For Some of Penn Alexander School’s First Grads, the Road Leads to Penn

Since opening in 2001 with kindergarten and first-grade classes, Penn Alexander School, a neighborhood public school created by the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia school district, has become one of the most popular and successful in the city. Many of the school’s first graduates are college bound, and some are Penn students.
Sophomore Fahmida Sarmin, a biochemistry major, says her PAS teacher Richard Staniec sparked her interest in science.
“Mr. Staniec was really encouraging; he pushed me to do my best,” Sarmin says. “He saw potential in me and I think that really helped me build up a lot of confidence.”
After PAS, Sarmin excelled at Central High School and was thrilled when she was accepted at Penn, her dream school.
Since high school, she has held a part-time job at the Wistar Institute working with cancer researchers.
She fondly remembers some of the Penn Graduate School of Education students who taught at PAS. She recalls one who had the class visit Penn to present their work to GSE students.
“I took my diorama of a model of items and characters from literary books,” Sarmin says, “and the Penn students were impressed and said, ‘You’re only in sixth grade?’”
Keaton Naff, also a sophomore at Penn and one of Sarmin’s former classmates at PAS, attributes his interest in math and science to inspirational teachers at the school.
“Mr. Staniec was a big influence on my learning to enjoy science,” Naff says. “He gave me a real appreciation for science.”
Naff is majoring in math now and still enjoys studying physics and computer science. He’s on Penn’s track team and tutors fellow students in math and science.
Naff’s family moved to Philadelphia from Wisconsin when he was 10, and Sarmin’s family moved to Philadelphia from Bangladesh when she was 2. Both families are still in the area, but Sarmin and Naff both chose to live on campus to experience college -house life.
Located at 42nd and Locust streets, the Penn Alexander School serves nearly 500 students each year. The student body reflects the neighborhood’s ethnic diversity. Its strong academic program offers K-8 students specialized programs in art, music and technology.
Penn subsidizes PAS with more than $1,300 per student each year.
And, led by the Graduate School of Education, many Penn schools and departments work to enrich the students’ educational experiences.

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