My Fall Beginnings: New City and New Students

Fall has finally arrived and our school programs are well underway. This year, we are continuing our long-standing after-school programs at John Moffet Elementary School and beginning a new partnership with Juniata Park Academy. 

I, too, am a new to Al-Bustan and to Philadelphia, and have always felt that one of the best ways to learn about a place is to spend time in its public schools and with its students. I have been lucky in that my position as Al-Bustan’s Programs Coordinator allows me the opportunity to get to know this city not only through its students, but also its teachers, principals, poets, artists, musicians, schools, nonprofits, neighborhoods, and community organizations. Through Al-Bustan’s multifaceted work and programs, I learn something everyday about this city that I am new to and in awe of. 

The Feeling of Fall

Even as leaves fall and temperatures drop, autumn has always felt like the beginning of the year to me, and nowhere can that be felt more than at elementary schools. The school year is new and full of promise, energy is high, and students are excited by changes big and small. The students in our after-school programs are eager to show me projects they’ve done in school that day, comics they have been working on, new back-to-school sneakers and backpacks, ideas they’re discovering and turning over, and plans they’re making. It’s a joy to spend time with these bright, funny, talented students. 

Maddy in front of Juniata Park Academy

Some days, of course, feel like they are more full of promise than others. Yesterday at John Moffet School, our Tuesday after-school classes felt more like a Friday; students have school off today for Yom Kippur and asking them to focus on completing homework that wasn’t due for another two days was understandably difficult. They wanted to spend time outside in the newly cool air and I didn’t blame them. We did as much homework as we could before taking a half-hour to be outside, and I hoped for the best as I delivered these energetic students, eager for their mid-week day off from school, to Percussion Class. A few minutes later, I poked my head into the Percussion class to see how it was progressing and found transformed students. Thoughts of tomorrow’s day off seemed to have vanished; I now saw focused, dedicated percussionists, sitting up straight, alert, hanging on our Percussion teacher’s every word. 

Transformative Power of Art and Music for Students

We all know well the transformative power of art and music for students, but it is only rarely that we get to see these transformations so clearly. On Tuesday, I was able to see, in a small way, what happens for students when we raise expectations, when we give them the responsibility of being part of a group, of a performance, of holding a drum in their hands. A group of antsy kids waiting for the weekend so quickly become Master-Percussionists-in-training when given the opportunity.

Maddy with Music Teacher Irene Pelech

Students exceed our expectations when they are challenged, engaged, and creatively activated. It’s my privilege to be able to see this happening on Mondays at Juniata Park Academy, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at John Moffet Elementary. I feel very lucky to be in both schools, working with and learning from all of the amazing people in Al-Bustan’s orbit, and look forward to the year ahead.

 Contribute to our fundraising campaign to support school-based arts programs at Moffet and Juniata.

Madeline (Maddy) Conley
Programs Coordinator

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