Spotlight on: Philadelphia's Conwell School & Hawa Berry

DiscoverE’s Future City Competition has been around and growing for 25 years, empowering kids through hands on learning challenges with the support of their teachers, engineer mentors, regional coordinators and supportive parents. What has driven the success of Future City the most however is the kids who love it. The connection that middle schoolers forge with their teammates and the competition itself is strong and it became obvious that having it open to only 7th and 8th graders was not enough. Younger kids wanted to get in on the action, to learn more about how to master the various aspects of the competition before becoming presenters, and so 6th graders were allowed to compete starting a few years ago. From there, a number of schools around the country began to implement Future City as an elementary school activity, prior to middle school when the students can officially enter the regional competition. Students who get involved with Future City tend to be very passionate about it and are the best ambassadors for the program!

Hawa Berry exemplifies this in the Philadelphia region. Hawa had the opportunity to get involved with Future City as a 3rd grader at the Thomas Holme Elementary – and she was immediately hooked. “My computer teacher suggested it to me when I was in third grade so I started then and did it every year after that through sixth grade,” says Hawa. “Our Future City team got really close in a way, we grew on one another and I really liked that. Also, I really like going to the competition from year to year because it’s so interesting to see what other people are doing. That way our team can see what to do to improve our model and do better the next year,” she continues.

When Hawa arrived at Conwell Middle Magnet School, she discovered that despite the fact that her new school had numerous programs and exciting opportunities for students to pursue their passions, they did not have the Future City program. Already an old hand as an incoming 7th grader, Hawa says she thought to herself “why not keep this going and bring the program here to Conwell? It’s such a great learning experience and it could be part of classroom curriculum!”

 Well aware that Future City involves much more than just science and math, Hawa first talked to a few new school friends about it who liked the idea, and then approached her literacy teacher “who I felt the most comfortable with.” This teacher encouraged her to go for it and prepare a proposal. Hawa’s next step was to go home, put together a power point presentation and take it to Conwell’s principal, Ms. Erica Green. Ms. Green “greenlit” her idea and teamed Hawa up with science teacher Kristina Purcell, and Future City was incorporated into Conwell’s science curriculum – all because of a very bright and motivated student who got hooked on Future City early on, and a supportive and progressive administration and faculty!

About 12 kids are on Hawa’s new Future City team at Conwell and they dove into ideas and drawings. But things really heated up when their engineer mentor Erin, who has also been a Future City judge in the Philadelphia region, arrived at school to start working with them. “The kids were so interested and excited to discuss their city ideas with Erica when she came and the conversation really got flowing,” says science teacher Kristina Purcell. “I loved seeing how much feedback the kids were giving Erin, and how they were still talking about it for several days after her first visit.”

Erica Green, the school principal who was so impressed by Hawa’s initiative, is thrilled to have another program that creates passionate creativity and input from students while fostering leadership skills and providing exciting classroom curriculum. This is Conwell’s first year at the very competitive Philadelphia Regional competition, but they are sure to go far – and next year, to come back with Hawa as an eighth grader with five years experience under her belt ready to go all the way to Space Camp!

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