West Oak Lane Charter School, located at 7115 Stenton Ave. in West Oak Lane, held its first annual Alumni Day this week.
Alumni from 2007 to 2011 filtered through the cafeteria doors, eager to tour through the new expansion their middle school added this past fall. Students currently attending the school were also invited to the event, and several round table discussions allowed alumni to share their high school experiences with the younger generation.
Arrie Bateman, an alumnus who attended the school in 2008, commented on the event.
“It’s definitely strange because it’s not the way it was when we came here. It’s different; the new addition wasn’t here, and all we had was one building,” said Bateman, who said he hopes to graduate in June from Philadelphia Electrical Technology Charter High School.
“I went here since I was five, so without West Oak Lane I wouldn’t be going anywhere in life. I feel that West Oak Lane shaped me in a certain way, prepared me for who I will be in life and who I am now,” Bateman said.
Since 2007, West Oak Lane has been working hard to prepare students for rewarding and challenging high schools. According to official school records, in 2007 only 22.8 percent of the student body went on to attend special admission high schools such as CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts), Carver High School of Engineering and Science and Philadelphia High School for Girls.
In that same year, 36.8 percent of the student body graduated from West Oak Lane and went on to attend neighborhood schools. As of 2011, West Oak Lane has turned its numbers around. Over 50 percent of the student body attended special admission schools upon graduation, and only 2.1 percent went on to attend a neighborhood high school.
In the past four years, West Oak Lane has graduated 93 students into special admission schools, with 17 attending the academically challenging Philadelphia High School for Girls. This increase came when the faculty at West Oak Lane made changes to the curriculum, including a mandatory passing grade in math and reading for students K-3 and increasing the grade threshold.
Debbera Peoples-Lee, the chief executive officer of West Oak Lane, commented on how the alumni events reflected the school’s ability to send students to challenging high schools.
“The alumni can share their experiences and knowledge with our current middle-schoolers who are looking at high schools right now. Students can ask what they need to look forward to, what their greatest challenges will be, what their greatest joys will be and who better to give them that information than their own peers who left here and went on to those same high schools,” Peoples-Lee said.
Cherelle Dessus, an alumna who attended West Oak Lane, expressed what she has accomplished since graduating in 2008.
“Right now I’m in high school, I really love poetry and I’m also really into politics so I volunteer with a lot of politicians,” said Dessus, who currently attends the Philadelphia High School for Girls. “I started the student government at Girl’s High, I got my first taste of politics here at West Oak Lane so that helped me build a passion for it,” Dessus said.
One of Dessus’ classmates at the Philadelphia High School for Girls who also graduated from West Oak Lane in 2008 is Schen Gordon.
“I’m on the track team, and we are ranked 10th in the state. I’m involved in a lot of after school activities, and I would like to join the Air Force after I graduate,” Gordon said.
Bringing the students who have found success after West Oak Lane back to inspire current students played a fundamental role in the decision to make an alumni day.
Laura Green, a fifth-grade teacher at West Oak Lane, commented on how her students responded to the alumni day events.
“They’re excited about seeing students who have gone here, what they’re like now and to see where they’re going to high school. They wanted to talk to the alumni to see that their behavior now really does matter,” Green said.
Some of the current students, after sitting down with alumni and having round table discussions about their futures, commented on what they hope to do.
Victor Anderson, a seventh grader at West Oak Lane, explained, “I want to attend Central or Engineering Science. I think it’s good to experience people who used to go here.”
Another student, Alexis Morris, who is currently in the eighth grade, shared her opinion. “I think it’s great because we get to give our opinions and ask questions about how we feel and how high school is,” said Morris, who hopes to attend Carver High School of Engineering and Science.
Taylor Burch, an eighth grader and president of the Student Council said, “I think it’s good because a lot of people who haven’t seen each other in awhile get to see each other and we get to see people that we saw when we were younger. I think it’s wonderful that everybody comes back to be like one big happy family.”
With the alumni event being a success, Peoples-Lee said she plans on making it an annual occurrence. For more information on the West Oak Lane Charter School, call 215-927-7995.