PHILADELPHIA - August 22, 2012 (WPVI) -- The school year began Wednesday for a North Philadelphia elementary school.
Grover Cleveland Elementary has undergone a major overhaul by Mastery Charter Schools, and what a difference for the students who arrived for classes Wednesday morning.
Mastery is responsible for more Renaissance schools than any other Charter operators in Philadelphia, and even on the first day of classes, you could tell this will be a very different school year than last year.
Some of the 5th graders remembered their last year at Grover Cleveland.
"There were holes in the walls, big holes; big ones," said Shakyra Tucker.
"They were throwing chairs around in the lunch room, throwing food, fighting and all of that stuff," said David Oates.
Like other low-performing troubled schools in under-served communities, Grover Cleveland contracted with Mastery through the school district, for a complete make-over.
First they repaired the deplorable conditions, like those holes in the walls, exposed electrical boxes, and crumbling walls and chalk boards. Then they brought in new educational programs and new staff.
"We made sure the environment looks warm and engaging for the students," said Rashaun Reid, Principal of the 6th through 8th grades. "We worked hard to establish relationships with the families this summer, and I think that's why we've had a successful first day."
And on the first day of class, it was remarkable to see the change, not only in the building, but the students.
The new environment has promoted more classroom participation, orderliness has replaced former chaos, and the focus is on education well beyond Grover Cleveland.
"I think this is what Mastery is really good about. We want them to go to college, but not just to go to college, but to graduate from college," says Fayola Foster.
Getting parents involved was a big part of the process.
"We went around the entire neighborhood in the summer letting people know about the great changes that have come to this Cleveland school," said parent Tiffany Mendoza.
And students are constantly reminded that this new system believes they can succeed.
"When you believe in kids, set high expectations for kids, one day kids surprise you, and rise to the very top. I think that's what is happening here today," said Scott Gordon, CEO Grover Cleveland Master Charter School.
Students at ten other Mastery Renaissance schools are doing very well, and their PSSA scores prove it.
Mastery believes a respectable environment and educators committed to their students' achievement can boost their overall success.