Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How Do You Celebrate Christmas?

In today's blog post, read about how some members of the Prep community enjoy the holiday season.
Artist: Peter Binck '15

Before break started, I asked members of the Prep community three questions:
  1. What is your favorite Christmas movie/special?
  2. What is your favorite Christmas song/carol/hymn?
  3. What is a Christmas tradition or custom -  from your family, ethnicity, faith, or neighborhood -  that you cherish and would like to share?
The results are typical Prep: steeped in tradition. In a struggle between the old and the new, Frank Capra's signature film It's a Wonderful Life bested the more recent holiday classics National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Elf for the top spot. And it was not surprising to learn that traditional Christmas hymns like "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" are more popular than "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Blue Christmas".

So we know what Prep people listen to and watch while they count the days to December 25. Here's a look at what some of them do to celebrate:

Scott Murphy - Science 

"We go to Midnight Mass at St. Stanislaus Parish in South Philly on Christmas Eve and the cantor sings carols in Polish and then English."

Tim Dougherty '09 - Alumni Service Corps
Tim Dougherty '09 (second from left)

"My family can only decorate the tree when the entire family is back home - even if that means Christmas Eve."

Meredith Morgan - Classics 

"Italian - Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve."

Bill Avington '90 - Marketing and Communications 

"Christmas Eve was always special in my family growing up. We traveled to my grandparents (on my mother's side) with all of my cousins. We would all be together and share spaghetti with tuna. My grandfather would cook all night and the house would broil from the stove and the people but it was the greatest. That, plus the anticipation of Christmas morning, was always my favorite day of the year."

Tony Braithwaite '89 - Cape & Sword Drama Society

"As kids on Christmas morning, my dad would make us sit on the stairs for a minute until he had checked under the tree. If all was well, he'd come back and say, 'Looks like somebody's been here.' That was our cue to run in."

Marielle Watson - Modern Language

"In Germany we put our Christmas tree up only on Christmas Eve, and we also exchange gifts on Christmas Eve. Now being in the U.S. we have tried to merge our traditions. Santa now comes at night of December 24 and we exchange gifts on Christmas Day. The tree is not put up on Christmas Eve, however, we usually do it pretty close to Christmas, around December 20."

Sam Dietch - Ignatian Service

"My family has a tradition of putting cheesy Christmas decorations on each other's lawn."

Joe Donahue '63 - Religious Studies

"My wife and I visit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as many of the 11 grandchildren as is physically possible. We go to Mass at St. Malachy's Church in North Philly where music and fellowship are tantamount."

"My whole family gets together every year during the Christmas season to pass on among us a prize present: A huge beach towel with a life size image of Elvis. We have contests to see who gets to keep the towel from one celebration to the next. "Video and photo evidence proves that the towel has made trips all over the country."

Whatever favorite song might by playing while you string cranberries and popcorn, or whichever classic movie station your Dad landed on before losing the remote, and wherever you are this season, have a Merry Christmas.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Music @ the Prep

In today's blog post, two advocates (Martin Connor '08 and Yasmin Dhanani) talk about the Prep's Music Program and its effect on our school's culture.

Martin Connor '08
In addition to taking challenging courses, Prep students also participate in extra-curricular and athletic activities, thus receiving a well-rounded education. Some of those clubs and sports include the musical ensembles that Mr. Matthew Schwartz '02 has established in his first few years as the head of the Prep's music program.

Mr. Schwartz is the reason for the Prep music program's recent growth. More than a few students in the school’s musical ensembles will attest to this. Mike Do '14, when asked to name his favorite part of the Prep's program, said reflexively, “Mr. Schwartz!” Mike, who plays guitar and saxophone, has gotten one-on-one instruction from Mr. Schwartz not just during school hours in the Music Theory class (one of two music classes offered at the Prep, along with Music Appreciation). Mike has also received lessons in ensemble rehearsals after school, such as in the jazz band that Mr. Schwartz has been leading for several years. 

Another member of the jazz band, Joe Foderaro '15, offers similar praise for Mr. Schwartz when he says that the jazz band is his favorite part of the music program, “because it’s so energetic.” Joe, a pianist, singer, and bass player, also participates in a few of the three other new ensembles offered in the Prep music program, including the a cappella Treblemakers group and the rock band ensemble. Like most members of the Prep community, Mr. Schwartz does not only what is required of him, but also goes above and beyond to make sure that all possible resources and opportunities are afforded to any Prep music student who wants to pursue them. 

At the end of the 2012 school year, Liam McIntyre '14 wanted to attend a summer camp at the esteemed Berklee College of Music. To do so, Liam would need an audition videotape to serve as an application. With Mr. Schwartz’s help, the two were able to record, mix, and produce a video using the state-of-the-art Pro Tools technology in the recently built and donated Rooney Music Room. Mr. Schwartz's dedication not only helped Liam's admission to the camp, but also his receiving a scholarship offer from the prestigious school.

Mr. Matthew Schwartz '02
When asked about his contribution to the program's growth and success, Mr. Schwartz points out his own years at the Prep. “I’m able relate to the kids on a person-to-person basis. I’m not afraid to be ridiculous in front of them, to try and draw them out of their shells a little bit. Accurate musical instruction is important, but it’s just as important to get them involved and excited.” Mr. Schwartz elicits such excitement by allowing the students a certain amount of freedom in the direction of the program. For instance, each year he lets the students choose new pep band songs to play at football games, choices that often revolve around the most popular songs on the radio at that time.

