Why now? Why West Philly? West Philadelphia is a vibrant neighborhood with a wide range of cultures, languages, and access to educational resources. There are some excellent schools available, both public and independent. However, they lack the capacity needed to support every child with an education that values their voices and encourages learning through curiosity and exploration. The intention of this program is to offer a rich, independent school experience to children from a range of backgrounds and financial positions, widening access to the high-quality education that all children deserve.
This program has developed from many small conversations with parents and educators in our community, and will continue to grow out of the needs and involvement of enrolled families and interested supporters. Our staff also live in West Philly and have deep connections to the neighborhood.
Where will the school be located? We are still looking for a home for our first few years as we grow. We are having conversations with several possible locations who have classrooms to rent during the day. These possible buildings are after school programs, community centers, and churches, all between 40th street and 52nd street and between Kingsessing and Market. We will announce our opening location as soon as it is finalized.
Beyond our initial years, we are also looking at a long-term building with abundant outdoor space as our permanent home, also within the same geographic area.
What grades will the school include? Our current commitment is to open in fall 2023 with grade K and 1, then add an older grade each year until we have full enrollment in grades K through 5. We may consider adding pre-K or middle school grades at some point in the future, but our primary focus now is on elementary learning.
What does grade-level work look like? How does it compare with other schools? In each of our core subjects, we will be utilizing grade-level curriculum that encourages students to explore, experiment, create, discuss, practice, and wrestle with the primary content for their grade level. By working with students in small groups, we can support students who need more guidance and provide challenges for students who are ready. We expect that by the end of each grade, students will have accomplished and explored the typical content with that grade (for example, as outlined in the Common Core State Standards) at a minimum, and progress to more advanced material or a deeper level of understanding as we follow their interests. We expect that a student moving or transferring from the school at any grade level would be prepared for the following grade level at another.
How is the Roots and Branches School certified or accredited? When new schools open in the state of Pennsylvania, they must be certified by the state Board of Education for the first three years. After this point, schools may elect to be accredited by either the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools (PAIS) or the Middle States Association-Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS). Accreditation is a voluntary self-study process with outside review by peer institutions, which typically takes 2-5 years. The focus of the accreditation process is on how well we--our families, staff, and students--evaluate our own program as living up to its mission. While our ultimate goal is to be accredited by either PAIS or MSA-CESS, this would not happen during our early years. From a practical standpoint, accreditation by PAIS and MSA-CESS demonstrates that a school is taking the time to think critically and gather feedback about its work. Our curriculum, staffing, values, and teaching approaches will already be established in our first year. Our accreditation status will not have any impact on students' readiness for middle school and lifelong learning.
What schools in Philadelphia are most similar to Roots and Branches? Greene Street Friends and Lansdowne Friends are similar to our program, though we do not have a religious affiliation. Both of these schools have curricula that nurture students’ creativity and identities alongside academic skills, a commitment to social justice and equity, and tuition models and outreach that make the school accessible to families from a range of backgrounds. Greene Street Friends has similarly-sized classes, while Lansdowne Friends uses a similar vertical grouping where students remain in the same classroom for two years.
Are there things I can do to help the school get started? Yes! Tell your friends! We have many opportunities to volunteer for small or large tasks this year and after we launch. We are still actively looking for board members with a range of skills. If you are interested in volunteering, please send an email to email@example.com with a note about your skills and interests. You can also support our launch with a financial contribution on our Donation page.
Is there a possibility that the school won't open? We are committed to opening our doors for the 2023-24 school year if we have at least 12 students. If we expect that our enrollment will be below this cut-off, we will let families know as soon as possible, and by March 10 (the priority acceptance deadline) at the very latest. For comparison, lottery-based public schools (for example, Penn Alexander) mail out admissions letters on February 25, and comparable independent schools in the area notify families by February 1 and expect enrollment decisions by late March.