William Penn Charter
3000 W School House Ln, Philadelphia, PA 19144 / website
Penn Charter. I put it off as long as I could. I mean from the outside you can already tell it has to be an amazing place. I grew up in a very competitive and sport focused high school. The kind of high school where our coach scheduled our championship game of the year on prom night. Every. Year. So just looking at all those pretty fields, and all those sports opportunities is enough to make any former high school and college athlete warm and fuzzy. But it was time to stop loving a book by its cover and see what was really on the inside. Like every school tour I learn that a school is much more than what you can see from the outside and from the brochure… Penn Charter is no exception. Penn Charter wants to be known for more than just sports and after my tour I now know why.
Whoa you guys are crunchy!
“Whoa, you guys are crunchy!” Would be the first thing I blurted out to my tour guide John Zurcher, Director of Enrollment Management and Lower School Admissions, when we walked into the Pre-K classrooms. When I think of PC you are thinking polished and not crunchy. The PC Pre-K classrooms were as crunchy as any progressive school I have visited in our area (minus the livestock).
Each preschool room had its own version of a treehouse, and most of the things in the room were derived from natural elements. From the color palettes to the toys to the many beautiful baskets filled with nuts and pod for playing and counting… this was not the slick PC Pre-K I was expecting. When I arrived it was free play and all the kids were busy doing their favorite things. When I pop into a room with my giant camera and the kids barely look up… I know it is a happy classroom.
The Pre-K’ers have the whole campus at their disposal but on rainy days they also have the benefit of a giant playroom filled with bikes and more toys. On a rainy day this is a wonderful asset to both the staff, kids, and the parents that pick them up at the end of the day.
The Pre-K’ers also have their own art studio which is adorable and amazing. The art studio runs a constant live feed from various nature resources on the wall. When I was there the screen was showing a live feed from a bird feeder at the Cornell Nature Preserve. I am sure you are thinking “that’s nice.” It is more than nice, it was awesome. The screen takes up the majority of the wall so when a larger than life squirrel jumps into the feeder and scares all the birds out you are basically in a living version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
Alright this isn’t crunchy but it is cool…
PC has built the preschoolers what they call the Augmented Reality Sandbox. They built a square sandbox on a platform. Through the magic of a software program and a projector the sand turns into a living topography map. What does that mean? It means when I took my hand and dug down into the sand the software read that I had changed the landscape and added a lake. When I took my hand and built up a mound it changed the landscape again and added snow to the top. Hold your hand under the projector and make an abracadabra – sprinkle motion and it will rain… it will actually rain. I keep this video on my phone and show it to anyone that will let me.
The rest of the school is impressive, as I expected, with some additional surprises. The classrooms in the lower school are more homey and less polished than I expected. The upper school building is beautiful and modern. I can’t speak to the curriculum but I really liked that PC students spend one year exploring the basics of several languages before picking one to focus on.
Not Just Sports
Before I took the tour, John Zurcher let me know that they would like parents to know there is more than just sports at Penn Charter. With its 44 acre campus and sprawling fields, full-time weight room, gyms, pool, and sports offerings it is impossible not to think of sports when thinking of Penn Charter… that is until you take the complete tour of the campus. What I did not expect to see was a huge innovation and technology lab along with a dedicated building to the drama and music department. From high-tech tools to the various theater stages to the massive band and choral rooms the school is fully outfitted.
Your child into Aquaponics? Don’t worry if you were not ready for that question… either was my spell check. They will be at Penn Charter. In aquaponics, you grow plants and fish together in one integrated system. The students raise tilapia and the fish waste provides a food source for the growing plants. The harvest of both the fish and the plants is contained to the school right now but in the future the goal is to have a harvest large enough to donate to food banks. Fresh fish to food banks is pretty amazing.
If you are new to the school search Penn Charter is a Quaker school. Usually Quaker schools have the word “Friends” in their name. If you choose a Quaker / Friends school that means that there is a weekly call to worship. This is usually 45 minutes where the school gets together and holds a time for reflection. I will fully admit that I toured a Friends school when Henry was two and the call to worship part of Quaker schools was something I was very unsure about. I do think it is really hard for parents of very young children, searching for kindergarten, to get their head around. It is another layer to think about when you are dealing with an already overwhelming process.
Over the years I have gained a much better understanding of the call to worship at Quaker schools. That has come from all the tours I’ve done and friends that have been able to share their experience with their child at a Friends school. Now it is second nature and when I visit a Quaker school I can’t wait to see the beautiful meeting room. They are peaceful, beautiful, old rooms with rows and rows of old wooden benches. I can only speak for myself but for me the practice is less religious and more reflective. If the call to worship is something you get hung up on I encourage you to not get too hung up on it.
From a facilities stand point I walked away with the impression that Penn Charter is like a small college for whatever you child is interested in. When it comes to resources, I also started to see the advantage of a school that goes to 12th grade. The next open house for Penn Charter will be on Saturday, October 15th.
I now know, better than anyone, that PC is not all about sports but I will now leave you with my “happy places” at Penn Charter.