West Oak Lane Charter School recently finished an eight-month process of adding an expansion to their school that has created a new sense of pride for the students and teachers.
School officials began discussing the expansion in 2009 because the number of students was quickly outgrowing the size of the school at 7115 Stenton Ave.
Dr. Debbera Peoples-Lee, the chief executive officer of school and a former health care employee, explained: “The students basically made the decision because they were busting at the seams. It was evident that we needed more space. We had basically maxed out the building.”
In February 2010, the school received a $16.9 million loan from Fulton Bank and began building the expansion in December. On Oct. 13, the expansion was opened, and after months of working out of trailers, students and faculty were allowed to enter it. The expansion includes 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 much more.
“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,” Peoples-Lee said.
The expansion has also improved the community surrounding the school in addition to providing more opportunities for the children. But with any new addition comes hardships.
“I had to add more security and more cameras. We have an elevator now, so there is a lot more to manage. Now that we’re all under one roof it’s a lot more space and a lot more to manage,” Peoples-Lee added.
The benefits justified the costs, though, because ultimately the price earns a better education for the students. 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.”
The expansion impacted both students and faculty alike, and it also had an impact on the surrounding community. Peoples-Lee explained a conversation she had with a citizen who lived nearby, and the property value of the resident’s house went up because of the expansion. Taylor Burch, an eighth- grader and president of the student council, also said she feels positively about the expansion.
“We have a gym now, we have more space, we finally have a science lab,” she said.
Victor Anderson, a seventh-grader and treasurer of the student council, cut the ribbon on the opening day of the expansion and explained his feelings about the opening.
“I wasn’t expecting it. They came up to me and asked me if I could cut the ribbon. When I saw the new building I was so excited and it made me feel happy because we had a bigger place,” Anderson said.
In addition to giving students and faculty more space to learn, the expansion will also help these students succeed in high school. Sheila Royal-Moses, the chief of staff and the chief academic officer, emphasized how the school prides itself on sending students to academically rewarding high schools upon graduating from the eighth grade. Some schools include 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. The expansion will help us achieve this,” Royal-Moses said.
The decision to build the expansion was unanimous, and the positive impact it has had on the school is unparalleled. Unfortunately, this space may also be outgrown in the future.
“There may be a point when we outgrow this space. 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, school officials are going through a checklist of tasks required to complete the expansion entirely, including sitting down with contractors to come up with a list of items that still need to be finished. In the future, the school predicts that more people will see it as an opportunity for success because of the new building.
To learn more about the expansion, contact the West Oak Lane Charter School at 215-927-7995.