“Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of a fire.” - William Butler Yeats
For Gerri Allen, longtime teacher of second grade boys at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH), one of the greatest rewards of teaching is helping students “find the spark of wonder in their learning, something that will excite them throughout their educational careers.” This reward fuels Allen’s passion through the summer, even after a pandemic year with immense challenges, and inspired her to apply to be the lead teacher for the first year of an exciting, new summer program, Horizons at SCH.
With 20 years at SCH under her belt and a passion for helping kids discover their potential, Allen was the natural choice to be the lead teacher for the first cohort of Horizons at SCH students this summer. “SCH offers something for everyone—whether a child is interested in STEM, art, robotics, visual arts, or theatre—and exposing Horizons participants to the culture here will be an added benefit for the participants.
Allen had long advocated for SCH to host a summer bridge program on the 62-acre campus to help students stem the “summer slide” in math and reading that is a real challenge in places like Philadelphia. Making the school’s resources—teachers, facilities and more—available to the broader community is integral to the school’s values, making such a program an ideal fit.
In fact, two summers ago, Allen experimented with bringing a small group of second graders to campus for academic enrichment, exposure to the Wissahickon’s outdoor wonders, and mentorship from teachers and coaches working at SCH’s Summerside camp for a four-week period. With this small group of boys, Allen introduced STEM projects like building a solar oven and spaghetti towers, they explored the woods and streams nearby, and they even did a field trip to a Movie Tavern matinee. Watching the boys’ confidence grow proved that Allen’s mix of learning and fun is a successful way to approach academic learning.
Horizons’ national network of 60+ tuition-free summer programs delivers high-quality academic and enrichment support for students from under-resourced communities. Students begin Horizons the summer after Kindergarten year and return each summer all the way through 8th grade. SCH is the fourth site in the Greater Philadelphia area that is part of the 57-year old national program.
The inaugural class of 16 rising first graders come from schools across the city: Henry Houston School, Lingelbach Elementary, Charles W. Henry School, Emlen Elementary, West Oak Lane Charter School, Prince Hall Elementary, Ad Prima Charter School, Wissahickon Charter School, Green Street Friends, and Montessori in the City. They began in early July and will be on the campus for six weeks, participating in structured activities to help them strengthen their reading/language arts and math skills while introducing them to more science outdoors, art, and other summertime fun. In addition to the academic time, they will spend a lot of time in the Wissahickon woods and will have weekly field trips.
This partnership is the embodiment of the SCH’s commitment to making a difference in the community and opening up access to programs that have a track record of success. For Allen, welcoming the first group of students is a dream come true.