Charter school, Abington partnership ‘lifts up children’

WOLCS creative writing

West Oak Lane Charter School students Rachel Alexander, Sanaiya Moore and Soraya Williams-Jacks collaborate during the intensive creative writing summer program at Abington.

Credit: Pam Brobst

"The bar is pretty high here. We don’t raise average students," said Debbera Peoples-Lee as she proudly guided a visitor through the West Oak Lane Charter School (WOLCS), where college banners and pennants are strategically placed above doorways and inside classrooms -- clearly setting high expectations for her elementary school students every day.

Peoples-Lee, chief executive officer of WOLCS, and school leadership also hold the staff at the northwest Philadelphia school to high standards, and a partnership with the Penn State Abington Office of Continuing Education supports those goals.

Kena Sears, continuing education representative at Abington, said WOLCS retained the campus to provide professional development courses for a variety of reasons including achieving the charter school's goal of growth from within.

"The purpose of the program is to equip teachers and paraprofessionals with the necessary skills to be proactive and engaged leaders," she said. "The coursework covers topics including teachers as intercultural leaders, leadership development and building trust."

"Exposure to college and ongoing education for parents, teachers and paraprofessionals are keys to lifting up the children."

-- Debbera Peoples-Lee, CEO, West Oak Lane Charter School

Sears and Peoples-Lee also coordinated professional etiquette training for paraprofessionals. The courses are held at the 1,000-student school during weekly professional development days.

"We want paraprofessionals to feel valuable and focused. Each person in this organization has the ability and capacity to achieve," Peoples-Lee said. "Exposure to college and ongoing education for parents, teachers and paraprofessionals are keys to lifting up the children."

The charter school and Abington share a commitment to a curriculum based on the integrated STEAM concept -- science, technology, engineering, art and math. Prioritizing STEAM led to memorable summer experiences for seven West Oak Lane students.

The sixth and seventh graders enthusiastically plunged into weeklong Lego robotics and creative writing camps at the Abington Kids and Teen College. Peoples-Lee and Sears said the goal is to expose younger students to STEAM experiences and the college atmosphere early on.

"We are a conduit for their college immersion," Sears said.

Peoples-Lee said the summer experience at Abington falls under the umbrella of a budding scholars program focusing on gifted children and not specific academic achievement.

"We wanted to lift up the children with an opportunity to do highly structured, exciting activities. It nurtures and develops them," she said.

Sears and Peoples-Lee are exploring future collaborations between the elementary school and Abington students. The campus has an active robotics community, and they hope to launch an after-school robotics club at the charter school.

Although there is a generous gap in the ages and experiences of the populations Abington and WOLCS serve, the many commonalities make their relationship beneficial, both women agreed.

"We have a rigorous program,” Peoples-Lee said. “Our goal is to get kids on successful paths to develop them into well-rounded and civically engaged citizens of tomorrow."

To learn more about Continuing Education programs at Abington, contact Kena Sears at [email protected] or 215-881-7388.

To learn more about coursework for working professionals through the Abington Office of Continuing Education, go to