Yasmin Dhanani (Prep Band Mom)
Yasmin Dhanani
Whether you're a fan of futbol or football (or both), one thing that transcends linguistic or cultural differences is music. Music has no teams, no uniforms, no lines of scrimmage - if anything, music brings one closer to the endzone, then reaches out and says, "yes,” touchdown!

Lisa Howard, a longtime Band Mom, and now a Prep Senior Mom (John '14), makes an interesting (albeit hyperbolic) point, “Just as the bagpipers at Waterloo, or El Alamein, inspired the British, so the Pep Band spurs the Prep football team on to victory!”

Jake Strain '15, standout defensive end for the Prep's state champion football team, said, “The Pep Band's presence during the football games is really nice to have; even during the game's action, the music still echoes and helps keep the juices flowing." Taron Hampton '17, also on the defensive line, says that “it is great to have the Pep Band during the games!”

And so my fellow Preppers, that says it all - the Prep Spirit and the motto of the Prep – men for and with others - are manifest in the stands where the fans watch the game and cheer as one, forging the relationship between the football team and the Pep Band.

Cheers to Mr. Matthew Schwartz, the Prep's Music Program Director, for making this possible.

This blog post was written by Martin Connor '08 and Ms. Yasmin Dhanani.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Getting to Know: Mr. Murphy

Let's head over to the Prep's Science Department and chat with second-year Physics teacher, Mr. Scott Murphy.
Mr. Scott Murphy

Before arriving at 17th & Girard, Mr. Murphy taught physics for three years at Mastery Thomas Charter School in South Philly where he created the physics curriculum and championed the school's AP Physics program. Murphy, a University of Maryland graduate (B.S., Physics/M.Ed.), wasted no time in getting involved at the Prep. In addition to being a force on the intramural football gridiron, Mr. Murphy is the Student Council moderator, the 2013 head freshman baseball coach, and the Prep's inaugural varsity volleyball coach (spring 2014).

Why the Prep?

I was impressed by the quality of the students when I taught a demo lesson during the interview process; I was overwhelmed by the school's facilities - particularly the science labs, and everyone I met seemed to be enthusiastic about working here.

What do you want Prep students to understand?

It depends on the class. For freshmen, I want to prepare them for the next level and teach them how to learn science. For my seniors, I want them to be scientifically literate in a modern society - to be able to analyze data, understand graphs, and to make intelligent decisions. And for my AP Physics guys, I want to give them a firm foundation, so that they can excel in any college physics or engineering class.

What do you enjoy most about working at the Prep?

It's got to be the kids. It's so rare to find a group of students who are so interested in what's going on in class. It's just a really nice place to work in that sense. The students definitely make the job.

Besides teaching, moderating, and coaching, what are some of your hobbies or interests?

I play in softball, basketball, and volleyball leagues. I like to read. I enjoy going to see Shakespeare and musical theater. Shakespeare's command of the language makes his prose interesting on multiple levels. I also like science fiction - Michael Crichton and Stephen King stories.

Have you set any professional goals?

I just became a National Board certified teacher - that was a pretty big goal for me.

Finally, why should a family consider St. Joe's Prep?

At St. Joe's Prep, you will become part of a group of students who excel in all aspects of education - academics, the arts, athletics, social-emotional learning, and service. A Prep grad is a good and complete person.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Senior Mother-Son Night

In today's post, Mrs. Ceal Biello, Director of Annual Giving and Mothers' Club Moderator, reflects on her time as a Prep senior's parent.
Mrs. Ceal Biello

Senior year at the Prep. Wow! It is a year of lasts; a year of contrasts, emotional, heartwarming and bittersweet all at once. It is a build up to graduation and, eventually, leaving home. You realize that your son has one foot out the door, carefully testing the waters, and you are torn between gently nudging him and wanting to grab him and not let go. You think back with amazement to four years ago when you were both new to the Prep and wonder where all of the time has gone and realize just how much your son has grown. 

You, wondering what the future holds, are just as anxious and excited as he is. You feel a bit of relief that you both made it to this point and the college application process is well underway if not complete. On this particular night during the Advent season, at the special tradition for seniors and their moms, sitting in the beautiful Gesu sharing one more liturgy, you are reflective, taking it all in, humbled and proud of the young man your son is becoming. 

At the sign of peace when he turns to you with his signature smile and a bear hug, your heart aches with love and gratitude – for your son, and for the Prep – an incredible partner in guiding your son to become a true man for and with others. On this night you pray in thanksgiving - for choosing the Prep community for your son to learn, grow, find himself and prepare for his place in this world. On this night your prayers are filled with hope – for the future and all that your son is yet to be.

This blog post was written by Mrs. Ceal Biello, Director of Annual Giving and Mothers' Club Moderator.

Monday, December 2, 2013

How Many AP's?

In today's blog post, Mr. Turner talks about the Advanced Placement courses at the Prep.

Many families interested in the Prep - and private school in general - often ask us for stats. They want to know the average class size for a freshman (22-25 students), the average commute time for a bus rider (45 minutes), the amount of time a freshman spends on homework each night (2-2.5 hours), and roughly how many applicants come from public schools (30%).

Some light reading
Another common question is, "How many AP courses do you have?" Of the 34 AP courses that are available from the College Board, the Prep offered 15 last year:

  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • European History
  • Psychology
  • US Government
  • US History
  • Calculus AB
  • Calculus BC
  • Computer Science
  • Statistics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Latin
  • Spanish Language

We not only offer nearly half of the AP syllabus, but our students, maintaining an overall above-average pass rate, also excel in these classes. 

Opinions about AP courses vary and we at the Prep do not ignore the conversation or the controversy. At the same time we're proud to say that we offer what are generally recognized as some of the most challenging courses available in secondary education.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.