by Abby Thaker, Mt. Airy USA

As you’ve probably heard, the School District of Philadelphia has gone through extremely difficult budget cuts in recent years, while next year’s budget is uncertain as state legislators continue to negotiate. Yet in spite of these challenges, Mt. Airy’s public schools have continued to offer high quality programs thanks to the outstanding principals, teachers, and involved parents and volunteers that we are lucky to have in this community.

This past year, Mt. Airy USA, West Mt. Airy Neighbors, and East Mt. Airy Neighbors, came together to form the “Mt. Airy Schools Coalition” to leverage resources from within the community to ensure that Mt. Airy’s schools remain strong, and can grow even stronger.

We are thrilled to announce that the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition has just completed our first major fundraising campaign, which raised over $47,000 to provide a new computer lab at Emlen Elementary School. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Jan Deruiter and Dan Gordon, as well as the generous contributions of many Mt. Airy residents, the lab will be installed this summer in time for the 2014-2015 school year. This successful effort demonstrates the impact possible when members of the Mt. Airy community come together on behalf of our neighborhood schools.

Other initiatives this year included over $8,000 in mini-grants made to A. B. Day, Emlen, C. W. Henry, Houston, Lingelbach and J. S. Jenks using the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, a School Supply Drive, and an Open House for local realtors planned in partnership with Elfant Wissahickon Realtors.

We’ve also undertaken a long-term planning process to ensure that our future work is informed by input from each school about their needs and priorities. During this process we’ve surveyed parents, community members, and staff, interviewed principals and teachers, and had countless conversations with Mt. Airy residents. We’ve been inspired by the dedicated educators in each of our schools and the enthusiasm for strengthening school-community partnerships in Mt. Airy.

Based on what we’ve heard, the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition has identified three priority areas for its work going forward.

1) School Climate: We aim to ensure that all of Mt. Airy neighborhood schools have a welcoming atmosphere, in terms of both a positive school culture and a visually appealing environment. Potential initiatives in this category include supporting socialized recess (Playworks), positive behavior support programs, playground equipment, and “curb appeal” beautification projects.

2) Literacy: We aim to support schools’ instructional programs to ensure that all students have access to engaging, literature-rich curriculum in all grade levels.

3) Well-Balanced Curriculum: We believe that all students deserve access to the arts, music, science, and technology as part of a complete curriculum that allows students to discover and pursue their passions. Potential projects include providing access to materials for hands-on science instruction, increasing access to technology, and sponsoring arts and music programming.

This fall, the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition will facilitate working groups that will lead the partnership-building, grant-writing, and fundraising efforts to make each of these programs a reality. I invite anyone who is interested in participating to contact me at


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