Best Schools 2009

When it comes to getting kids ready for the future, you never know where you’ll find great ideas. From writing to rocket-making, college counseling to cool cafeterias, here’s our roundup of local schools that are the best at what they do. (Feel free to crib their answers)

The Haverford School
At this Main Line boys’ school, mornings in the cafeteria (Café Teria?) begin with custom omelets and fruit-topped Belgian waffles. Noon brings major decisions, too: Organic salad or baked potato bar? Vegan stir-fry or fresh sushi? Dim sum or sautéed-to-order pasta? With a menu like this one, dinner at home — dinner at Georges, even — must be a letdown.

Theater Program
Germantown Academy
Bristol Township’s theater department may have been first to produce Les Mis, but G.A.’s circa-1894 Belfry Club — the oldest continuously operated high-school drama club in the country — has serious cred. (And not just because at its first time to the Cappies, the high-school version of the Tony Awards, Belfry culled 12 out of a possible 19 nominations and seven awards, including “Best Musical”). With three productions a year, plus classes in musical theater ensemble, drama and technical production, the program is intense. Says department head K. Richardson, “We’re not a big school — our talent pool is really small — but the kids are really smart, really hard-working. At G.A., that’s just the expectation.”

Language Program
The Episcopal Academy
Everyone is planning to teach Mandarin … next year. Newtown Square’s Episcopal has been doing it for an enterprising two years — which means when it comes to getting into an international program at Wharton, its students are already out ahead of yours.

Outdoor Classroom
Friends’ Central
Spring Mills sculptor Stacy Levy worked with architecture firm the Gund Partnership to develop the outdoor classroom beside Friends’ Central’s new science center in Wynnewood. It features Levy’s Watermap, a sandblasted self-draining map of the regional river basin; in rainstorms, the runnels and tributaries fill up and flow into the Delaware River in front of students’ eyes. “I want to make work that’s about the process of change in nature, rather than work that just imitates nature,” says Levy. Of course, it’s also just a cool place to hang.

Student Newspaper
Conestoga High School
Nationally recognized and award-winning, Conestoga’s seasoned student journalists learn to tackle serious topics — growing up gay, teen pregnancy, swine flu, illegal gambling — for their published-seven-times-a-year paper and even richer, ever-updating website,

Scientific Learning
Science Leadership Academy
Founded in 2006 in partnership with the Franklin Institute, this high-energy, high-tech public magnet school in Center City is attracting kids from around the city. Principal Chris Lehmann says that students learn via an innovative, inquiry-driven model inspired by scientific method. Every student gets a laptop, every freshman goes to class at the Franklin Institute, every sophomore and junior gets an individualized study plan, and every senior does an independent study. What’s more, the school’s engineering program has patents pending for a new way to produce biodiesel. Students also designed a solar water heater currently in use by Engineers Without Borders at a hospital in Sierra Leone. And oh, says Lehmann, “Our girls’ softball team rocks, too.”