Thursday, October 10, 2013

Puerto Rican Day Parade

We had an awesome time at the Puerto Rican Day Parade, on Sunday, September 29.  Pantoja Charter, Hostos Charter, Stetson Charter, and Pasos Preschool all created floats for the parade.  We're so thankful for all of the hard work of teachers, parents, and students at these schools who put in countless hours to produce such impressive floats!

ASPIRA of PA and ASPIRA Schools received a number of awards, including:

Pasos Preschool: 3rd Place - Nonprofit Division
Hostos Charter: 2nd Place - Middle School Division
Pantoja Charter: 1st Place - Middle School Division

We'd also like to give a shout out to ASPIRA of PA employee Rey Velez, whose dance group "Muévete" took home a 1st Place award in the Dance Division!

If you'd like to see some more videos from the parade, you can view the following videos:

We're so proud of our students and staff for all their hard work!

Monday, September 16, 2013

One Week Down

The beginning of the school year brings with it an unspoken excitement and energy.  There are new students who still haven't come out of their shells yet, new posters that haven't been mangled or tattered by the hands of curious children yet, and new classroom rules that haven't been broken yet.  It's a time of year that is crazy, hectic, and chaotic - and it's also a time of year that reminds us why we love what we do.

School is a place where dreams can be created or shattered.  As a kid, your life revolves around your friends at school and your family at home.  And if you're like many of the kids at our schools, life at home can be filled with hardships, struggles, and pain, which means that school plays an even bigger role in the lives of our students. For some kids, school is a refuge and a safe place for them to learn, grow, and explore - and we're fortunate enough to provide that safe place to some of the best kids around.

I spend most of my days sitting in front of a computer applying for funds for our schools.  I write grants, update social media sites, help with marketing and fundraising, and do my best to make sure that our schools have the resources to function every day.  There are times when I feel far removed from the kids that my work serves.  But there are also days like last Friday, when I get to enter a school and bear witness to the amazing work that happens in our classrooms everyday.  As I walked the halls at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School, I overheard kids laughing and learning - reading books in English and listing times tables in Spanish.  It was an amazing reminder of why this work matters.

We know that there are many challenges and hardships that will present themselves throughout the course of this year, and we're prepared do our best to persevere and overcome the obstacles as they come.  But right now, we look forward with anticipation for all the ways that our students will grow and mature this year. There's a lot to be done and many things to be learned, but we feel thankful for the opportunity to improve the lives of those we serve.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New School Year

It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, which can only mean two things: 1) we’re really wishing that someone would pass a bill to make it “Labor Week” already, and 2) despite being extra tired after the long weekend, we are extra excited about the beginning of school tomorrow.  All five ASPIRA of PA charter schools, along with our preschool, open tomorrow, September 4th.  As we anticipate the beginning of a new school year, we’re thrilled to see the opportunities before us.  There is something about a new beginning that energizes and invigorates people – something about a blank chalk board and a classroom filled with untapped potential.

In the midst of a very challenging and difficult educational climate, we look forward to the opportunity to continue to provide our students with the excellent education they deserve.  We recognize that our city is facing difficult times, but we’re ready to be part of the solution.  We hope to inspire our students to pursue their dreams and realize their potential, and we know that this year will provide us with many opportunities to do just that.

As our schools open tomorrow we’re grateful to have the privilege to speak words of hope, truth, and compassion into the lives of our students.  We’re eager to be part of the redemption of our city, as we seek to build up future leaders and role models who will work to improve our community for years to come.  As the school year begins, we encourage you to consider how you can be a part of the solution to the obstacles and challenges that our children face every day.

Friday, August 30, 2013

School Wait Lists

For the past several years, ASPIRA of PA’s bilingual charter schools, Hostos Charter and Pantoja Charter, have consistently had waiting lists for student enrollment in the hundreds.  This year, Hostos Charter and Pantoja Charter have over 1,000 students on their waiting lists combined! This speaks volumes to the high quality of our schools, and to the large demand in our community for greater school choice options.

Hostos and Pantoja have consistently performed higher than comparable local schools, both in attendance and academic proficiency.  ASPIRA of PA is proud of how our cultural- and community-driven school model has proven successful.  Sadly, we cannot accommodate these families on our waiting lists because of restrictions. Please know that, on behalf of our local students who all deserve an excellent education, ASPIRA of PA (along with our neighborhood partners, Esperanza and Congreso) is actively advocating for more high-quality seats in North Philadelphia schools.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What Everyone Else is Saying…

ASPIRA of PA makes a concerted effort to listen to our stakeholders, from students and parents to alumni and funders.  We have received constructive criticism, which we are working hard to improve, and we have also received a great deal of praise and encouragement as well.  Please read some of the positive remarks from ASPIRA of PA students, staff, parents, and alumni.


