A change of scenery, if only temporarily, for Green Woods Charter School

While most of the education-related news in Manayunk this week concerned the planned closure of the neighborhood’s remaining Archdiocesan school, another school was quietly unpacking for a year-long stay in the buildings that once housed St. John the Baptist and St. Mary of the Assumption students.

The Green Woods Charter School has now moved out of the campus of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, where it was founded in 2002. By September, 2013, Green Woods students should be moving into a new school building, to be constructed on the Domino Lane site where Keenan’s Valley View Inn recently closed.

Green Woods, which plans to grow to 875 students in the coming years, expects to complete the purchase of the Domino Lane site by the end of this month, with demolition to begin by the end of summer, said Jean Wallace, Green Woods’ CEO.

In the meantime, 410 Green Woods students in grades kindergarten through eight will spend the coming school year in busy Manayunk — a significant change of scene from its former location, secluded in the woods off Hagys Mill Road.

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“For me, personally, growth is exhilarating,” Wallace said Wednesday, as staff unpacked boxes and workmen fine-tuned the building’s alarm systems at the St. John’s building on Rector Street. “The idea that we can finally grow, and have a place where we could really grow, is exciting.”

Space to grow

On the former campus, several classes were taught in trailers for years, science teachers had to tote their learning materials from room to room, and the lack of a gymnasium meant students didn’t get physical education. A full-time phys ed teacher was one of the school’s 10 recent hires.

By contrast, both the St. Mary’s and St. John’s school buildings have full-sized gyms, each seemingly big enough to hold the entire original Green Woods school. St. John’s will hold three rooms each of students in kindergarten through second grade, and St. Mary’s, on Conarroe Street, will have two third grades, and one class each through eighth. Both schools will have a combination art and music room, and offices for a school nurse.

Wallace said the school has a few seats open for the second grade, but already has 100 names on a waiting list for future enrollment. Inquiries have come in by email from families looking for an alternative to what had been planned as St. Blaise, a combined elementary school at the former Holy Child campus. (There likely would have been phone calls, Wallace said, had the new phone system been up and running.)

A new environment for students to embrace

In its temporary home, the environmentally-focused charter will instead be surrounded by steep hills and row houses, but Wallace said it wouldn’t detract from the school’s mission. The idea, she said, is one of immersion in whatever environment the school calls home, whether among trees at the Schuylkill Center or overlooking ancient gravestones in the churchyard at St. John’s, the majestic church that has stood sentry in Manayunk for more than 175 years.

And while disagreements about how large the school should grow ultimately led Green Woods away from its original home, Wallace said there are no hard feelings.

“Our relationship with the Schuylkill Center is not over,” she said. The center’s executive director, Mike Weilbacher, has made it clear students are welcome to return for future learning experiences, she said.

To continue the school’s environmental studies, Green Woods plans to make use of Pretzel Park, the nearby Manayunk Canal and Towpath, and is partnering with the Manayunk Development Corporation and other groups to continue hands-on learning.

Already, members of the Green Woods community have “adopted” a small, weed-filled garden behind what had been the convent at St. John’s, and are clearing it in hopes of using it for hands-on outdoor learning.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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