Ice cream outreach as back-to-school pitch in N.E. Philly

Rhawnhurst Elementary School principal Karen Howell-Toomer hands out free ice cream to kids in the "after school program" of the Kinder Academy located on Bustleton Ave. on Thursday. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Rhawnhurst Elementary School principal Karen Howell-Toomer hands out free ice cream to kids in the "after school program" of the Kinder Academy located on Bustleton Ave. on Thursday. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 31, 2012

The big, white ice cream truck rumbled to a stop outside Solis-Cohen Elementary School, and the man inside leaned out, smiling broadly.

"Come on over," Joseph Bahm shouted to parents and students who had gathered to see what was going on. "We have some free Popsicles for you!"

The kids moved closer.

"School is opening, and school is cool," Bahm said, reaching for an ice cream sandwich and a bright-orange flier with back-to-school information. "We open up next Friday! First day of school is Sept. 7."

Solis-Cohen principal Bahm and several other Northeast Philadelphia administrators spent part of their Thursday at local shopping malls and recreation centers, handing out Creamsicles and cones in an effort to pump up parents and students for a new school year.

The community outreach effort was a first for "Principal Learning Team 12," a coalition of 23 Northeast schools organized to share best practices and help boost student achievement.

"Families go by word of mouth, and we want to generate interest in our neighborhood schools," said Rob Caroselli, the Northeast Philly assistant principal who coordinated the ice cream outreach, which cost $1,000 for the frozen treats, truck, and labor.

Decentralization is a focus for the Philadelphia School District for the 2012-13 school year, and officials hope the new principal learning teams will help each other navigate a system where the central office no longer prescribes everything a school must do.

Northeast High assistant principal Sharon McCloskey likes the idea.

"Ultimately, we want to figure out together how to get our kids to succeed," McCloskey said.

"This is exciting," said Caroselli. "We're going to be able to be more innovative. Something that works in the Northeast might not work in another neighborhood. We know our kids best."

Caroselli, a Northeast native, directed the ice cream truck driver up and down the side streets of Burholme, Rhawnhurst, and Somerton, picking up principals along the way.

Outside the Jardel Recreation Center on Cottman Avenue, Caroselli leaned out the window of the truck, wielding a bullhorn.

"Come on over for some ice cream!" he shouted. "Celebrate back-to-school."

Crossan Elementary principal Lynne Millard got out of the truck. A little girl approached her shyly, unsure that going back to school was an occasion to celebrate. She had just registered at Crossan.

"I'm Ms. Millard, the principal," she told the new fourth grader, Gianna Moss. Gianna smiled and hugged Millard.

"I'm really excited to see you at school," said Millard, who also handed out fliers and treats at a day-care center where Crossan students attend before- and after-school programs.

At Horrocks and Rhawn Streets, Rhawnhurst Elementary principal Karen Howell-Toomer handed frozen treats to an eager clutch of schoolchildren who gathered when they saw the truck.

Jillian Dotzman's three girls attend nearby Farrell Elementary, another district school. She was delighted to see the outreach.

"I really like this," said Dotzman. "I've never seen a principal giving out ice cream."

It was good timing. Dotzman had a question.

"How do I get her into pre-K?" asked Dotzman, pointing to 4-year-old Rihanna. Howell-Toomer gave Dotzman a phone number as her girls devoured their Popsicles.

Other principals dispensed information about school uniforms, back-to-school nights, and home and school association meetings.

Howell-Toomer said she loved her shift on the truck.

"We work so hard as principals, and this is fun," said Howell-Toomer. "I think it's important for us to get out in the community prior to school."


Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files,"

at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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