It’s a little before 8 a.m., and Dr. Debbera Peoples-Lee has just pulled past a line of orange cones and into her parking space outside West Oak Lane Charter School.
Walking toward the recently built middle-school building, which houses the fourth through eighth graders on Stenton Avenue, she greets anxious students and worrisome parents who look from their cars to ensure their children are going to the correct building.
“Aww, you’re an eighth grader now,” said Peoples-Lee, the school’s CEO, during a warm hug with a student who has attended the school in its various locations since kindergarten, which is housed in an attached building.
Before heading inside, she tentatively watched the students rush to class before the first bell rang.
When she entered the building, she saw several parents lining the wall and occupying seats outside the office hoping to get their enrollment questions answered.
Sharrolyn McGriff had a question pertaining to her third grade grandson’s wardrobe. He was dressed in a blue T-shirt and blue basketball shorts. The mandatory navy blue pants and white shirt still remain pressed on the hanger that she was holding while she explained there was some type of wardrobe mishap.
Peoples-Lee solved the problem by insisting to give the student a white shirt, thus ignoring the fact that he had gym that day. She explained that providing the shirt was a safety measurement so that people would know what school he attended.
This is the first year that McGriff’s grandson is attending the school. She said that she is optimistic about the school year for her little honor-roll student.
“I am happy if he is happy and he already likes his teachers,” said McGriff.
A school tour
After years of going to classes spread across three buildings in a shopping center, WOLCS celebrated a homecoming when it completed a $16 million expansion project in November.
This 2012-13 school-year launch marked the first official back-to-school day under one roof.
The hallways are lined with motivational signs and posters lined hallway which include “whatever it takes” and “some people find excuses, others people find a way.”
The WOLCS honcho peeked into every last classroom, which are named after four-year institutions, primarily the schools that the teacher attended.
“We cannot wait until our children get into high school to prepare them for college. I think it’s too late then,” said Peoples-Lee.
“We need to be starting from the day they enter kindergarten to let them know that their future expands far beyond West Oak Lane Charter School,” she continued. “If the foundation is laid earlier, our children will be prepared sooner.”
During her rounds, she encountered several classes quietly walking through the hallways. Non-verbal gestures, such as flexing the index finger, were used to caution against being disruptive to classes that were still in session.
Students frantically exited laboratories just to wave and say hello to “Dr. D.”
Peoples-Lee said she hopes to expand existing programs at the science and technology school such as the annual George Washington Carver Science Fair, for which participation increased from two students in 2010 to 30 in 2012. She would like to jump even higher.
New mentoring partnership
For the first time, the school will also participate in a partnership with the Fox Chase Cancer Center that will see researchers and scientists provide mentorship to students, as well as provide professional development to teachers. Since that center is part of the Temple University Health System, Peoples-Lee would like the partnership to eventually expand to their health-science professionals at Temple.
Peoples-Lee explained that the school is in the business of nurturing achievement from more than 900 students, which includes a large population that come from single-parent households.
“I want them to realize that school is an extension of their family and it’s not just some place they go,” she said. “The love they either left at home or didn’t get at home, they find it when they come in this building.”