One Team; One Planet: Living Diversity at Nebinger

By Ben Schindler

Somehow we blinked and Kindergarten is more than halfway over. Our son, Noah, has lots of new friends, great teachers who really understand him, a bunch of new skills (including some sweet dance moves), a variety of new interests (perhaps passions), and even some new words – in Spanish. He suddenly seems taller, more mature, and shockingly competent, while still being a 6-year old who loves to play sports and run around like a nut.

It is hard to believe that at this time last year, we were overwhelmed with stress over choosing a school, and investigating every possible option – from private, to charter, to public – and even (momentarily) considering leaving the neighborhood and city lifestyle we fell in love with when we moved to Queen Village 8 years ago. If only we had known then what we know now.

Last year , we learned the vital importance of going to visit our neighborhood schools to make an informed choice. Our Queen Village schools are bucking the conventional (and misinformed) wisdom regarding public education in Philadelphia and seeing this firsthand at Nebinger is simply amazing.

All of our Nebinger kids receive a wonderful education. Our teachers have the skills and passion to successfully differentiate lessons so that every single student is engaged, challenged, and growing. Our teachers guide art projects, music class, science projects, Odyssey of the Mind, reading challenges, choir, chess clubs, and many many more activities that provide opportunities to learn. Our kids run around in a green and beautifully painted school-yard (soon to be renovated to include additional play space, an outdoor classroom, and awesome play equipment), letting their imaginations and legs run wild.

Seeing the diversity of our school through the eyes of our son is remarkable. It reinforces for us that we, as adults, were not born with the prejudices that we often carry with us. Nebinger is diverse in every way imaginable: race, ethnicity, economics, language and more. So many of us did not grow up with the shared cultural experience that our children can have at a school like Nebinger. Rather, we have learned in our lives to be closed off, to be fearful or suspicious, and to isolate ourselves. Today, our son is having an incredibly rich experience that we could only have hoped for, and our daughter will too in a few years. From this he is changed, we are changed, and our community is changed. For the better.

While we are thrilled beyond our expectations, real challenges remain. The state’s destruction of the district’s budget over the past several years has forced our principal and teachers to become very creative in making sure our kids have the resources they need. The food (as with all Philadelphia public schools) is unappealing and unhealthy, and while we pack lunches, some cannot afford to do so.

There should be a full-time rather than a part-time nurse, as well as a librarian rather than volunteers. Some things that should be considered basics in every school – like Nebinger’s incredibly robust art, music and science programs – we feel fortunate to have due to our great leadership and engaged community group. But we know it’s not the case at every school. This is not utopia.

Rather, this is reality. And the reality for our family is that we made a fantastic decision. Our son’s days, between school and afterschool, are lived within four blocks of our house with kids from our community. This is balanced by the fact that Nebinger has opened the world to him, through education and his increased desire to learn, of course, but also through his shared experience with his classmates, and the cultures, languages, challenges, and successes of his and their lives. He finds joy in and learns from everyone he encounters at our school.

Nebinger and the school community we joined as a family make us love living in the city and Queen Village even more than we thought possible. The energy and joy we experience everyday from our principal, our teachers, our friends, our son’s friends, and our community groups make this vibrant neighborhood a better place to live. Our school reflects our neighborhood and our lives, and we feel more a part of our community than ever before. This is life in Philadelphia in 2016 and we love it!

Kindergarten registration is now open. Come see Nebinger and all that our wonderful neighborhood school has to offer. Meet Principal Brown and her extraordinary team. This jewel of a school may very well be right for you and your family!

Choosing Nebinger

By Ben Schindler

When my wife, Becky, and I moved onto the 900 Block of South 6th Street just over eight years ago, our neighbors greeted us with open arms, warm smiles, and a more-than-sufficient helping of homemade treats. We felt like we had moved into a true neighborhood with everyone adding to and caring for the block and the area. All making us feel at home.

Yet, as we moved in, we were certain that we would only be in our home for 6-8 years, depending on when we had a child and when that child would be 5 years old. We simply did not see any way that our catchment public school, Nebinger, could work for us. We, the beneficiaries of private school educations, from Kindergarten through college, could never send our precious-yet-theoretical offspring to a place that conventional wisdom told us was not good enough.

Eight years have passed, and we have two actual children, who are indeed quite precious (to us).

But then something amazing happened that changed our perception of Nebinger: We walked through the door! 

We are staying; in our house, in our neighborhood, in our catchment. Our children will be the beneficiaries of Nebinger educations, and will thrive in their own neighborhood, with nearby classmates and friends.

Across the city, a secret is on the verge of getting out. The secret is this: There are great neighborhood schools in the city beyond Meredith, McCall, Greenfield, and Penn-Alexander. Even better for those of us who make Queen Village (or Bella Vista) our home, is that Nebinger is one of them. The old conventional wisdom is crumbling because schools like Nebinger, with the support of the neighbors in southern portions of Queen Village and Bella Vista, thrive despite the funding drought.

From reading the news about the school district, state funding, and budget cuts, we know there are real challenges. We also know, from experience, that it is easy to stand outside of a neighborhood public school and imagine all of the things going wrong inside. The news about the school district is often negative and hard to see past. However, as many in Queen Village know, great things can happen at a neighborhood school when the community and families become engaged.

Nebinger has an extraordinary principal, talented and committed staff, and a rapidly growing community of engaged community members, school parents, and future school parents. Families like mine, who in prior years would have moved away or tried to cobble together the money for private school, now are choosing Nebinger.

Families are connecting with each other before their children reach kindergarten age.  Shot Tower Coffee and Royal Tavern hosted events for future Nebinger families over the past months. Based on turnout at these gatherings and the growing buzz around Nebinger, in a few years, parents will be lining up on the first day of kindergarten registration, worried about securing a place for their child.

Principal Brown, with the support of the Friends of Nebinger and the vibrant Home and School Association, has worked tirelessly to bring back programs that were cut due to the state budget. Nebinger students now benefit from art, music, theatre, physical education, after school programs, a stunning computer lab, and starting this fall, Spanish.

Conventional wisdom brings a tired refrain: how could you send your kid to a Philadelphia Public School? For years, the northern half of Queen Village has defied this conventional wisdom. I am thrilled to tell you the southern half of the Queen Village is bucking this conventional wisdom as well. With the right leadership, tremendous students, and an engaged community, Nebinger proves that one neighborhood can have two great schools.

But why believe me?

Walk through the door, go inside, meet Principal Brown and her staff, and see Nebinger for yourself.  You may find that Nebinger is right for you and your family.

This article was originally published in the September 2015 Back to School issue of QVNA’s Magazine.