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High schools for engineering and the arts

By Victoria Irwin / May 2, 1984



Three sources of pride for Philadelphia public schools superintendent Constance E. Clayton are the city's high schools for engineering and science, creative and performing arts, and international affairs. Intended to be magnet schools in the district's desegregation program, the different schools do attract a mixed group of students.

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The High School for Engineering and Science is 43 percent white, 48 percent black, and about 9 percent Hispanic and Asian. At the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, the mix is 54 percent black, 38 percent white, and more than 7 percent Hispanic, Asian, and other. The High School for International Affairs has 59 percent black, 25 percent white, 10 percent Asian, 5 percent Hispanic, and about 1 percent native American.

More evident to visitors, however, is the difference in the student bodies of the various schools.

The hallways of the high school for engineering and science, which is located near Temple University and shares some of its facilities, are nearly empty. An occasional student - wearing a tie if it is a boy - scurries along purposefully. Alvin T. Garblik is the principal of the high school, where students can do architectural drafting, work on laser-beam technology, learn Chinese, or study biomedicine. Twelfth graders who are ready can attend college for their last year. There were some 280 applicants for the first class in 1981 (students are admitted only as freshman). There are more than 1,600 for next fall's freshman class.

Students in the first class have been accepted at such schools as Temple, Columbia University in New York, Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Morgan State University in Baltimore, and Villanova University in Villanova, Pa.

''This is a high-level institution,'' says Dr. Garblik proudly. ''Students coming from this school will not have any difficulty going to college or any need for remedial work.''

Every discipline at the high school is linked to computers, whether it be using the computer as a word processor in English classes, or placing 200 windows in the blueprint of a building through computer-assisted design.

The solemn, scientific atmosphere at the engineering and science school contrasts vividly with the happy confusion at the school for creative and performing arts.

In the hallways of CAPA, located in a downtown high-rise, a student attracts an audience with his breakdancing. Upstairs a gospel choir practices a rousing version of ''Amazing Grace.'' Inside an art classroom, a girl works on a silkscreen print while a boy, listening to classical music on headphones, sketches a still life.

Academically, the magnet schools rank high in the district, behind the long-established Central High and the Philadelphia High School for Girls. Some people were surprised that the ''artist kids'' do so well in their studies, says Principal John Vannoni. ''They are very serious and goal-oriented,'' and about 80 percent go on to college, he says. Some, such as ballet dancers, go directly into their field.

Although the magnet schools have achieved desegregation, some observers worry that they will drain the ''cream of the crop'' and leave other high schools with less-interested students and a somewhat demoralized teaching staff. Dr. Clayton has implemented a program to assist low-achieving schools in attaining the elements of the more successful ones. Over $3 million in state and private foundation money was spent this school year at 10 elementary schools. The program will expand to all levels withing three years.