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High school teacher: Personal relationships, small classes are keys to student success

Photo: Emma Lee/NewsWorks

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

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Forging relationships. Building rapport. Being human enough to show you care.

Whatever you call it, it’s the educational philosophy that Philadelphia School District teacher Sydney Coffin has lived by as he’s traversed some of the toughest high schools in the city.

"Kids need to know that there’s an adult who cares enough about them to listen," the 15-year District veteran said.

Coffin, now at Edison High School in North Philadelphia, spent the previous seven years teaching English at the now-shuttered University City High School – a school once ranked as the 22nd most violent school in the country. It was eventually given special attention by the District when it was made a Promise Academy in 2010.

As a Promise Academy, University City shed about half of its existing staff. The remaining faculty and new hires were required to work longer days and go through, as Coffin said, "lots of professional development."

The factor that had the most impact on students, though, was the faculty’s concerted effort to meet the kids on their level.

"Ironically, the academics started to improve once we started to build friendships and relationships with kids," Coffin said. "Suddenly the kids were listening to us. They’re saying, ‘This guy understands me. He knows me. I can get along with him. I’m going to stay in his class."’

"Uni" was still far from a perfect high school, Coffin said. Kids still acted out, cut classes and skipped school, but overall attendance and grades went up.

Coffin attributes a lot of the change at University City to his principal.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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