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)

Springfield (Delaware County)
The secret to Springfield’s annual dance-a-thon success is actually no secret. The four-year-old event, modeled after Penn State’s, simply works exactly as it should. A few hundred kids form committees, beat bushes for pledges, convince local vendors to deliver hourly pizza and cheesesteaks, decorate the gym with streamers and JumboTrons, and dance until they can dance no more. Twenty-four hours later, they’ve raised $110,000 for childhood cancer care and research — more than any other student-led charitable event in Pennsylvania.

West Philadelphia Catholic
Home of Burr-Man, repping the school’s mighty Burrs. How, you might ask, does irksome plant material become a mascot? According to legend, Philly’s streets once teemed with kids in similar parochial-school uniforms; West Catholic kids were distinguished by the burrs from the trees alongside their school, which caught on their clothes. Hey, you go with what you’ve got. Now the alumni association can be found at, and the annual summer Shore reunion is Burrs at the Beach.

Boys’ Lacrosse Team
La Salle College High School
Three state titles in six years — and 24 All-Americans since 1993 — have made Wyndmoor’s La Salle the region’s pinnacle program. The Explorers, coached by former Philadelphia Wing Bill Leahy, feed multiple players to big-time Division I contenders like Loyola and Johns Hopkins year after year. Oh, and a number-one national ranking in 2008 doesn’t look bad on the team résumé, either.

Science Center
Chestnut Hill Academy
We know what you’re thinking: Another year, another private school with a $12.5 million science-and-tech center. But wait! This one is the area’s first LEED-certified school building, which, at 23,800 square feet — not counting the adjacent native species woodland arboretum and rain garden — is an impressive feat of environmental science in itself, what with its photovoltaic cells and wind turbine. As for the classes, the National Association of Independent Schools just named science chair Marty Baumbergerz “Teacher of the Future.”

Nicole Curry, Phoenixville
Wacky works for Phoenixville Latin teacher Curry, who’s been known to wear togas and to rap — seriously, she kicks off classes with “When I say ‘salvete,’ you say ‘salve,’” to the beat of “Let Me Clear My Throat” — in order to get her subject across. Roman games, mythology-based journaling and classical art projects are all part of Curry’s curriculum, which has resulted in bronze, silver and gold medals for her students at the National Latin Exam.

Kimberton Waldorf School
Lots of schools have a garden. Chester County’s KWS has a garden, a two-acre working plot in which students in grades six through 10 till, plant, weed, water and harvest fruit, culinary and medicinal herbs, plenty of vegetables, and “flowers for beauty,” says program director Celia Martin. Students do almost all the work in the biodynamic, raised-bed spread as part of the school’s gardening curriculum. The fruits and veggies of their labor get dried, frozen and canned — and incorporated into the school’s organic hot lunch program. And after every lunch, students collect and compost scraps, to be returned to the earth as part of, as they say at Kimberton, “the full cycle of food.” Yummy.