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Philly’s coolest charter school is high-tech heaven

All of which explains why there is a waiting list of more than 5,000 students hoping to get into MaST (Math and Science Technology) Community Charter School on Byberry Road near Worthington, in Somerton.

And why, despite its unselective enrollment randomly generated by computer, MaST Charter’s academic achievement ranked in the same top tier as the city’s highly selective Masterman High School on the latest Pennsylvania Department of Education scorecard.

“I was shocked when I came here in fifth grade and saw that this school was miles ahead of everything I’d ever done in my old school,” MaST senior Nick Mazuchowski said. “If I hadn’t come here, I never would have known there was this world of integrating technology and making videos.”

Mazuchowski, who will attend Drexel University, said he “fell in love with film” in the seventh grade while doing MaST video projects and streaming them on YouTube. “I said, ‘Wow! This is what I want to do with my life,’” he said.

He directs a 30-student crew of writers, camera operators and audio technicians who produce the morning news show in MaST’s high-def TV studio.

“There was no TV station at my old school,” Mazuchowski said. “I never would have had all these opportunities if I hadn’t come here.”

Breanna Behr, a senior who has attended MaST since kindergarten, took her first robotics class last fall, hated it, then suddenly got hooked.

“We had to make and program a robot that sprayed pesticides on plants,” she said. “At first, it was like gibberish to me. I didn’t want to be there.

“The teacher worked one-on-one with me until I realized, I can build this thing myself. I can make it work. I can tell it, ‘I need you to do this,’ and it will do it. Robotics is great. I plan to go to Widener University for engineering.”

The amazing thing is that futuristic, reach-for-the-stars MaST Charter was born in the mind of Karen DelGuercio during her 30 years as a traditional history teacher and administrator at Strawberry Mansion and Lincoln high schools.

There was no hint of the starship MaST would become when it opened in 1999 as a grade school that was forced to hold classes in a church and three synagogues while DelGuercio wandered in the real-estate wilderness, searching for a home.

“We were thrown out of the best industrial parks in Northeast Philadelphia,” she said, laughing. “I guess they didn’t want kids.”

She finally found temporary housing in the Academy Plaza Shopping Center and added 500 students, seventh through 11th grades, plus just two graduating seniors, who transferred from other schools.

DelGuercio remembered one of them asking her, “Why don’t we just go down to Acme, and you can graduate us from the express line?”

MaST finally found a home in a former Somerton steel fabricating plant, where DelGuercio avoided the legal pitfalls that befell some other charter school founders when she decided to be the unpaid board president rather than the salaried CEO.

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