first year of school last month. 313 ninth and tenth graders are enrolled in classes at TECH Freire for the 2016-2017 school year. Each year, more students will begin to attend the school until there are 580 students from grades 9-12 enrolled in classes.
Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) funded the opening of TECH Freire with a $1.9 million grant, an extension of the organization’s initiative to donate $100 million to schools in Philadelphia by the end of 2016.
Since 2011, PSP has invested more than $50 million in district, charter and private schools across the city. Jacob Waters, a spokesman for PSP, said the organization wants “every child to have a great education.”
“It’s a reality that Philadelphia students in certain neighborhoods don’t have access to quality schools,” Waters said. “When Freire applied to open up the new school, we were excited to support it. It really just comes down to demand from the families.”
Freire Charter Schools have served children in Philadelphia since 1999 with another high school near 20th and Chestnut Streets. The organization also opened a middle-school campus located near 10th and Market Streets in 2012.
Shahriari said each location offers a curriculum that is “real, rigorous and gets kids ready.”
“There’s an insane amount of work that has to happen to have an environment where learning is going to occur and teachers are really going to be able to teach,” he added.
All Freire Charter Schools have a shared leadership model. Kyle Hornley, head of school for culture and operations, and Sarah Grugan, head of school for academics, work with Shahriari to ensure TECH Freire’s extracurricular and educational programs are getting the necessary attention one person may not be able to offer.
“We all work together. We all care about the kids,” Hornley, who has worked in Freire Charter Schools since 2007, said.
The leaders’ main focus while collaborating is to create a safe environment that is conducive for learning.
With no metal detectors or police officers monitoring the hallways, TECH Freire offers students resources for support, not discipline. Whether there is an academic or emotional issue, struggling students can participate in a peer mediation program, empowering kids to help their peers work through conflicts, or talk to one of the school’s multiple social workers and counselors.
Cece Woodridge graduated from Freire Charter High School near 20th and Chestnut Streets in 2008 and now has a full-time job as an administrative support in TECH Freire, an experience she said has been “nothing short of amazing.”
Woodridge graduated from East Stroudsburg University with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and public relations in 2013, an achievement she attributes to her education at Freire.
“The biggest thing for me was the support system,” Woodridge said. “The teachers had a really good bond. They just showed they cared about the students.”
TECH Freire is the third Freire Charter School to open in Philadelphia. The building the school is located in was originally built in the late 1920’s and was formerly used as a showroom and storage facility for Packard Motor Car Company.
Unlike other Freire Charter School locations, most of the school’s attendants are from the surrounding community. By law, 60 percent of TECH Freire’s student population must be children who are from Strawberry Mansion.
Hornley said working at TECH Freire, which is Freire Charter School’s most northern location in Philadelphia, has been an “incredibly unique experience.”
“It’s been great to get to know the North Philadelphia community, to get to know the students who are now a part of our community and to get to build a really amazing school with an awesome culture and fantastic educators,” Hornley said.
TECH Freire is also the first Freire Charter School to have a MakerSpace, which is a collaborative studio with 3-D printers, a laser cutter and engraver and computers with softwares like Photoshop or Adobe Premiere Pro.
Shahriari also put a drill-press and a bandsaw in the MakerSpace to communicate to kids that digital technology and hand-operated tools have the same purpose: using technology as “empowerment, not entertainment.”
“It’s more about giving kids confidence in their own ideas,” Shahriari added. “Here are these things and what they can do. When you just let kids run with that, that’s when you’re really going to see them do amazing things that are really going to be empowering for them.”
The students’ first project in the MakerSpace will be creating signage to place in front of the school.
No matter what the subject, Shahriari wants to encourage a “dialogue” between faculty members and students.
“You have to include and value the voice of the people you are attempting to educate,” he said. “These kids, you can see them grow over time.”
Interacting with the students has been a source of personal growth for Shahriari himself. Before he began working in Freire Charter Schools eight years ago, he bounced from job to job, including a position in the critical care unit of Jefferson Hospital as an EMT. He said it was not until he began working for Freire that he finally felt “self-actualized.”
“This is the first place I had been where I could say, ‘Wow, the people here have motivations that are completely pure.’ It’s not tainted at all with cynicism or it’s not about money at the end of the day,” Shahriari said. “That was really liberating to me.”
“If the adults stop growing, the kids are going to stop growing,” he added. “It’s just true.” •