I moved to Philly almost 8 years ago to attend Drexel University. After these long 8 years, there’s still so much for me to learn about this city! That’s one of many great things about going to school here, the city is huge and full of opportunities to try new things. This is my official list of “bests” in Philly. This is just a starter list of my opinions–I encourage you to explore and challenge my favorites, that’s the only way to learn. Happy adventures!

Best Cheesesteak: Dalessandro’s

Of course, I had to start with Philly’s favorite sandwich. It’s honestly hard to find a bad cheesesteak here, but by far the best I’ve had are at Dalessandro’s in NW Philly. I order mine with fried onions, sweet peppers, and ketchup. So delicious. But make sure you call ahead, cause the lines can get crazy! The store’s a bit hard to get to if you don’t have a car, so some easily accessible runner-up options are: Ishkabibble’s on South Street, Cosmi’s in South Philly, and Del Rossi’s. I know you’re thinking –where’s Pat’s? where’s Geno’s? Sorry to let you down, but the places I mentioned are much better. Trust me on this one!

Best Thrift Store: Philly AIDS Thrift

You can find this awesome store near 5th and South Streets. It’s got amazing deals, and the money goes to an awesome cause. This thrift store operates as a non-profit and donates its proceeds to the AIDS Fund which then passes the money on to 29 AIDS agencies in the region. Definitely stop by for dollar clothes every 1st Saturday for cheap stylish finds!

Best Museum

There are so many incredible museums in the area, and which one ends up being your favorite really depends on what you’re into. My favorite is the Franklin Institute –the science museum to end all science museums! It has everything from escape rooms to live dissections; their IMAX movie theater is also worth a visit. One of my favorites is their monthly Science After Hours programming that has great events like cocktail chemistry and CSI mysteries for the 21+ group.

Best Outdoor Hangout

It’s easy to fill stuck when you’re spending every day in a busy major city with limited green space. However, Philly is home to the largest urban park in the country and it’s just a quick trip from Penn. Fairmount Park is huge and has so many amazing views and places to relax. One of my favorite places to hang out is Lemon Hill where you can see the river and the famous boathouses.

Best Hole-in-the-Wall Restaurant

There are so many secret hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Philly, but my favorite is a Senegalese restaurant on 43rd and Chestnut called Kilimanjaro. I had never had Senegalese food before this, and I can’t believe I missed out for so long. My favorite is the whole fish. It’s really affordable and worth a try if you’re up for something new!


Best Splurge Dinner

On the opposite end of that spectrum, if you’re willing to splurge, by far the best meal (and service) in the city is at Vernick Food and Drink, just over the bridge into Center City. They have a delicious raw menu, great small plates, and perfectly cooked proteins. If you want to treat yourself, or impress a date, this is definitely the place to go.

Best Groceries

As much as we’d love to eat out all the time, the reality is...it gets expensive! If you want to find some affordable groceries, I find it’s worth the trip into the city to get inexpensive produce at Iovine’s in Reading Terminal Market. The produce is fresh and my typical haul for a week costs less than $10. Pro tip: Shop the bags at the back for produce that’s 1 or 2 days from expiration and being sold for only a dollar!

Best Cheap Date Option: Good Good Comedy Club

Located in Chinatown, this is a great way to spend a night out. Their shows are usually less than $15 and are always really funny. I’ve even gone here as a way to start a night out before dinner and dancing.

I hope you enjoy visiting my picks and if there’s anything I left off the list, let me know!


Job Searches

It feels like just a few months ago I started in the UTAP program, but here we are about 3 ½ months away from graduation. This inevitably means it’s time to start the job search. As I was working on my resume today, I realized just how much this year of teaching has taught me. Although every day in the classroom still feels like my first day, trying to figure out what the best move is, I can say with confidence I’m much more prepared to have my own classroom than I was just a few months ago.

Through my time at my student teaching placement, and in the classroom at Penn, I’ve learned so much. Beginning in the summer, we unpacked what we were bringing to the table as teachers and started to think about how we could effectively teach diverse populations of students. In the fall, I learned what classroom management really looked like, what to do when you prepare a boring lesson, and how to navigate a high school as a staff member. And now, as I complete my thesis inquiry, I’m learning about how my passion –empowering students to affect change –can be applied to my classroom.

All of this has me going into my job hunt feeling confident. In my opinion, the School District of Philadelphia is in need of the types of teachers that UTAP develops: compassionate, professional, and prepared.

SDP’s application is open, and my cohort and I have been well-briefed about how the process works. First, a written application, then a video interview, and finally the school matching process where we interview with principals. We’ve practiced interviewing in class and have mentors that are there to help us along the way.

I must say, I’ve had a job since I was 15 and this is the most prepared I’ve ever felt for a job hunt. While there are certainly nerves about where I’ll be placed, I know that I’m well-equipped to succeed wherever I end up.


Why Did I Choose Penn?

One of the primary reasons that I chose Penn was because of my love for Philadelphia. I had lived here for 5 years already during my undergraduate education at Drexel University and couldn’t dream of leaving. I had grown accustomed to this city of neighborhoods -where I could easily find friends that would turn to family, where I could get the best food cart fare, and where there are so many opportunities to grow.

I began surveying my options in Philadelphia and there were so many, Philly is home to so many excellent universities. However, Penn and specifically, GSE, were a clear standout for many reasons.

First, the UTAP program gives students the opportunity to student teach in schools for almost a full year. This makes room for a more realistic experience, instead of being in schools for 1 period a day for part of a semester; I would be able to teach back-to-back classes over multiple marking periods. Most teachers say that their first year is the hardest. Having the kind of experience that GSE offers will certainly make that first year a bit less challenging.

Second, only the UTAP program at GSE can be completed in a year. I worked for two years after undergrad and am getting married in the summer of 2018. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the position to take off multiple years from work to go back to school. The program is designed for people like me who wanted to get the best possible education, quickly.

Finally, it goes without saying...Penn is an amazing academic institution! Since I came to Philadelphia I dreamed of going to this elite university and experiencing all the opportunities that come with that. For example: world class speakers, the best professors, a large and connected alumni network, etc.

Now that I’m about 75% through the program, I can confidently say that it has lived up to my expectations.


Favorite Faculty Member

It’s hard to pick just one faculty member as a favorite, so I’m going to cheat and pick two. Dr. Michael Nakkula and Dr. AJ Schiera have been excellent professors who have provided me with both theory and application to guide my teaching practice.

Dr. Nakkula’s course, Adolescent Development, really helped me to reframe the behaviors of my students in a way that was more productive for both me and them. The class focuses on different frames of identity (racial, religious, ethnic, etc.) and how students are affected as those identities develop. One of the significant takeaways from the course was that most students, even the most challenging, are likely presenting behaviors typical of adolescents. It’s a time of creating and testing out theories about how the world works and sometimes that involves behaviors that we see as anti-authority.

Dr. Nakkula presented the material and allowed us to think about ways that it affected us as teenagers and how it applies to our teaching. He allowed us to use the material to craft proposals for curriculum, after school clubs, and offered insightful feedback. Not only is he a respected academic, but an excellent teacher!

The other faculty member I must mention is Dr. AJ Schiera. In the summer, and for a few sessions during the fall, AJ taught School, Society, and Self, a class that helps future teachers to unpack their own identities, and what they bring to their classroom environment. AJ is a graduate of the UTAP program and made sure to provide readings and facilitate discussion that would be the most applicable to our teaching.

Even as I began my Master’s thesis, I thought back to the discussions we had in class and formulated my inquiry (research) question around topics we had considered. AJ helped me to compile readings that would ground my research.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with such dedicated faculty.