The eighth graders present Wednesday morning witnessed the future for Green Woods Charter School. A yellow school bus transported the students to the former Keenan's Valley View Inn where the environmental science charter school broke ground on its new building.
"This 65,000 square foot facility is going to ensure that generations of families have a great education," Green Woods Board Chair Jeffrey Hammond said.
These kids grew up in the trailers at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, experienced the bump in enrollment and transitioned to former Catholic schools this fall.
Although, they won't attend the 27-room Domino Lane facility, they helped created the top-performing school's legacy.
"It's going to be great, plus we can always come and visit," one girl said.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, state Rep. Pam DeLissio and the Green Woods community kicked off construction Wednesday at the school slated for 2013-14. Already, crews demolished the long-time Roxborough banquet hall and building should start soon.
Sharing how he came to Green Woods, Hammond discussed the application process six years earlier when his son's acceptance convinced his family to remain in Philadelphia.
Back then, 54 students applied for 16 spots. Last year, the School Reform Commission expanded its enrollment to 675, and the new school, he said, will give students a home for the next 100 years.
As board president, Hammond shared the school's three long-term goals
1. Increase enrollment.
2. Make the application process accessible
3. Build a board committed to the school's success.
Hammond said applications will be available on the school's website starting Nov. 1 and people don't have to attend a one-day open house, which won't take place in 2012.
"Now anyone with Internet access... can fill out an application and be part of the school process," he said.
"I've never seen a school anywhere where kids were so immersed at every single level in science. And this effort to focus on the environment and to teach young people at the earliest age, I just want to thank Jean for what she has created," Fattah said.
Green Woods CEO Jean Wallace credited her staff for making the school a success.
"Time and again, people will say, 'What makes Green Woods, Green Woods?'" she said. "It really all comes down to teachers... It's about hiring the best possible teachers you can, hiring the most creative, innovative teachers and letting them teach."
The school has an environmental science mission, and Wallace said the school looks to continue community partnerships and those with local universities, noting the shared commitment with Fattah for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.
In her remarks, DeLisiso read off a punch list of charter school requirements, and after visiting the school last week, said the school met every one.
"What a cool agenda and a cool curriculum... I definitely get the innovative curriculum that you are offering and the vision you are going forward with, and I support that," she said.