In 2012, residents of Kendal at Longwood, a not-for-profit continuing care retirement community, joined Dr. John Alston, then a music professor at Swarthmore College, and Chester city educators and advocates to create an educational start-up for the children of Chester. Five years later, Kendal at Longwood residents and Chester families and teachers are celebrating the success of their partnership and their school, now known as The Chester Charter School for the Arts (CCSA). CCSA is a public non-profit arts-integrated charter school serving students in the predominantly African American city of Chester, one of the poorest cities in America.
On Tuesday, February 28, at 4 PM, Kendal-Crosslands Communities and CCSA students will come together to celebrate their intergenerational partnership and launch an arts education showcase, which will span two weeks. The showcase provides an inside view of the impact of arts integration in the urban classroom and is entitled: Building Bright Futures: Celebrating The Chester Charter School for the Arts.
Building Bright Futures kicks off Tuesday afternoon with a performance of ballet, jazz, and modern works by CCSA dancers. This will also mark the gallery opening of a CCSA student art show. A reception following the dance performance will provide an opportunity for residents and the public to meet CCSA’s inspiring young artists and learn about the Kendal-Crosslands partnership. The event marks the five-year anniversary of CCSA’s founding and is organized by Kendal at Longwood residents Allan Brick, Peggy Brick, Peggy Draegert, Jim Hazard, Elsa Lichtenberg, Bill Miller, Judi Paxson, Marilyn Rico, and Betty Warner.
Akosua Watts, CCSA Head of School, states, “Kendal’s relationship with CCSA and the contributions of its residents to the founding of the school demonstrate what is possible in retirement and the uniqueness of the Kendal community.” Ms. Watts adds, “Kendal-Crosslands residents have dedicated their time, talents, and resources to CCSA. Residents have been instrumental in making our innovative, urban school a reality— sharing ideas and resources, leading tours to engage new volunteers and supporters, and hosting presentations.”
When state budget cuts in 2011 eliminated $900 million in education funding, it was up to local communities to fill the gap. Chester city schools, already struggling, were at a clear disadvantage. More than 80% of Chester children live below the federal poverty line, about 50% of Chester High School students graduate, and the city has experienced a high rate of violent crime.
Many—even most—startups fail, but Kendal at Longwood residents helped CCSA succeed through a powerful and enduring partnership. The school opened in a converted warehouse in Aston, PA, initially serving 320 students in grades K-6. Five years later, CCSA has grown to serve 541 children in grades K-10. CCSA will expand to serve 650 children in grades K-12 in 2018; nearly 10% of Chester’s school-aged population.
To accommodate this growth, The Chester Fund, CCSA’s charitable arm, is building a new K-12 campus for the school in Chester. The project is funded, in part, through a $7 million capital campaign. The Chester Fund broke ground on the 11-acre campus last June and the campus will be completed by the end of July 2017. To date, the Fund has raised $4.6 million towards its goal.
Maurice Eldridge, a founding CCSA board member and retired Vice President at Swarthmore College, states, “It is because of generous and enthusiastic friends like the residents of Kendal at Longwood that CCSA’s program and new campus are possible. I can’t wait to see our students’ faces when they visit Kendal this month for this celebration. They will have the opportunity to meet longtime supporters who are eager to celebrate their achievements. Our young people will find it meaningful to be welcomed into a space to exhibit their accomplishments in the company of a supportive multi-generational audience.”
Kendal at Longwood resident and organizer, Elsa Lichtenberg adds, “Over the last five years, there have been many achievements. We’re eager to mark these successes and welcome the children who are extraordinary.”
This past year, 85% of first graders were reading on grade level; when CCSA opened in 2012, only 25% of students were on grade level. CCSA has a 98% attendance rate, comparable to attendance rates in affluent suburban school districts in the Philadelphia region. CCSA offers a comprehensive program in dance, visual art, drama, and choral and instrumental instruction to all students. Studies show that providing children with arts instruction lowers stress levels, improves math, English, and SAT scores, and increases college graduation rates.
The Building Bright Futures event also offers a time for supporters to reflect on friendships forged through service. Event organizer Peggy Brick shares, “Kendal’s interest was sparked when residents Marjean Willett and Elsa Lichtenberg organized trips to the school. For each of us the visit was a powerful experience: a brilliant head-of-school, enthusiastic teachers, fascinating artwork, a wall display celebrating each child’s reading success, and happy children eager to show us their work. Here, in a nation of deteriorating inner-city schools, we witnessed a model of education as it should be: sophisticated, caring adults nurturing each child in a joyous community. Of course, we became supporters!”
Phil DeBaun, Chief Executive Officer at Kendal~Crosslands Communities, says, “Kendal’s partnership with CCSA is an excellent counter example of life in retirement: you can in fact grow your connections, be entrepreneurial, and find purpose by engaging in projects that have tremendous social impact. Sometimes there are misconceptions regarding retirement communities – assuming that residents are inactive or isolated from the wider world.”
ABOUT The Chester Charter School for the Arts (CCSA): CCSA was founded in 2012 to prepare Chester children to employ their intellectual and creative powers to enrich their community. CCSA is a non-selective, public school, and the sole local public school teaching children through arts-integration, which combines the rigorous study of traditional academics and the arts. CCSA has achieved consistent and significant gains in student proficiency in literacy and attendance through its model. CCSA is supported by The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts, a 501 (c)(3) organization, which administers programs and activities at CCSA that are not funded through public school allocations. To learn more visit: www.thechesterfund.org/events/kendal
ABOUT Kendal~Crosslands Communities: KCC has a rich history of volunteer service. Both residents and staff are encouraged to be involved in the larger community, where they develop new friendships across generations and with people from diverse ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. KCC residents find that volunteering their time and talent not only broadens their horizons and forges new friendships.