Philadelphians are too Cool for Their Schools: NorthWestern Edition

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The Philly Home Girls enjoyed a fantastic morning and afternoon of personally experiencing the city’s Northwestern Neighborhood elementary schools for the benefits of our clients, neighbors, and followers. After experiencing the Riverwards and South West Philly tours we are determined to continue the conversation about how intrinsically tied schools and real estate are to the growing health of our city and communities within it.  Public School open houses are for everyone not just people with kids. Feel free to make an appointment with any school’s administrators for a private guided tour or join a group tour. 

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Common elements among all the schools is acceptance of students outside of the catchments, an emphasis on each student’s individual needs and learning style, proper grammar, leadership skills, and mindfulness.  Contrary to popular belief these schools offer a TON of extracurricular activities.  Every kid in the school district can take advantage of breakfast and lunch at no extra charge.  All the schools have special-ed, speech therapy, and autistic support.  All of the district’s schools have partnerships with local cultural institutions including the Pennsylvania Ballet, The Arden Theater, The Philadelphia Museum of Art to name a few. There is a lot of new technology in these schools. Each one has a fully equipped computer lab with new MAC’s.  All four schools were built in the 1940’s as part of Eisenhower’s workforce improvement campaign.  Each one is architecturally interesting with common materials such as granite wainscoting, built-in cabinets, glazed ceramic block, stamped concrete floors in the halls, hardwood floors in the classrooms, auditoriums, and dark oak woodwork. The average longevity of the teachers is 8 years and the average class sizes are 21.  Community involvement is highly encouraged in the form of friends groups, Home and School Groups, festivals, events and facility use.

We started at C.W. Henry School K-8 in Mount Airy.  Their theme is focused on the life skills around conflict resolution, empathy and restorative practices.  We were hosted by a friendly and knowledgeable parent who showed us all the perks of the facility and the components that the children enjoy most. All students experience music, gym, art, and computers every week.  The art classroom had a particularly unique vibe we all enjoyed.  The art and music programs collaborate every year on a dance recital where each grade performs a number with a particular theme. In the past they’ve performed 80’s, 90’s and world culture dance festivals.  This school is particularly proud of their organic garden and outdoor classroom.  The public is invited to participate and have had great success growing so many vegetables they’ve been able to donate to local charities.  There is an upcoming school yard improving project slated the near future, all the school needs is $80K of fundraising for demolition.  While all the schools encouraged students to apply from out of catchment, C.W. Henry has a waiting list 175 students long.

Our next stop was Henry E. Houston a K-8 School spanning Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill.  The vibe here was a stark contrast to C.W. Henry in a good way. As a parent you have options. The theme at Houston is system oriented, simple and clear, “Take care of yourself, others, and your environment.” They are fighting against a productivity struggle by focusing on a growth mindset and leadership skills with a determination that every student has the ability to take advantage of opportunities available throughout their futures. The students are held to high standards and it’s very clear what the expectations are. They don’t have disciplinary issues here because the school culture clearly combats the necessity for kids to act out.  Houston just isn’t the place for that.  The school has a Dean of Climate and Culture and is outwardly aware of the student’s pivotal years.  Grades six and seven are integral for building a successful application to any of the district’s 19 high schools. 

Our experience at John S. Jenks was wildly different K-8 from the other two schools.  Also in a good way.  The principal Mary Lynskey is completely welcoming and toured us herself.  She’s warm, aggressive, caring, funny, and totally loveably yet clearly able to take care of business in a major way.  She has a lot to boast about.  There are over 100 extracurricular activities available to the students including a 50 member chess club, dragon boating, and all the standard sports, except hockey and swimming but Principal Lynskey has will and with that, there’s a way.  There are 2 shared classrooms per grade which helps facilitate learning stations.  We got to see a particularly interesting science classroom with a ton of aquariums containing a variety of flora and fauna, plus a heated reptile habitat built by the students and the teacher.  A couple unique attributes to this school are the elaborate offsite field trips the students go on with missions of creating journalism and social media projects. In addition to partnerships with Philadelphia Institutions the students at Jenks also enjoy relationships with Chestnut Hill College’s Forensics department, NASCAR camp and Space camp.  Principal Lynskey laid out some details for us about how the teachers fundraise to contribute to the success of many of these opportunities for the students.  The business behind schools is ever fascinating and equivalent to running a major corporation.  One of the big fundraising efforts occurs during the Harry Potter Festival in Chestnut Hill.  Jenks lends its facility to the community and features a lot of the festival’s attractions such as the live wizard chess board where the kids play the chess pieces.  If you’d like to visit Jenks, come to the Harry Potter Festival or drop in on the first Monday of every month student ambassadors give group tours.

Our final destination, and again, a completely different experience in a good way, was Shawmont Elementary school, a PRE K-8 located in the Andorra section and serving both Roxborough and Manayunk.  It was picture day at school so all the kids were dressed to the 9’s and the gorgeous, well maintained auditorium was the hub of activity. This facility is by far the easiest to navigate and the most pristine of the four schools we toured.  It has an addition that was built in the 70’s but feels very new and the building is fully ADA accessible.  Principal McGrogan and an enthusiastic member of the Home and School group toured us.  This was a great combination of perspectives from a parent and an administrator.  The theme is positive reinforcement. The students earn “Paws” from their peers to earn perks for their classes.  Principal McGregor is somewhat new to the facility and clocked our steps as we went along.  We covered a half mile.  He’s got fantastic goals for the school including expanding the PRE-K program to encourage enrollment and encouraging the students to take advantage of the organized programs brought in by Parks and Rec after hours.  He also explained to us how the focus on individual learning is improving in each classroom with meeting areas and individual in-classroom libraries that are structured so that low readers and high readers can share interests in common. It’s a very scientific concept and impressively well communicated. This school has the most substantial what we used to call a “Library” but is now known as an IMC, Instructional Material Center.  There’s also a full time nurse.  If you can’t make it to a personal tour, come to the school’s annual theatrical performance.  Last year they Cinderella and ever year a professional orchestra play the music for the production. It’s a very popular and well renowned event.

We were uplifted and inspired by the experience we had that was enhanced by the positive attitudes and enthusiasm that each school’s representatives put into our tours.  We encourage you to treat yourself to a similar experience, get involved, seek out the Home and School Groups, and the Friends Groups. Find the schools on facebook or go to an event hosted at the facility. Feel free to contact the school’s administrative office to take your own private tour of the school or stay informed of school open houses by visiting HipsterHenry.com.