south philly review

Practicing what they teach
George Washington Elementary's principal and an instructor each received the Rose Lindenbaum Improvement of Education Award.
Students would not be able to perform at their best without teachers and the school administration. Teaching the fundamentals of math and science, as well as life, this dedication impacts a child's behavior, as well as their willingness to learn.

Showing commitment has led to principal Margaret Mullen-Bavwidinsi and first-grade teacher Antoine O'Karma of George Washington Elementary School, Fifth and Federal streets, each to be recognized with Rose Lindenbaum Improvement of Education awards. A school district employee for more than 40 years, Lindenbaum established the award to honor 10 Philadelphia School District teachers for their dedication and contribution to their schools and students.

Mullen-Bavwidinsi, a two-time winner of the award, was first recognized in 2002 in the special-needs school category. The category requires that the school have more than 100 special-education children or students defined as at-risk. In 2005, her school made the transition into its present category. "It made me feel better than anything else," she said. "It's worth it because it's about the kids."

The awards are given to elementary-, middle- and high-school faculty who have continually emphasized the "care and education of the whole child." In recognition of their achievement, Mullen-Bavwidinsi and O'Karma also received citations from the district.

According to O'Karma, awards for a teacher and principal from the same school was a first time occurrence.

"It's a great accomplishment, but it doesn't happen without teamwork," Mullen-Bavwidinsi said regarding her staff.

O'Karma said she feels privileged to be recognized alongside her principal, who honored her with a special plaque. "She's an amazing principal and an amazing person," said O'Karma, a longtime resident of Fifth and Federal streets. "It's unbelievable to be considered for the same award she has received twice."

The instructor has been at the school for nine years, two of which were spent teaching third grade. Although she began her education as a psychology major, she decided to return to school to pursue a graduate degree in education at Saint Joseph's University.

"I absolutely love going to work everyday," she said. "Everyday is an adventure - just when I think I've seen and heard everything, something new happens."

In addition to honors for Mullen-Bavwidinsi and O'Karma, the students were recognized nationally for their excellence in the Math 24 online program. The program, which begins at the third-grade level, aids children in learning math fundamentals and the students win sticker prizes with their speed and accuracy. Out of 39 first-grade classes registered, the students came out on top with classmate Hung Ma ranking second in the nation in the category.

"The amazing thing is that 75 percent of these children don't have computers at home, so they earned all of their stickers throughout the day in class," O'Karma said.

Along with this distinction, the school, which recently became a district school of choice, has also received the Johns Hopkins University Certificate of Recognition for students with high academic potential. The children, under the direction of their principal, also passed the annual Progress State Standards for the past two years. "We passed two years in a row; not many schools have been able to do it," said Mullen-Bavwidinsi.

The principal boasted about the pupils' achievements much like a proud parent. "Our students are steadily moving up and achieving," she said.

The students have had the opportunity to work with the Prince Music Theater through a writing program where plays are performed at the school's theater. Along with programs and events with the Fleisher Art Museum and Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, the school also recently received a VH1 music grant for the upcoming school year.

"If you don't have the arts, you don't have a well-rounded educational program," said Mullen-Bavwidinsi.

After establishing a $100,000 trust fund in 1978 to honor teachers, the Lindenbaum award in 1989 added the allowance for five principals and, in 1990, three building engineers.