Giovanni Ruiz, Stetson Student:
ASPIRA of PA:  If you had a friend looking for a school to attend, would you want them to come here? Why?
Giovanni:  Yes, because the school has changed and there are no fights anymore.  The academics are better and kids don't have time to play around anymore. It's a much better school.

Alejandra Melean, ASPIRA of PA Leadership Club Participant:
ASPIRA of PA:  What is the biggest impact ASPIRA of PA has had on you?
Alejandra:  The biggest impact would be that the staff gets involved directly with the students. The staff tries to help as much possible to help students in any situation.


Denise Oyola, Hostos Teacher:
ASPIRA of PA:   How do you help students enjoy learning?
Denise:   To help students enjoy learning I differentiate instruction. I meet them where they are at academically. I provide them with the necessary strategies needed for them to achieve. I try to make sure every student in my class feels successful. I hold them accountable for their learning. I let them know where they are at and where they need to go. My students know it takes hard work to achieve but with hard work comes successes. I also have a sense of humor. The students enjoy this and it motivates them to learn.

Denise Bermudez, Program Manager:
ASPIRA of PA:  What inspires you to work with ASPIRA of PA youth?
Denise:  I am inspired to work with ASPIRA of PA's youth because they remind me of myself growing up. I lived right around the corner from the main ASPIRA of PA building for my entire teenage life, and experienced the life they have to live every single day. I know firsthand the issues they are facing with dangerous neighborhoods, stereotyping, and people just plain not believing in them. I had great role models in my life, and we at ASPIRA of PA give our youth that same attention that I got as a teenager. Because of the support I had growing up, I have always wanted to give back to my community, and over the years it is what my life has been dedicated to.

Connie Rodriguez, Leadership Club Facilitator:
ASPIRA of PA:  What is your best memory of working for ASPIRA of PA?
Connie:  My best memory in ASPIRA of PA would be the retreat and our youth graduations. The retreat is more than just a weekend in the woods. This is a time where we all come together and learn about one another. We give our youth knowledge about leadership skills and how to run a successful club in their schools. Two things that stand out for me at the retreat are when we do the reflection pool and the bonfire.  At the reflection pool, our students reflect on what they learn or want to gain over the weekend, which is amazing to hear what our youth have to say at that time. At the bonfire, we all sit in a circle and share thoughts and personal things in our life, which can become emotional, but we also come to understand the differences we all have in our lives.  Seeing our students graduate is also a memory I will never forget. It’s an amazing feeling to see our youth succeed and become young men and women who are going to college. This makes the staff and I feel that we have accomplished our goals.


Joyce Crosscombe, Hostos Parent:
ASPIRA of PA:   Do you feel ASPIRA of PA has added value to the development of your children?
Joyce:   Yes!! I have been so impressed with the staff and teachers.  They are very committed, respectful, and really care for their students.  They all take a great interest in my children, not only educationally, but emotionally as well.  They have provided character development classes, take the time to deal with issues that arise, and guide the children through handling conflict.

Judith Rivera, Stetson Parent:
ASPIRA of PA:  Compared to last year, what was your experience like this year with ASPIRA of PA?
Judith:  This school has turned around 100%.  There is a sense of peace when you walk the hallways.  Before ASPIRA of PA took over, the teachers were not as supportive as they are now.


Naida Elena Montes, ASPIRA of PA Alumni (ASPIRAnte):
ASPIRA of PA:  Who was your role model at ASPIRA of PA?
Naida:  It’s hard to say who was my role model. ASPIRA of PA's staff were big role models and motivators. More than anything, they pushed us to be role models in a community where sometimes young role models seem to be scarce.
ASPIRA of PA:  What keeps you involved with ASPIRA of PA after all this time?
Naida:  They were my launching pad to success. I began to learn about self worth and service through them. They provided opportunity for me to learn and grow. I have an undying dedication and appreciation for all they have done for me.
ASPIRA of PA:  Why would you recommend youth to participate in ASPIRA of PA programs?
Naida:  Nothing is worth more than the opportunity to cultivate the value and potential of an individual. Through ASPIRA of PA's programs and dedicated staff, an atmosphere of hope and opportunity is created. For many youth, getting involved with ASPIRA of PA will actually be the first time he or she may really realize their worth.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Let's Compare...

