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In 1998, the University of Pennsylvania, 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. From its inception, the Penn Alexander School would be a neighborhood school that excelled, encouraged urban renewal, and eased overcrowding in area schools.
Penn Alexander is located in the middle of a mixed residential/commercial neighborhood at the western edge of Penn's campus. The site serves as an urban arboretum and also houses a private daycare and preschool program. After opening its doors to kindergarten and first graders in 2001, it grew to serve approximately 550 students in grades K-8 in 2014. The student body reflects West Philadelphia's rich ethnic diversity: in 2014-15, 24 percent of students were African-American, 39 percent White, 18 percent Asian, and seven percent Latino. Nineteen percent of Penn Alexander students are international, and 30 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. Students participate in a broad array of enrichment activities, including student government, science fair, geography bee, spelling bee, chess, math enrichment, and computer technology. More than 25 percent of Penn Alexander students participate in the instrumental and vocal music programs at the school.
Since its establishment, Penn Alexander has earned a reputation as one of the top elementary schools in the city. Student performance on state-mandated academic assessments exceeds the city of Philadelphia average, and it is keeping pace with the state averages, too. In reading, 84 percent performed at or above grade level in 2013-2014; in math, 90 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, 30 students were selected for the All-City Middle School Music Festival, and 33 won Carver Science Fair awards. Penn Alexander also took top honors at the School District of Philadelphia computer fair. In 2014, 100 percent of 8th graders were granted admission at either citywide or special admission high schools.
Penn subsidizes Penn Alexander with an operating contribution of $1,330 per student per year to reduce class size and enhance the educational program, provides customized professional development, and maintains the school grounds. Penn schools and departments work 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 enrichment activities.
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, and a gymnasium and cafeteria that overlook a porous surface play area and field with an underground water management system.
To learn more about the Penn Alexander School, visit www.phila.k12.pa.us/schools/pennalexander.