New head of school has big plans for George Fox Friends School
● By Lev
By Steven Hoffman
When Melissa Zimmerman became the head of school in August, she was immediately impressed by the George Fox Friends School’s academic program and school climate. The small school, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2015, has a long-tenured staff and all the school’s employees get to know the children and their families to create a family environment.
“Coming from the corporate daycare world, I love this small, family-based school,” said Zimmerman during an interview in September.
She said that she likes how the George Fox Friends School focuses on providing early childhood education and nurturing each child as an individual. The school welcomes Infants as young as eight weeks old. There are pre-school, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten-ready classes for four- and five-year-olds who missed the cutoff to enter kindergarten.
Zimmerman has a strong background in early childhood education, having worked a total of more than 11 years as an instructor with the Delaware County Intermediate Unit’s Head Start program, Chester County’s Special Education Program and as an assistant director and director at corporate daycare facilities. The George Fox Friends School is a completely different environment. The school is located on a ten-acre campus along Route 41 about one mile south of Route 10 in Cochranville. The campus offers plenty of open space for children to enjoy nature studies outdoors.
Students currently enrolled at the school come from Octorara, Oxford, Avon Grove, and the West Chester area.
“Having children and families from all over, it’s a melting pot for us,” said Zimmerman. “That enhances our programming.”
While the staff that serves the 36 children currently enrolled at the school is small, it is also very dedicated. Zimmerman noted that Jenny Eckhert, her predecessor as head of school, is now teaching pre-kindergarten classes. The school provides youngsters with an enriching academic program that emphasizes literary learning.
Socialization is an important goal at the school. Pre-school classes for two- and three-year-olds and pre-kindergarten classes for four-year-olds are designed to engage children with pre-reading skills that are introduced through phonics and the “Handwriting Without Tears” program. Children receive instruction in literature, music, creative movement, art, math, and science.
“A benefit of enrolling a child in an early-learning center is that the child will be more emotionally ready when they enter kindergarten,” Zimmerman explained. “We are a small community here and we nurture children in a family environment.”
An important part of that family is Janet Eaby, the school’s finance director, who also happens to be one of the longtime staff members. Eaby said that the staff has always been able to provide one-on-one attention to students. The personal approach means that students don’t just learn about academics, but also important life lessons like how to share and how to resolve conflicts with others.
Before- and after-school care is available to elementary school students living in the Octorara School District. The hours for the childcare program is available from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday twelve months of the year.
Zimmerman said that one of the biggest challenges—and one of her goals—is boosting enrollment. She and Eaby both noted that even though it is a Friends school, enrollment is open to anyone.
Since coming on board two months ago, Zimmerman already introduced some changes to security protocols.
“I strive to keep our children as safe as possible,” she said.
The school is a member of Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS program. Zimmerman said the goal is to have the school exceed state standards for early-childhood education so that students are well-prepared for the next step in their academic careers.
“We want to meet or exceed the state academic standards,” Zimmerman explained. “And we have very affordable rates.”
The school accepts subsidized childcare from Chester County and Lancaster County.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Soup, song, and simplicity
Soup, song, and simplicity, an annual fundraiser to benefit the George Fox Friends School, will take place at the Sadsbury Friends Meeting on Saturday, Oct. 18 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The event includes craft vendors, music, soup, and children’s activities like face-painting, pumpkin-decorating, and a bounce house. It will also be an opportunity to meet with staff and pick up information about the school. The Sadsbury Friends Meeting is located at 1089 Simmontown Road in Gap, Pa.