America's Most Amazing Schools

By Lisa Guernsey and Sonia Harmon

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Science Leadership Academy
Photo by Chris Lehman

Science Leadership Academy - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Grades 9-12

In many American schools it's now customary for students to use computers. But at Science Leadership Academy, one laptop per child is only a start. As a joint initiative of the School District of Philadelphia and the Franklin Institute (a premier science museum), this magnet school uses few print textbooks, preferring instead that students create their own resources with course management software and a "learning by doing" method called inquiry. Class periods are longer than in most schools and science courses include more lab time. "Kids here learn from the work they do, not from what comes out of a teacher's mouth," principal Chris Lehmann says. Consider how Spanish teacher Melanie Manuel guided an analysis of films depicting conflicts in South America: Her students identified on-screen human-rights violations and then compiled their findings on a school website.

SLA draws top students from all over the city (nearly half from families in poverty), who undergo a stringent admission process. Virtually all of the school's 120 seniors enroll in college, and SLA has won high praise from a host of educational experts and observers, including recent visitor Bill Gates.


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