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In 1998, Penn, the School District of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers agreed to create a state-of-the-art university-assisted PreK-8 neighborhood public school in University City/West Philadelphia. The idea was to encourage urban renewal, ease overcrowding in area schools and serve the children of the city with a joint venture in educational improvement. Penn Alexander School is the result of that agreement.
Penn Alexander is located in the middle of a combined residential/commercial neighborhood at the western edge of Penn's campus on a site that also houses a private daycare/pre-school program and a Head Start center. After opening with kindergarten and first grade in 2001, Penn Alexander now serves grades K-8 (nearly 500 students) along with two Head Start classrooms. The student body reflects West Philadelphia's rich ethnic diversity: 48 percent African American, 30 percent White, 13 percent Asian, four percent Hispanic, and five percent other. Nineteen percent of Penn Alexander students are international, and 19 percent are from families affiliated with Penn (e.g., children of University faculty, staff, and students).
Penn Alexander's instructional practice is built upon the best available educational research and a rich core of classroom and school experiences that draw upon the diversity of cultures and contexts to which students have been exposed. The strong academic program gives students access to specialized programs in art, music, and technology. Numbers of students participate in the broad array of after-school clubs including a literary magazine, student government, sports, newspaper, games club, math enrichment, and design technology. More than 25 percent of Penn Alexander students take instrumental music lessons at school.
Since its establishment, Penn Alexander has earned a reputation as one of the top elementary schools in the city with student performance on state-mandated academic assessments exceeding both the City of Philadelphia and keeping pace with the state. In reading, 85 percent performed at or above grade level in 2007-2008 and in math 82 percent performed at or above grade level. These figures exceed the City averages and put Penn Alexander among the top 10 public elementary schools in the City. In other measures of success, Penn Alexander students placed first in the district's Reading Olympics, eight were selected for the All-City Middle School Music Festival, and 23 won Carver Science Fair awards. Penn Alexander also took top honors at the School District of Philadelphia computer fair. A further testament to the academic program is that 97 percent of the 8th graders in 2008 were granted admission at either citywide admission high schools or special admission high schools.
Penn subsidizes Penn Alexander with an operating contribution of $1330 per student per year to reduce class size and enhance the educational program, provides customized professional development, maintains the school grounds, and partners with the school in community outreach programs. Most important, however, a large number of Penn schools and departments are working with Penn Alexander to enrich the students' educational experiences. Penn GSE takes the lead in this work, providing student teachers in the classrooms, professional development courses and workshops for staff, and enriched curriculum in literacy, math, and science. Penn students from all across the campus serve as interns, tutors, pen pals, and as the leaders of after-school clubs.
The building's design accommodates a variety of spaces that promote learning and a sense of community. Architectural features include a sun-drenched atrium, classrooms with sliding walls, small-group instruction spaces, a library/media center with a storytelling area, common learning areas where entire grades can assemble, a and gymnasium and cafeteria that overlook a porous surface play area and field with underground water management system.
To learn more about the Penn Alexander School, visit us at: www.phila.k12.pa.us/schools/pennalexander.