Friends Select Schoolreview by University of Pennsylvania student. Friends Select School (FSS) provides a well-rounded education to students able to take advantage of its myriad offerings and flourish in (or despite) the occasionally laid-back or informal-seeming atmosphere. Its academic offerings in the upper, or high school, are varied and strong, with a solid program in social studies, English, visual and performing arts, foreign languages, math, and science. Interesting and eclectic elective courses are offered to students in their junior or senior years in history, English, and science. The upper school courses in general place a great emphasis on writing, which prepared me well for my college experience. Classes are small, anywhere from 5 to 15, and rarely 20 students. Teachers are accessible and knowledgeable, with an even mix of veteran-educators and fresh, new faces. As is customary at Quaker schools, students and teachers speak to each other on a first-name basis, allowing a spirit of collegiality to pervade interactions in the classroom. The workload increases gradually through upper school, and noticeably in the jump from middle to upper school, to about 3-4 hours a night of homework for juniors or seniors. It is normal for students to take 6 - 7 courses and to participate in one or more sports or theater productions. Teachers are genuinely interested in students learning and strongly encourage everyone to participate in discussions. In such an environment, it should go without saying that the program does not emphasize exams or their results- AP courses are not offered, though students can elect to prepare for and take the exams independently.
Quality of life at Friends Select is high, as the program and students benefit from it being located in the middle of Center City. The cafeteria offers moderately healthy food and several options for lunch and snacks, and vegetarian and healthy options are always offered. Upper school students are allowed to leave the school for lunch if they wish to purchase food elsewhere at one of the many nearby food stands or at restaurants such as Wawa, Subway, or the food courts at Liberty Place or at the Comcast Tower. Housing is not applicable as FSS is for day students only. Most facilities, including the rooftop athletic surface, pool, art rooms, library, computer rooms, dance studio, music room, science classrooms and general purpose areas are top-notch, with the upper school bathrooms being the notable exception. Crime is and has never been an issue, due to security cameras and a constant staff presence at both entrances. Even so, students are kept aware and conscious of risks with the regular practicing of fire drills, shelter-in-place drills, and intruder drills. The student body is quite diverse both racially and socio-economically, with many minority and international students. This trend is likewise represented in the faculty. The surrounding area of FSS is Center City Philadelphia: it is bordered by the Wyndham Hotel, GlaxoSmithKline, and the Ben Franklin Parkway, and is within walking distance of several city museums and other sights. As for social events, the year reguarly includes: athletics awards ceremonies, school dances, pep days for athletics, International Day, and numerous other events highlighting local artists or performers, with book signings and talks. The urban location of the city is an immense positive, as in 2004, for example, when the press and Secret Service used part of the school when Kerry, Clinton, Rendell and Street appeared together during the 2004 Election campaign. Students were given front-row passes for the speeches that day. In 2008, both Obama and Hillary made appearances at the school during the Primary campaigns.
Many activities are offered at Friends Select School outside of the realm of academics and arts. These are athletics, performing arts, and visual-arts or language exchange trips. Students are required to do at least one sport a year. Sports offered are: soccer, field hockey, cross country, swimming, wrestling, basketball, baseball, tennis, softball, and rowing. While FSS' athletics program is limited by the size of the student body, teams tend to do well in the Friends League. I participated in briefly in soccer and swimming, but was on the cross country and rowing teams for several years. FSS is one of the only city schools, and the only Philadelphia Friends school to have a high-school rowing program, which operates out of the Vesper Boathouse on historic Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River. I greatly enjoyed these two sports, both of which were successful during my time spent at FSS. The tennis and field hockey teams play on the athletic surface on the roof of the school building, while other teams go to nearby Fairmount Park to practice and compete. One play and one musical are performed each year at FSS in the Upper school. These tend to be large, involved productions that highlight the quality of student thespians as well as the talent of FSS artists and the faculty who run the theater program. Recent productions include Jesus Christ: Superstar and The Laramie Project. Finally, exchange trips have been offered for the past several years for students in studio art and for students in upper levels of French, Spanish and Latin. I went on the studio art exchange rip to Milan, Italy my senior year and greatly enjoyed the mix of homestay with an Italian art student and his family, and tourism around Italy.