Green Tree School’s $16.4 million ribbon-cutting draws big names, lofty goals [gallery]

With an audience that included both students and senators, Green Tree School and Services (GTSS) officially cut the ribbon to open its new Northwest Philadelphia location on Friday.

Currently operating in Germantown, GTSS’s new location is on East Washington Lane in East Mount Airy, site of the former Ivy Leaf School. The three-story, 60,000 square-foot building will have 17 classrooms and other specialized educational facilities for its special-needs student body.

The private school provides academic, social skills, life skills and vocational education to children ages 5 to 21 that have Autism or other significant learning, social and emotional challenges. Eighty-five percent of GTSS’ students live at or below the federally recognized poverty level.

According to school officials, approximately 90 children will benefit from the $16.4 million investment in the site.

“Green Tree is a special place with a very ambitious vision,” said Daralene Jones, of NewsWorks content partner NBC 10 in her opening remarks at Friday’s ribbon-cutting event, “and the vision comes to life today.”

The school’s opening represents yet another opportunity for education along Washington Lane. It comes just says after the Wissahickon Charter School broke ground on a site several blocks away.

What it means for Green Tree

For GTSS, it’s a major step in the school six-decade history.

The first of its kind in Philadelphia, the school was founded in 1957 by parents concerned that their children’s special needs were not being met by public education.

Currently located in four buildings at two different sites on Walnut Lane and Johnson Street, teachers and staff said they are looking forward to the cohesion – and space – that being under a single roof will provide.

School officials recalled that it took about 12 years for GTSS to find and acquire a new location and raise money toward the new facility.

Earlier in November, the organization changed its name from Green Tree School to Green Tree School & Services as a sign that only one-third of its business is conducted inside the four walls of its school grounds.

In addition to the school, the new location will house several offerings, including its Behavioral Health Services, an On-Site Outpatient Clinic, and their training and consultation programs. About 230 individuals took part in these programs last year.

“This is the most exciting time that Green Tree has ever seen,” said Larry Hall, chair of the school’s Board of Directors.

The event itself

At the ceremony, U.S. Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) recited his belief that there is a “light” inside of every child.

Casey explained that some children, due to circumstances or innate ability, need little assistance in bringing these talents forth. Others, he continued, have that same light, but need more assistance.

“What you do, and what we must do to support you, is to see that these children are less constrained [by their disabilities] and that their future is substantially brighter because of what you’re bringing,” he said.

With Friday being the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, school CEO Patricia Wellenbach used the words of the late president to comment on the importance of education for all children.

“Let us see education as a means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, when fulfilled, can be translated into a benefit for everyone and a greater strength for our nation,” she said.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.