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Chester County Press

Bancroft Elementary: A place for learning, joy and caring, joy and caring

07/15/2020 11:37PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Bancroft Elementary, the newest of Kennett Consolidated District’s six schools, opened in 2011 alongside the road from which it received its name.

The building was constructed to accommodate a growing student population and the desire on the part of the Kennett School Board to reconfigure all the kindergarten students together into what was formerly Mary D. Lang Elementary School in the middle of Kennett Square Borough.

Bancroft operates parallel to Greenwood Elementary in Kennett Township and New Garden Elementary in New Garden Township. It rests on a 30-acre tract of land formerly owned by Chester County historian Mary Sproat.

The timing of the opening of this new school was fortuitous for Oxford’s Jordan Bank Elementary School assistant principal Leah McComsey, as it came at about the same time she had the urge to move her career forward and become a principal. Soon, she applied for the position at Bancroft and was selected for the job. She has worked there happily ever since.

With McComsey’s leap into the realm of school leadership, she took on a host of responsibilities that went far beyond injecting young children with doses of knowledge to pass tests and get good grades.  In addition to academic achievement, she had to address safety, the well-being of students, building issues, unexpected situations and public relations.

McComsey’s first challenge early on was influencing the future layout of the school. At the time she took the reins, the building was in its bare bones, rising from that rural acreage on Bancroft Road. She studied the blueprints, designs and protocols, using her background and knowledge of school operations. She saw to it the structure of the building meshed nicely with its educational functions.

She said she is particularly pleased with the decisions she made on the expansive playground in the rear of the building.

It is colorful, inviting, safe, colorful and attractive. The climbing structures and swings are in many cases adaptable for children with a wide range of physical abilities, including those students who use wheelchairs. On the pavement are painted areas for special activities like four-square. At the side there is a “buddy bench” for kids who might have tired of climbing or might prefer sitting and talking to running around during recess.  And at one corner, school nurse Maureen Orlando volunteers to go out and teach students who are interested about the challenging skill of Italian jump rope.

McComsey said the design was not a given. She met with designers of playgrounds, discussed her needs, and made decisions based on what appeared to her to be the safest and most creative design.

Like most principals nationwide, McComsey next had to make sure her 450 students got educated and up-to-speed with state standards. Faced with annual testing and meeting required levels, she said she did not want to beholden to the state PSSA tests, but at the same time desired her staff to be aware that certain areas of knowledge would be tested.

“We don’t teach for the test,” she said.

She and her faculty worked together for hours to understand the educational goals and understand their choices of curricula to reach them.

McComsey also keeps in mind that her students are individuals – not learning machines – each with different lives and needs outside the school’s subject classes.

She often refers to the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, a psychological theory that visually depicts upward a hierarchy of human needs in the form of a pyramid. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

“The kids can’t learn if they are upset, tired or hungry,” she said.

To that end, within those walls the students are offered individual help, breakfast and a host of aesthetic, creative and extracurricular activities.

One especially popular addition to the activity list is the Chess Club. In its second year at Bancroft, it is led by Greenwood teacher Jon Kilpatrick. He volunteers his time at the elementary schools to teach and lead three-week activity sessions on the learning and playing of chess from first through fifth grades. He said he was thrilled at the turnout – 78 students, each of whom arrived at school an hour early two days a week. He saw enthusiasm and cooperation on the part of the students, and there were never any discipline problems or disruptions. 

Kilpatrick said even the first graders caught on and he routinely teaches the game by acquainting the children to the pieces by explaining their relationship to the sociology of medieval life.

There are many other activities to choose from at Bancroft as well, some in the form of after-school clubs and others as part of the music and art programs. The school offers a chorus and a band and an orchestra, enhancing the arts education for youngsters. In a tour around the school, one can see students learning to play instruments, pursuing fitness games in the gym and playing gleefully on the playground equipment during recess.

The attractive appearance of the school from the outside and the upbeat mood of the teachers and students inside however, belie the intense training, preparation and operations that go into safety for the occupants.

McComsey said she works often and with great intensity with Southern Chester County Regional Police Chief Gerry Simpson, who has given her the tools to deal with not only the possibility of criminal threats, but also the environmental threats like fire or dangerous weather.

The school holds monthly fire drills, which both teachers and students have learned to carryout in an orderly manner. There is also communication with county safety officials, even when the drills do not reflect actual danger.

McComsey said there is in place a secure entrance front hall and locks which guide visitors entering the school vestibule through a screening in the office before they have access to the interior of the school and its students. Additionally, the school has an onsite police safety officer, Mario Raimato, who is loved by the students. McComsey said that in addition to enabling the students to feel safe, Raimato encourages healthy and respectful communication between kids and police rather than fear or antagonism.

Finally, in what is probably one of McComsey’s most vital roles, is her responsibility to deal with and solve unexpected events.

That can be anything from getting the school evacuated when a bad snowstorm comes at noon, a structural failure in the building or some unsettling local or national news. She said just recently, when news of the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant spread, many of her students  were very upset and had to be helped.

Through it all, McComsey said she is happy to deal with the routine as well as the unexpected aspects of her job.

