Community Rallies to Support Students at Emlen Elementary

Over 500 students at Emlen Elementary School were greeted with a special “back to school” gift courtesy of Mt. Airy Schools Coalition.  On Friday afternoon, the Coalition, along with local government officials, school representatives and community supporters, debuted a brand new computer lab featuring 33 new iMacs to help Emlen’s students engage in technology-infused lessons and become better prepared for the future. Prior to the opening, there were not enough computers in the lab for students to use and existing computers were extremely outdated. In an effort led by the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition, community members raised over $47,000 to provide a new computer lab for Emlen. 

The Mt. Airy Schools Coalition was formed to mobilize greater community support for Mt. Airy’s neighborhood schools by facilitating strategic investment of the community’s human capital and financial resources. The Coalition is a collaboration of Mt. Airy USA, East Mt. Airy Neighbors and West Mt. Airy Neighbors. The Emlen computer lab was the Coalition’s first major fundraising effort. “We’re so happy about the outpouring of support this project has generated for Emlen,” shared Abby Thaker, Director of Development at Mt. Airy USA and the Schools Coalition’s coordinator. “We already have some exciting new projects in the pipeline at Emlen and other Mt. Airy Schools, particularly around Literacy and School Climate and Culture.” 

Emlen Elementary School Principal Tammy Thomas along with State Representative Cherelle L. Parker from District 200 and Councilwoman Cindy Bass from the 8th District unveiled the new computers. Others present included: 

  • Jaclyn Costello: Teacher, Emlen Elementary School
  • Jan Deruiter: Volunteer, Philadelphia Children’s Foundation
  • Hope Arnesen: Co-Founder, Community Art Collective / Treasurer, Emlen Home and School Association
  • Tyree Gladden: President, Emlen Home and School Association
  • Elayne Bender: Executive Director, East Mt. Airy Neighbors
  • Emlen staff, parents, students
  • Representatives from the School District of Philadelphia
  • Members of the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition

Prior to the opening, the school was not able to fully implement the Philadelphia District’s technology curriculum. Additionally, some classes included up to 32 students, yet only 25 outdated computers were available (with several being out of service at any given point). With the addition of 33 new iMacs, students will now have access to a functioning computer, making it possible to use programs like First in Math and Lexia that tailor instruction to each student’s needs and skill level. Students would also be able to use the myriad of instructional software programs and websites that require Flash. Current lab computers that are still functional will be redeployed into classrooms, the future library and/or into the Head Start classrooms.

The renovation of the computer lab is only the first step in a series of long-term plans by the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition to enhance community support for six area schools. In addition to Emlen, the schools involved are A.B. Day, C. W. Henry, Houston, Lingelbach, and J. S. Jenks. Over the past year, the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition has gone through a strategic planning process to learn from area school stakeholders how the Coalition can help support schools. This process has included interviews, focus groups, surveys, and many one-on-one conversations with parents, principals, teachers, and community members. Based on this input, the Schools Coalition has determined three focus areas for its future work: Literacy, School Climate and Culture, and a Well-Rounded Curriculum that includes access to the arts, music, science and technology. Through its research, the Schools Coalition has identified projects at each area school that fall into these priority areas. In October 2014 the Coalition will convene working groups consisting of school staff and community volunteers to begin implementing each of these projects. Anyone interested in learning more or getting involved is invited to contact Abby Thaker at

For Emlen Elementary School, the ribbon cutting kicks off an exciting new year. Jan Deruiter, one of the volunteers involved in the fundraising campaign for the computer lab, spoke of a new relationship with the Philadelphia Children’s Foundation that will further increase access to technology by providing used corporate computers that have been refurbished for classroom use. Hope Arnesen, member of the Emlen Home & School Association and Co-Directors of the Community Art Collective, highlighted a new partnership with Fresh Artists that has already brought in $1,500 in supplies for Emlen’s art program.

Tammy Thomas, Emlen’s principal, also spoke of plans to re-open Emlen’s school library as a Learning Lab, thanks to support from community members involved in the computer lab project. “Emlen School is truly a great place to be,” she noted. “Parents and the community are our partners and with these wonderful supports we can empower students to become middle school, high school, college and career ready. We are grateful to have them on our side.” Thomas also encouraged community members interested in getting involved or volunteering at Emlen to contact the school’s climate facilitator, John Coats, at 215-951-4010.

For more information about the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition and the Emlen computer lab project: