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Learning through Teaching What one alumna has learned through her time as a Philadelphia school founder and teacher
It began in the back of a thrift store. Behind the second hand clothes sat a need, a vision, and a children’s reading group. Karen Falcon ’77, after moving to Philadelphia post-grad, started reading with young children in the neighborhood because she loved celebrating the beauty of stories with them and seeing their own enthusiasm. This group continues to foster learning and creativity, just under a different name—Jubilee School.
The private school officially opened in the fall of 1977 and continues to provide an environment of encouragement where children can grow in the wealth of their intellectual curiosity, creative pursuits, and moral responsibilities as members of a tight-knit community.
“The principle is the same now as it was then,” said Falcon, “that children love learning, and our job as teachers is to encourage that love of learning, to listen to their ideas, and teach what they are interested in.”
The children are the true heartbeat of this mission, according to Falcon. It is a different approach to teaching than most public schools, but it is about celebrating who they are, listening to the questions that they ask, and even learning from them along the way.
While Falcon is the founder, she spends most of her time teaching. “I never stopped teaching because I couldn’t be a director without teaching. It is what keeps me going,” said Falcon.
Some of the most encouraging aspects Falcon found in her teaching is the children’s ability to work extremely hard, build on their natural gifts, and challenge themselves in the process. Some of her 5th and 6th grade students have most recently started a publishing group, Jubilee Voices Publishing House, that publishes anything from illustrated books to poetry. Falcon highlighted the children’s enthusiasm for educating other children on stories that are undertold.
Last year, the students wrote on various people who resisted transportation segregation by refusing to give up their seats. Falcon commented that it was completely their idea. The students took charge and worked on researching the material themselves with both their peers and some teachers.
In addition to learning from their books, Falcon finds herself learning from her students' questions. This year, she stepped into the role of teaching language arts, history, and science. She asked them what they were most interested in studying and they said: the universe. In reading all of her students’ papers and listening to their presentations, she is learning more and more from them by listening and building on their ideas.
“Children have great ideas and their voices are so important, and as much as you can listen to their voices. I think asking good questions is the root of good learning. Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be the teachers' questions, it can be the students' questions,” said Falcon.
As the school continues to grow under a new director, Falcon has faith they remain faithful to their mission---providing comprehensive, challenging, and engaging education to all, regardless of their income.
“I love my work, maybe even more now than I did when I first started, because I’ve learned so much from the children,” said Falcon. “I am completely invested, and it's been a wonderful journey.”