Checking back in on West Oak Lane Charter School months after its expansion

Months removed from the completion of a huge expansion project, West Oak Lane Charter School students, teachers and officials said recently that a new sense of pride resulted.

“That new space has brought us all other opportunities to be able to provide additional services for our kids that we couldn’t do when we didn’t have the space,” said Dr. Debbera Peoples-Lee, the school‘s chief executive officer.

Expansion discussions started in 2009 as the school was outgrowing the space it had.

Work which started in December 2010 resulted in a new gym that can also be used as an auditorium, a parent center, new classrooms, new offices, new computer labs, a math center, a literacy center and more last October.

Peoples-Lee noted that it has also improved the community surrounding the school in addition to providing more opportunities for the children.

As with any new addition, though, there have been some hardships.

“I had to add more security and more cameras,” she said. “Now that we’re all under one roof, it’s a lot more space and a lot more to manage.”

Cost-benefit analysis

Kristin Milewski, a fifth-grade teacher at the school, explained the benefits of having more space.

“I taught 27 kids inside of a trailer before this, so being inside of a classroom now has really made a difference,” Milewski said. “I can open and close the windows and I have more room to walk around during class. I think that there is a sense of community now.”

Victor Anderson is a seventh-grader and treasurer of the student council who cut the ribbon on the opening day.

“When I saw the new building I was so excited and it made me feel happy because we had a bigger place,” Anderson said.

Potential academic impact

Sheila Royal-Moses, the school’s chief academic officer, emphasized how the school prides itself on propelling from eighth grade into places like Central High School, Philadelphia High School for Girls, George Washington Carver School of Engineering and Science and CAPA.

“We want to prepare our students for when they graduate, so they can compete in rewarding high schools,” she said. “The expansion will help us achieve this.”

Already, there are worries that this space may also be outgrown in the future.

“There will be a point when every grade, K-8, is going to be five classes each. That’s about 1,100 students,” Peoples-Lee explained.

For now, though, school officials are going through a checklist of tasks required to complete the expansion entirely, including sitting down with contractors to compile a list of items that still need to be finished.

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