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)

Boys’ Soccer Team
Downingtown West
Soccer fever is finally sweeping the region — and West’s Whippets are ahead of the curve. This team may not compare to the Philadelphia Union (Chester’s new Major League Soccer franchise), or to the surprisingly victorious U.S. national team, but it seems to have a lock on the area’s high-school pageant, with two straight state final appearances and a recent number three national ranking.

Abroad Program
Truebright Science Academy Charter
Tiny, grades-seven-through-12 Truebright Science Academy Charter School in North Philly is only two years old, but for the past two summers, it’s sent students on European tours. The travelers, many of whom have never set foot outside their inner-city neighborhoods before, are selected by teacher nomination and, this past year, an essay on why they want to see the world. Students have bake sales to raise funds; parents pay only a cut-rate round-trip airfare. “Our vision of the school is that our students become productive global citizens,” says Truebright’s Andrea Giardinelli.

Rocketry
The Phelps School
That this Malvern boarding school for boys with learning challenges could qualify one team for the world’s biggest rocket competition is impressive. That last school year it qualified two teams — who placed 15th and 59th while attempting to send a raw egg exactly 750 feet into the air, then land it precisely 45 seconds later — is superior. This year, co-coaches Skip Turansky and Fred Kepner will become NASA-certified in high-powered rocketry and debut a physics class exclusively on the subject.

Prom
Pennsbury High School
Pennsbury’s biggest dance of the year has a national reputation as a “homemade” prom. And while it’s true that the entire student body decorates the gym, and also builds full-on floats for the pre-prom parade, and sometimes even creates crazy outfits from bubble wrap or FedEx boxes, the end result feels anything but DIY. Maybe that’s because prom night typically includes performances by the likes of John Mayer, Rick Seibold, Ryan Cabrera (pictured) or Asher Roth. No wonder alum Ann Shoket, who calls the fantastical tradition “legendary” and “authentic,” went on to become the editor-in-chief of prom-centric Seventeen magazine.

Football Team
North Penn
Our own little slice of Friday Night Lights. North Penn’s Knights brought home a state championship in ’03 and have proven more than capable of defending their 8,000-capacity castle in Lansdale. Every season heralds heated battles, double-digit win totals, and November playoff games to accompany turkey and stuffing.

Gym
The Baldwin School
Inspired by Frank Furness, built for sustainability, and more loaded than the Sporting Club (six-lane pool, indoor track, four courts for squash, five for tennis): If Baldwin’s months-old, 48,000-square-foot, absolutely pristine athletic center in Bryn Mawr were a private gym, you couldn’t afford to join.

Diversity
Northeast High
Fifty languages and dialects representing 50 countries, the nation’s first nationally recognized Muslim Student Association, a pioneering gay-straight alliance, an IndoPak club that puts on fashion shows, and a super-strong ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program: The Great Northeast’s great big neighborhood high is a great big example of kids getting along and moving up.

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