School of the Week: Isaac Sheppard School is “a hidden gem” | The key to learning


Chanel Hill

Column editor

Known as one of the Philadelphia School District’s best-kept secrets, Isaac Sheppard School continues to raise the bar for academic excellence.

Located at 20 W. Cambria St. in West Kensington, K-4 School offers an educational program that provides rigorous instruction, emotional support, and educational and social opportunities for its students.

“Sheppard is a really unique school in that we’re a small school in a really tough neighborhood,” principal Elana Galli said.

“However, once you walk into our school, it’s warm, happy and very energetic,” Galli said. “Here, we really have a family atmosphere. We are definitely one of the school district’s hidden gems.

This year, the school has focused on maintaining student health, closing the school gap and rebuilding partnerships. Another big priority for the school has been social-emotional learning.

Students start their day with a community meeting with their teacher where they prepare for the school day and learn team building skills. The school has also started a new social emotional period for students once a week.

“We start the day with social-emotional learning and we end the day with social-emotional learning,” Galli said.

“At the end of the day, students are able to relax, reflect on their day, reflect on their feelings, learn to articulate their feelings, and learn to interact with each other appropriately” , added Galli. “They were out of the building for two years on Zoom screens, so social skills are a big part of that as well.”

Since Counselor Justine Rybaltowski arrived at Sheppard two years ago, she has been helping students with their social-emotional skills, academics, and attendance.

“Sometimes I have personal conversations with parents about why they can’t bring their child to school as often as we hope, and then I work with outside agencies to come up with renovation plans,” said said Rybaltowski.

“I make sure the kids are academically ready and if they’re not, I figure out what’s needed to help them do better,” Rybaltowski added. “I also make sure students have different coping strategies like puzzles, sand, Play-Doh and coloring books so kids learn different ways to deal with their anger.”

Through local partnerships, Sheppard offers various programs to its students. Philly Pops and Kensington Soccer Club are just a few of the school’s partnerships.

“Philly Pops is teaching our kindergartners the violin,” Galli said. “They have musical assemblies for third and fourth graders where they bring different musicians to Philadelphia.

“We don’t have a gymnasium, so our partnership with Rock Ridge allows our fourth graders to dance and the Kensington Soccer Club exposes our students to soccer. We also have a partnership with PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts),” Galli said.

“They have held assemblies and online classes for our students throughout the year and during the pandemic,” Galli added. “Each grade level will actually be able to go and visit PAFA in person, which is the first field visit we’ve done in two years.”

The enthusiasm of the students at Sheppard is complemented by the high caliber of the teachers. Gailli praised his staff for their hard work and dedication.

“We have a good core of veteran teachers who have been in the school for over 20 years; they started their career in the 90s and never left,” Galli said.

“Then we have new and mid-career teachers, who come up with innovative ideas. They really helped raise our rate. We had the strongest growth in our network this year in terms of literacy on Star ratings,” Galli said.

“I really thank all of our teachers for making sure our children are developing these fundamental skills,” Galli added. “Everyone here loves community, families and children. We truly have an amazing staff at Sheppard.

The principal said what she wants students to take away from their experience at Sheppard is the love the staff have for them.

“I want students to know that we love them and want the best for them,” Galli said.

“We will push you to work hard and we want to give you the skills to do what you want when you leave us,” added Galli. “We want them to feel like they’re coming into a second family every day.”


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