Powelton private school closes after 38 years

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eleanor Childs , director and teacher at Montessori Genesis II, said low tuition helped families but left the school struggling to pay bills.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eleanor Childs , director and teacher at Montessori Genesis II, said low tuition helped families but left the school struggling to pay bills.
Posted: June 23, 2014

AS A PROUD MOM, Cynthia Pierce boasts about her son, Dammun, being a "big-time" OB-GYN doctor in South Carolina. She talks about his two bachelor's degrees from Colgate University and his medical degree from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

But she traces his success all the way back to a tiny private school in Powelton Village.

"At 5 years old he decided he wanted to be a doctor," Pierce said. "And the school gave him the incentive to want to learn and just rounded his interest in science, and he just took it on."

The school she referred to - Montessori Genesis II - closed earlier this month after 38 years, due to declining enrollment and a lack of funds. Pierce started the school in 1986 with 15 other parents from a Montessori preschool, and she has maintained close ties.

"It's just devastating to see that school close," she said. "We only did a drop in the bucket of what needs to be done with the rest of the kids in that neighborhood and any other neighborhood. We started with $300 tuition and we paid monthly, and the kids got a great education."

Genesis II was initially operated by nuns from the Ravenhill Academy, before giving way to a lay administration. The non-religious school grew to pre-K through grade 4, bouncing around to several locations, most recently at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Monica, on Baring Street near 36th.

Like many private schools, Genesis II saw enrollment drop dramatically over the past decade, going from about 50 pupils to 18 this past year. The school chose to stay true to its roots and keep tuition affordable for low-income families, which made it tough to keep pace financially.

"We're one-fourth of what other private schools charge, but our students qualify," director and teacher Eleanor Childs said. "But that means fewer funds to operate with, so it's always been a struggle and we've always had to raise money for the school. And the truth of the matter, so do those very affluent schools raise lots of money. . . . In these last five or six years it got really difficult."

As a Montessori school, pupils learned concepts by going from abstract to concrete, and from simple to complex. Childs said the school often ventured outside the classroom, taking trips to museums, community centers, the Philadelphia Zoo and other nearby facilities.

"All of those educational and cultural and recreational possibilities made it possible for us to have an incredible enrichment program, and we took advantage of it all," she said.

The school will have an event today for families, alumni and staff to say good-bye.

For Childs, the closing is bittersweet. She said she is confident most of their families will find a good school, but it is difficult to give up at a time when the Philadelphia School District is in dire straits.

"They're talking about putting 41 kids in a class," she noted. "It's a very bad time, a very questionable time in terms of how our country feels about its children."


On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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