Excel Middle Years Academy is an accelerated school of choice for middle school students who find themselves in need of a smaller school setting.

Located at 4300 Westminster Avenue, Excel’s mission is to create a safe environment for students to succeed inside and outside the classroom by fostering positive relationships within the school setting while learning to be responsible and accountable.

“As soon as we do orientation with a student and a family member, the first thing we ask them is, what high school do you wish to attend? What is the high school of your dreams?,” said executive director of Excel Middle Years Academy Sadiqa Lucas.

“From there, we set the goals for them,” she added. “Our director of student services follows up with those goals to make sure the teachers are following up to make sure there’s attendance and behavioral criteria in addition to academic success.”

Lucas said the school is laser-focused on getting student into the high school of their choice.

“We really stress to students the importance of getting into the high school of their dreams, we really hype that up here,” Lucas said. “We have a signing day event for our middle school students.

“Our director of student services decorates,” she said. “We have the parents come out. We have a table and record the event. The students sit down and just like high school they sign their letter of intent saying they will be going to the school of their choice.

“That allows the students to have a sense of pride and give them that added push of owning their education by going to the high school of their dreams,” she added.

Excel follows the School District of Philadelphia curriculum. The school offers at least two and half counseling hours a week. The school also has guided group interaction where students are separated in cohorts and they discuss real life.

“We talk about current events, just some things that might be going through the head of a middle school student,” Lucas said. “We also have those counseling hour moments.

“There’s a board and students can come in and take a piece of paper and describe what color meets their emotional state that particular day,” she said. “Once a week on Thursdays, they can wear the color that describes how they’re feeling.

“A lot can happen from the moment a student leaves their doorstep to the minute they arrive at school and vice versa,” she added. “We want to make sure that we’re meeting our students’ social and emotional needs and concerns.”

For extracurricular activities, Excel offers various programs and clubs for students including student government, youth empowerment workshops, National Honors Society, Girls Group, Young Inventors, alumni student internships, alumni tutoring, art club, step team, book club, debate team, modeling troupe, dance team, track team and basketball.

The school also has partnerships with organizations across the City of Philadelphia.

“We call our Parent Association, our village,” Lucas said. “We don’t have anything without the parents’ support, so our village plays a huge role in what we do at our school.

“We have a partnership with the daycare, Little People Big Dream,” she said. “That partnership is more of a mentoring program. Our students not only read to the kids, but they’re also learning how to act in the environment of a daycare. Now in the virtual world, they’re reading virtually to the kids.

“We also have a partnership with Paradise Lodge #1 and they provide mentorship for young men and women,” she added. “They’ve made donations and mentored the kids. These are just some of the partnerships that have been with us since day one.”

Lucas said she wants her students to leave Excel with an unforgettable experience.

“We spend a lot of hours preparing and making sure that Excel is the best middle school in the city,” Lucas said. “We want them to value that.

“When they go out into the real world, we want them to never forget the jewels we’ve dropped on them or bestowed on them through their middle school career,” she said.

“We also want them to know we will continue to follow them through every moment in their life,” she added. “They’re not just our students, but members of our family.”

The news story was originally published by The Philadelphia Tribune.