Any School Can Be a Great School

Growing out of just a few emails in the summer of 2010, the West Philadelphia Coalition of Neighborhood Schools (WPCNS) is a diverse group of community members in West Philadelphia. Only one year later, they have around 300 community members on the email list—from parents with school age children, to parents with younger or older children not in the public school system, to community members without children who want to help their area school.

 According to Amara Rockar, chair of WPCNS, the organization was “created to provide additional attention and support to the community’s neighborhood public elementary schools and to encourage parents to send their children to their catchment school.”

Erin McCleary, a founding member of WPCNS, says that when researching area schools, it “seemed like an enormous displacement of resources…when there are enough elementary schools in the city of Philadelphia so that everyone can walk to school.”

She was concerned because only a few parents in the community were sending their children to their community school.  “If I am going to spend a lot of time on my kid’s education, why not have it be in my neighborhood school down the street? If we all volunteered in our own school, than any school can be a great school.”

Currently, the main focus of WPCNS is Lea Elementary  School (4700 Locust Street). Once efforts at Lea Elementary are sustained, Rockar says that WPCNS may be branching out to other schools in the area.

 Through school supply drives, in-school volunteers, and a visual arts team, WPCNS members are committed to making Lea “not only a premier neighborhood school but a true meeting place for the surrounding community.”

 WPCNS helped in the planning and publicizing of Lea’s Kindergarten Open House, which included a tour of the school and kindergarten classes. Also, WPCNS, along with The Enterprise Center, hosted the How to Walk to School event at Lea this past May. Co-author Jacqueline Edelberg (How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renassiance) spoke about her book and held a panel discussion. About 125 community members attended the event.

 A book drive for Lea’s libraries is currently being held, with drop off locations at Bindlestiff Books and at 4317 Larchwood Ave. University Dollar Plus and St. Mary’s Nursery School are collecting school supplies for students of Lea.

 McCleary says that all community members are welcome to volunteer at school as well as attend other WPCNS events, such as their Saturday playgroup. “People in this group are interested in the vitality of the community as a whole. They are willing to make a long term commitment.” Not only does the playgroup give their children a chance to play with one another, it also serves as an information exchange about school happenings, events, and general community information for the parents.

To get involved with WPCNS, join the Google Group email list and Facebook group. Also, visit their website at


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