Penn Compact 2020/

Impact: Strengthening Ties with Lea Elementary

Penn shares a decades-long history with the Henry C. Lea Elementary School, dating back to the 1960s. The relationship was created simultaneously with West Philadelphia High School, and marked the University’s first formal connection to the School District of Philadelphia.

Located at 4700 Locust St., Lea was built in 1914 and named after a prominent Philadelphia historian, civic reformer, and political activist. As it approaches its 100th anniversary, the school is undergoing a number of changes, including welcoming 120 new students. Penn is taking steps to solidify its relationship with its West Philly neighbor as those changes take place, and provide support where needed.

A major component in the extended partnership includes the appointment of a full-time liaison to coordinate between Penn and Lea.

Caroline Watts, a senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Education, was appointed as the director of the Lea School University Partnership. She will streamline efforts to build the resources that will allow the Lea community to reach their academic goals, organize volunteers, and coordinate professional development seminars for teachers and tutoring projects. She also intends to bring an array of services to the curriculum and grade levels, both in and out of school.

Watts, who came to Penn in 2008, says the new full-time position reflects Penn’s values by supporting a community-driven, sustainable model of engagement.

“It’s a demonstration that the University is taking this partnership very seriously,” she says. “Penn is joining the community in a collaborative process to increase high-quality educational opportunities in West Philadelphia. It is providing the resources needed to make the community’s vision of this school happen.”

She adds this strengthened relationship will build upon what’s already in place at Lea, and help to create sustainable, long-term goals that will allow for growth. The Office of Government and Community Affairs has worked with the Lea School and community groups to lay the groundwork for this effort.

The Penn-Lea relationship already includes programs run through the University’s Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships. These initiatives include a healthy cooking club and fruit stand, the “Black Wall Street” program, run by students from Wharton’s Management 100 class, and academic support during the school day.

Other outreach efforts with Lea include College Days, where nearly 100 Lea students become honorary Penn students for a day; “Engaging Minds Through Art,” which invites Lea’s fourth and fifth graders to view exhibits at the Arthur Ross Gallery; and programs at the Penn Museum.

Text by Jill DiSanto