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)

Public Speaking
Agnes Irwin School
The wisdom behind the 60-plus-year-old tradition of “senior assembly” at Rosemont’s Agnes Irwin is this: If you’re a teenager and you can face the student body for 10 minutes while you make a speech you wrote about, say, time travel, dog shows, synesthesia or Clark Gable, you can face anything.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

Seamless synergy: Lindenwold High School’s native Spanish speakers and Haddonfield High’s AP Spanish students come together, and, as of this year, Skype together, to promote understanding — literally. It works, too: In the past three years, Lindenwold’s growing numbers of native Spanish speakers have attained an impressive 89 percent on their English proficiency scores.

College Counseling
Young Women’s Leadership School at Rhodes
Public, girls-only Rhodes, in North Philly, accepts all neighborhood applicants and has a 95 percent or better rate of post-secondary-school acceptance. In a city where so few high-school seniors are accepted into college, such success is extraordinary. The key is a program called CollegeBound Initiative, which, according to counselor Sonia Szymanski, succeeds because of its high expectations, attention to “soft skills” (like how to speak to an admissions counselor), and assistance in practical matters, like helping a senior arrange — or even get to — a college visit.

Science Olympiad Team
Lindsay Lohan’s character in Mean Girls isn’t the only nerd to attain prom royalty. At this academically inclined Lower Merion school (number one in our ranking of the best public high schools), the coolest kids are the scientists. In fact, last year’s captain of the Science Olympiad team was considered such a stud, he became the first-ever “Mr. Harriton.” Royalty indeed.

Germantown Friends School
GFS’s culture is all about community, so much so that its stellar faculty offers extracurricular, writing-centric “Essentially English” workshops and invites sophomores, juniors, seniors and any adult — anyone — who signs up. It’s every kid’s revenge: Now parents get the same homework they do.

Boys’ Basketball Team
Lower Merion
First they had Kobe. Then they had the “Dawg Pound,” a raucous student cheering section. Now they have traveling tailgate parties, a highly trafficked website (, workouts with Bryant, and an exclusive line of Nike sneaks. Add a record of more winning seasons and state titles than any other program in the state, and you’ll understand why L.M. is the Duke of high schools.

Outdoor Learning
Wyncote Academy
If Al Ciccarone never told you he’s an avid outdoorsman, you’d probably guess it anyway. The Grizzly Adams look-alike is a master at giving kids with learning challenges confidence and chops via explorations of South Dakota’s Badlands, mountains in Wyoming, and Assateague Island — in all, 10 naturally adventurous trips a year.

Studio Art
Girls’ High
Architectural design and video production cleverly extend the art-rich curriculum at Philly’s preeminent public girls’ school, one of only a handful of schools nationwide to offer a full college scholarship for tuition and supplies to a graduate who plans to major in art.