Earlier this year, Research for Action conducted a report comparing public charter schools to traditional public schools in North Philadelphia.  The report compared the schools of ASPIRA of PA, Esperanza, and Congreso to comparable schools in the area.  They found that our community’s charter schools are performing exceptionally well and, in most cases, higher than the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) average.  

Some highlights of the research findings include:
  • All ASPIRA of PA schools have higher averages of English Language Learners (ELL)and special education (SPED) students than the SDP average.
  • Both Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School (Hostos) and Antonia Pantoja Charter School (Pantoja) students outperformed the SDP average of non-charter schools and the average of all surrounding traditional schools in both math and reading proficiency.
  • Hostos and Pantoja also had the highest attendance rates of the 4 comparison schools used in the study.
  • ASPIRA Bilingual Cyber Charter School (Cyber) outperformed 2 of its comparison schools.
  • John B. Stetson Charter School (Stetson) had the highest PA Value Added Assessment System (PVAAS) scores, which show student growth, in both reading and math proficiency among all the comparison schools, even when having a 25-26% higher ELL and a 12-18% higher SPED population.
  • Stetson has increased academic proficiency by 35% in math and 12% in reading since ASPIRA of PA took over the school from the SDP in 2010.
  • Olney Charter High School (Olney) out-performed the area’s local public school by 24% in math and by 18% in reading.
  • Olney has increased academic proficiency by 16% in math and 12% in reading since ASPIRA of PA took over the school from the SDP in 2011.
Why are ASPIRA of PA charter schools performing so well?  Our success can be attributed to several factors, yet some of the most substantial include:
  • Excellent, safe learning environments.
  • High-quality, differentiated instruction thanks to rigorous educator professional development.
  • Dedicated leadership aligned with the ASPIRA of PA vision and mission.
  • High levels of parent and community involvement.
  • Cultural competence with dual-language instruction and communication within the schools.
  • High standards for food and nutrition.
  • Consistent quality improvement protocols for both instruction and school operations.
ASPIRA of PA continues to critically evaluate its performance and commits to ensuring constant improvement in its practices each year.  For more information, please visit  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


ASPIRA of PA charter schools have helped blaze the trail for bilingual English/Spanish education in our region.  Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School, ASPIRA of PA’s first charter school founded in 1998, was the first bilingual charter school in the state of Pennsylvania.  In 2010, ASPIRA of PA launched the first bilingual cyber charter school in the state too, ASPIRA Bilingual Cyber Charter School. 

Opening bilingual schools is not the whole story though - ASPIRA of PA bilingual schools have proven successful!  Our two dual-language brick-and-mortar schools, Hostos Charter and Pantoja Charter, both have performed higher than the School District of Philadelphia average on state assessments and have attained Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for several consecutive years.  

Although proven highly effective, these schools continue to perfect their dual language instructional strategies.  In the 2013-14 school year, a 90-10 model will be in place, where all Kindergarten students will have instruction provided 90% in Spanish and 10% in English.  Each year as students progress to the next grade, more classes are taught in English, eventually reaching a 50/50 bilingual school day.  Spanish as a Second Language is offered in all ASPIRA of PA Schools to ensure native-English speaking students are equally supported.  Our goal is for all Hostos and Pantoja students to be biliterate and bilingual by the time they graduate 8th grade. 

Providing instruction, parent communication, and hallway banter in both English and Spanish have become hallmarks within ASPIRA of PA charter schools, and a practice that has positively set us apart from other schools in our city and state.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

ASPIRA of PA Schools Appreciate is an online charity that connects classrooms to donors.  Teachers post school projects in need of support and donors go online and choose to contribute to various projects. Once projects are fully funded, sends the materials to the school.  It’s that easy! 

In the 2012-13 academic year, over $30,000 was contributed to 37 ASPIRA of PA classroom projects through Donors  Historically, ASPIRA of PA Schools have received over $40,000 in donations from the online charity.  The generous donors of have enabled our schools to receive LCD projectors, musical instruments, English as a Second Language materials, iPads, whiteboards, art supplies, and much more!  ASPIRA of PA and its charter schools truly appreciate the increased quality of education that we have been able to provide thanks to this charity. 

More information on Donors can be found at  We encourage all of our teachers to take advantage of this great resource!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Beginning

After nearly 45 years of existence, ASPIRA of PA has finally decided to join the blogosphere. We hope that this blog will serve as a platform to share stories - stories about programs, projects, and most importantly, people. Within our five schools, there are nearly 4,000 students, and all of them have unique and interesting stories to tell. We hope that you will follow along and learn about the amazing work that we get to be a part of every day. Stay tuned for more content coming soon.

Con amor,