Heart of the City

By Kathleen Vail

Bernice Sherman's students sit scattered on the floor of their bright classroom. "The Keeping Quilt," one girl says. "Chicken Sunday," a boy calls out. Sherman, who manages to be motherly and no-nonsense at the same time, tallies the votes on a white board.

On this chilly early March morning, the students in Sherman's fourth-grade class were deciding which of children's author Patricia Polacco's books they liked best. After counting the votes, the students planned to put the results in graphs.

Though the atmosphere at the Russell Byers Charter School is lively, it is far from chaotic. From the extra-wide classroom windows that let in abundant sunlight to the gleaming blue and white floors, the school is an oasis of peace in the middle of Center City Philadelphia.

You would never guess it was born from a senseless act of violence. 

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