“I love to solve problems,” she said.Bancroft Elementary, the newest of Kennett Consolidated District’s six schools, opened in 2011 alongside the road from which it received its name.

The building was constructed to accommodate a growing student population and the desire on the part of the Kennett School Board to reconfigure all the kindergarten students together into what was formerly Mary D. Lang Elementary School in the middle of Kennett Square Borough.

Bancroft operates parallel to Greenwood Elementary in Kennett Township and New Garden Elementary in New Garden Township. It rests on a 30-acre tract of land formerly owned by Chester County historian Mary Sproat.

The timing of the opening of this new school was fortuitous for Oxford’s Jordan Bank Elementary School assistant principal Leah McComsey, as it came at about the same time she had the urge to move her career forward and become a principal. Soon, she applied for the position at Bancroft and was selected for the job. She has worked there happily ever since.

With McComsey’s leap into the realm of school leadership, she took on a host of responsibilities that went far beyond injecting young children with doses of knowledge to pass tests and get good grades.  In addition to academic achievement, she had to address safety, the well-being of students, building issues, unexpected situations and public relations.

McComsey’s first challenge early on was influencing the future layout of the school. At the time she took the reins, the building was in its bare bones, rising from that rural acreage on Bancroft Road. She studied the blueprints, designs and protocols, using her background and knowledge of school operations. She saw to it the structure of the building meshed nicely with its educational functions.

She said she is particularly pleased with the decisions she made on the expansive playground in the rear of the building.

It is colorful, inviting, safe, colorful and attractive. The climbing structures and swings are in many cases adaptable for children with a wide range of physical abilities, including those students who use wheelchairs. On the pavement are painted areas for special activities like four-square. At the side there is a “buddy bench” for kids who might have tired of climbing or might prefer sitting and talking to running around during recess.  And at one corner, school nurse Maureen Orlando volunteers to go out and teach students who are interested about the challenging skill of Italian jump rope.

McComsey said the design was not a given. She met with designers of playgrounds, discussed her needs, and made decisions based on what appeared to her to be the safest and most creative design.

Like most principals nationwide, McComsey next had to make sure her 450 students got educated and up-to-speed with state standards. Faced with annual testing and meeting required levels, she said she did not want to beholden to the state PSSA tests, but at the same time desired her staff to be aware that certain areas of knowledge would be tested.

“We don’t teach for the test,” she said.

She and her faculty worked together for hours to understand the educational goals and understand their choices of curricula to reach them.

McComsey also keeps in mind that her students are individuals – not learning machines – each with different lives and needs outside the school’s subject classes.

She often refers to the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, a psychological theory that visually depicts upward a hierarchy of human needs in the form of a pyramid. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

“The kids can’t learn if they are upset, tired or hungry,” she said.

To that end, within those walls the students are offered individual help, breakfast and a host of aesthetic, creative and extracurricular activities.

One especially popular addition to the activity list is the Chess Club. In its second year at Bancroft, it is led by Greenwood teacher Jon Kilpatrick. He volunteers his time at the elementary schools to teach and lead three-week activity sessions on the learning and playing of chess from first through fifth grades. He said he was thrilled at the turnout – 78 students, each of whom arrived at school an hour early two days a week. He saw enthusiasm and cooperation on the part of the students, and there were never any discipline problems or disruptions. 

Kilpatrick said even the first graders caught on and he routinely teaches the game by acquainting the children to the pieces by explaining their relationship to the sociology of medieval life.

There are many other activities to choose from at Bancroft as well, some in the form of after-school clubs and others as part of the music and art programs. The school offers a chorus and a band and an orchestra, enhancing the arts education for youngsters. In a tour around the school, one can see students learning to play instruments, pursuing fitness games in the gym and playing gleefully on the playground equipment during recess.

The attractive appearance of the school from the outside and the upbeat mood of the teachers and students inside however, belie the intense training, preparation and operations that go into safety for the occupants.

McComsey said she works often and with great intensity with Southern Chester County Regional Police Chief Gerry Simpson, who has given her the tools to deal with not only the possibility of criminal threats, but also the environmental threats like fire or dangerous weather.

The school holds monthly fire drills, which both teachers and students have learned to carryout in an orderly manner. There is also communication with county safety officials, even when the drills do not reflect actual danger.

McComsey said there is in place a secure entrance front hall and locks which guide visitors entering the school vestibule through a screening in the office before they have access to the interior of the school and its students. Additionally, the school has an onsite police safety officer, Mario Raimato, who is loved by the students. McComsey said that in addition to enabling the students to feel safe, Raimato encourages healthy and respectful communication between kids and police rather than fear or antagonism.

Finally, in what is probably one of McComsey’s most vital roles, is her responsibility to deal with and solve unexpected events.

That can be anything from getting the school evacuated when a bad snowstorm comes at noon, a structural failure in the building or some unsettling local or national news. She said just recently, when news of the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant spread, many of her students  were very upset and had to be helped.

Through it all, McComsey said she is happy to deal with the routine as well as the unexpected aspects of her job.

“I love to solve problems,” she said.

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