Top Schools: Learning Unbound


22 Ways to Help Your Kids Find Their Own Passionate Pursuits


Pricey private institutions and high-spending public schools have the impressive facilities, wide range of classes and activities, and personal attention that can lead students to new interests and greater achievement—but not every family can afford the tuition or the tax rates. Fortunately, there’s a whole world of educational extras out there for all ages, often at little or no cost. To get you started, we’ve tracked down facilities and programs throughout the area that engage the mind and stoke a passion for learning. —Roxanne Patel

Art | It’s almost hard to bemoan the state of art education in schools these days when your kids can so easily study in the footsteps of Maxfield Parrish and Thomas Eakins in afternoon and summer art classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (pafa.org). Or sign them up for almost-free workshops at South Philly’s Fleisher Art Memorial (fleisher.org).

History | Few areas in the United States are more steeped in the past than the Philadelphia region, and fewer still have such a rich collection of interactive museums. Weekend programs at Howell Living History Farm in Mercer County, for instance, give kids some tough rows to hoe on a functioning circa-1900 farm (howellfarm.org); for trips to other eras, search gophila.com/culturefiles/Museums/museums-history.htm. If volleys of musket fire quicken your kid’s pulse, have him man the forward lines with knowledgeable enthusiasts at a war reenactment—check the David Library of the American Revolution for local events (dlar.org). Martial-arts types and quieter history buffs might like to relive medieval fighting and feasts with classes and events sponsored by the Society for Creative Anachronism (sca.org).

Languages | Most high schools are strong on the standard European tongues — Spanish, German and French — but what if your kid wants to learn Latin, or ancient Greek, or Ukrainian? For mostly free language lessons online, try word2word.com, a listing of different sites that offer grammar and conversation in more than 100 languages. Then, to build up those second-tongue muscles by conversing with other foreign-­language speakers, search meetup.com, a directory of monthly language gatherings of like-minded people, or start your own.

Mentors/Advisers | Gone are the days when a public-school counselor could take your child in hand and guide her to graduation, college and a career — now, they’re too swamped to do much more than make a few suggestions based on a quick look at her transcript. For in-depth mentoring advice, try local academic, business or professional organizations, such as the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which runs a 10th-grade mentorship program for kids at local businesses. AARP, in association with the Temple University Center for Intergenerational Learning, provides one-on-one mentoring in city schools for parents who ask for it (215-204-6970 for more info), as does Philadelphia Futures (philadelphiafutures.com). For a more everyday type of assistance, the Free Library offers online homework help from live tutors in a handful of tough subjects like algebra, at tutor.com/flp. (Click on “Homework Help Online.”)

Music | For the classically inclined, the area has several youth orchestras, including the prestigious Philadelphia Youth Orchestra (pyos.org), the Garden State Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (gspyouth.org) and Garden State Pops (gspyo.com). For a more pop-cultural experience, there’s the ever-expanding Paul Green School of Rock, as much a club as a classic rock music class (schoolofrock.com).

Science | Top high schools spend top dollar on science education, but no school lab can meet the needs of a committed Pasteur in the making. Why not let him turn the Bunsen burner up to 11 with a summer stint at one of several intensive programs at area colleges? Penn offers a multi-week biomedical internship—complete with stipend—as well as other programs in science, technology and business. (See upenn.edu/programs/summer.php for information.) Similarly, Temple has a five-week summer engineering program that culminates in a robot competition, and a Summer Academy that offers science and math programs for academically strong kids from low-income high schools (215-204-2044). During the school year, Drexel University puts on the Delaware Valley Science Fair, a competitive annual event that pushes kids toward remarkable science (drexel.edu/dvsf), and runs the Mini-Med School, an eight-week program that gives a doctor’s-eye view of the healing life (drexelmed.edu/minimed).

Special Interests | So your daughter wants to study architecture? Her school library, or even the local public library, probably won’t get her past the porte cochere. Thankfully, Philadelphia’s Athenaeum has a vast collection of architectural books and drawings open to the public. It’s one of more than a dozen specialty libraries in the area—like Jenkins Law Library and the Horticultural Society’s McLean Library—ready to help serious young scholars bloom. (Start browsing at pacsci.org.)