Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board
By Chris Reynolds
Monday’s meeting of the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board focused on A Better Chance-Strath Haven as it begins its fifth decade of nurturing scholars. ABC board members John Whitelaw, Carol Hill, and Kristen Dunning reviewed some of the metrics and highlights of the program’s first 40 years. ABC students, 118 in total, have graduated from Strath Haven and its predecessor Swarthmore High School, among 14,000 nationally. Seven scholars are now enrolled at Strath Haven and living in the ABC House at 731 Harvard Avenue.
Students typically come from poorer school districts in large urban areas to enroll in private and public schools, which provide free education for four high school years. A network of institutions and individuals in WSSD supports other needs of the students, including housing, tutoring, mentoring and family interaction. ABC’s mission, Dunning said, is to find students who will most benefit from expanded opportunities. Nationally, the program has grown to include about 2,000 students enrolled each year at 300 schools, more than 98% of whom go on to four year college programs.
Kervin Pillot, a SHHS 2002 graduate who came from the South Bronx to ABC, commented on the meaning of ABC in his life as a student, and in his adulthood. After attending Cornell, he worked in law and finance before finding his way into academia, and is now assistant dean and director of admissions for the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
He credits his “family” in the Strath Haven community and the structure and support ABC provided for his success. “My interest in education stemmed from this;” he said, “from seeing how students can succeed when given an opportunity they wouldn’t have had, and a community rallying around them.” He congratulated ABC Strath Haven on its “phenomenal” 40 years. “I hope it continues on until a program like this is no longer needed,” a time in which opportunities are more equally available to students regardless of their economic and social circumstances.
WSSD board president Richard Sonntag addressed the ABC staff, volunteers and students following the focus topic presentation, saying, “We’re not the only community school in this country that does this, but there are not many … I want to thank all of you for all that you do to contributed to the program, especially the students, for the hard work you do, and for enriching our lives with your presence here.”
Notes on Absence Policy
Prior to the board vote approving first readings of certain updated and newly stated policies, Dr. Lisa Palmer, WSSD superintendent, and Strath Haven High School principal Dr. MaryJo Yannacone provided some background and answered specific questions from the board on Pennsylvania’s mandated attendance policies. The state’s Department of Education allows up to 10 days of medical, religious or other “lawful” absence (explained by a doctor’s or parent’s note within three days) per school year. Any absence thereafter can only be excused by a doctor’s note. Dr. Yannacone says, “We are in the process of investigation with PDE, because that policy poses a challenge” in cases where a student has a recurring condition or needs regular treatment.
Dr. Yannacone reassured members that the effect of WSSD’s attendance policies is not be to punish or impede the advancement or graduation status of students with legitimate medical or personal absences totaling more than 10 days during the year. “We follow the state code with regard to the reporting of lateness and absence, however we have flexibility within our own policies with regard to work makeup.” She later noted that the attendance system now in use at Strath Haven High School calculates student attendance down to the minute, which puts Haven firmly in compliance with state mandated procedures.
Student representative Valerie Henderson reported on activities and accomplishments at the district’s five schools, including Wallingford Elementary School’s winter concert with the Orff Ensemble, and its Martin Luther King Day presentation Friday; Swarthmore-Rutledge School’s Spirit Night fundraiser at Oasis Family Fun Center in December to benefit SRS’s Home & School Association programs; SRS teachers’ collection of books and school supplies for the Bok-Martin School in Philadelphia; and students’ sandwich making service project for a local food bank.
Nether Providence Elementary School will hold its winter concert next Wednesday, January 18, at 7 p.m., and NPE students will join Strath Haven Middle School 7th graders in the 9th annual MLK day of services this Friday. SHMS’s theme for the day is “Live Like a Hero.” Strath Haven High School students are in the midst of Keystone testing, and preparing for the end of the fall semester January 20. Spring semester begins Tuesday, January 24.