US Life

December 2016

From the Director’s Chair

I hope this latest communication from Upper School finds of you well and getting ready to enjoy a well-deserved winter break. Please take time to read the important pieces below that pertain to student health and wellness and to the programming your children experienced surrounding our production of "The Laramie Project."

Despite its brevity in terms of the number of school days, December is quite a busy month in Upper School. I also encourage you to scroll down to read and see some highlights beyond the current day-to-day happenings in the classroom, the beginning of winter sports, and the initial preparations for the winter musical, "Godspell." (Performances Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25.)

Your Child’s Health and Wellness

Consider the following:

  • One in four Americans who began using any addictive substance before age 18 developed an addiction. Compare that to 1 in 25 Americans who began using any addictive substance after the age of 21 developed an addiction. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2011)
  • What are the top four months (by a significant margin) where adolescents under the age of 18 reported using alcohol for the first time? July, December, June, January. (SAMHSA, Center of Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, National Surveys of Drug Use and Health, revised March 2012)
  • Ninety percent of Americans who are addicted to tobacco, alcohol or other substances started smoking, drinking or taking other drugs before the age of 18. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2011)
  • Teens whose parents or friends’ parents provided alcohol for parties were more likely to drink, get in car crashes, get involved in violence, and participate in thefts. (Study conducted at the University of Minnesota)
  • Permissiveness at home affects adolescent choices more than peer pressure. (Study conducted at the University of Minnesota)


And now consider this:

Kids who learn about the risks of substance abuse from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to abuse substances. (The Partnership at

I felt it was important to share these statistics not only to showcase the importance of adolescent and pre-adolescent education around substance abuse and addiction, but also to highlight the vitally important role parents play in adolescent decision-making and behavior surrounding these issues. As our children get older, we can fall into the trap of thinking that our voices and actions as parents no longer hold sway. While it would be difficult (and naive) to think that the peer group does not hold great importance in our teenagers’ lives, we must still recognize that our words, our actions and the examples we set as parents remain incredibly influential in the lives of our adolescent children. Headphones and monosyllabic responses aside, they are still listening and watching.

The above statistics were provided to us by Kim Rubenstein, executive director of Be Part of the Conversation. As you know, we are partnering with this organization to bolster our curricular and programmatic efforts to inform and educate ourselves, our students and parents on the issues of addiction and substance abuse. Kim presented at an Upper School faculty meeting in August and at the Upper School Parent Forum in October. It was an incredibly informative session, and Kim was kind enough to share a copy of her presentation. I strongly encourage you to look at it. We look forward to our continued our work with Be Part of the Conversation in the months and years ahead, with programming designed for faculty, students and parents.

Travis Larrabee
Director of Upper School 

"The Laramie Project" and Raising Awareness and Support for the LGBTQ Community

by Catherine Ezzo

I hope that many of you were able to see our performance of "The Laramie Project" last month. The students and adults involved in the production did an incredible job, handling some of the most emotionally challenging lines, scenes and topics ever presented in a Penn Charter production. I am not exaggerating in stating that it was a truly transformative experience for so many in the cast, crew and audience. After the Saturday matinee, there was a post-show “talk back session” with Leigh Fondakowski, original cast member and head writer.

When we decided last spring to put on "The Laramie Project" as our fall production, we wanted to make sure we used this powerful play as a centerpiece for raising awareness and support for the LGBTQ communities at Penn Charter and beyond. "The Laramie Project" draws on real-life experiences of those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community and the sometimes deadly struggle they face to honor and be accepted for who they are. 

As part of the series of events we are hosting to highlight issues for the LGBTQ community, we invited the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus to perform at an assembly on Nov. 9 in the Kurtz Center. In addition to the musical program, the members of this group talked more expansively about experiences of LGBTQ individuals. The following week, we held a student assembly (sponsored and run by student groups) to continue our learning about LGBTQ concerns and to set up a preview of the play for the Upper School with some programing in Meeting for Worship. Finally, right after Thanksgiving (and after the production of the play), we held a special assembly with Alex Myers, a transgender writer, teacher and speaker. You can read more about Alex and his work here. We also used our advisory time to ask questions and discuss how we can continue to create a community where, as one teacher put it, “We never have to apologize for who we are.”

Our hope is that this arc of events raised awareness about the issues and challenges that face the LGBTQ community, especially as we consider those within our own Penn Charter community who identify as members of this group, and that it helps us all to consider the ways in which we can continue to make Penn Charter a safe space for everyone to honor who they are, and for us to embrace unity within the wonderful diversity that we experience here. This work will not always be easy: these issues challenge us, but we can move forward if we commit to learning, to listening and to seeing the Light that exists within all of us. We look forward to doing this work with you.


As director Jessica Bender explained in the program for the Penn Charter production, "The Laramie Project" was written in response to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, who was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. The play was based on the more than 200 interviews conducted with people in the town, and dramatized what later became one of the better-known hate crimes of our time. Eighteen years later, it remains relevant and poignant, as we struggle to understand hate and hate crimes today.

More photos of the production.


Upper School Highlights in Arts, Athletics, Service

Band and Choral Concert
Led by Brad Ford and Joe Fitzmartin (pictured leading the concert-ending "Hallelujah Chorus"), the Jazz Band, Symphonic Band, Charter Singers and Quakers Dozen treated the crowd at our Dec. 8, Winter Concert to a wide selection of songs for the season. I thought the entire concert was excellent, and these music programs keep setting new bars. 176 more photos!

Chestnut Hill Holiday Parade
For the third year in a row members of Quakers Dozen and Jazz Band participated in a parade. Members of the Chestnut Hill community recently revived a tradition of a holiday parade down part of Germantown Avenue. While it was a cold Saturday morning on Dec. 10, the participants and the onlookers very much enjoyed the event and the holiday cheer. We look forward to continuing this partnership and tradition in future years.

Wow! Reflections on the Fall Season
Director of Athletics and Athletic Planning John Thiel provides highlights of a season that saw three Inter-Ac championships and many personal bests. Read his summary and access more photos in SportsZone.

Penn Charter Holiday Gift Drive
Our Holiday Gift Drive is a more than 20-year tradition of providing gifts for those in need in our neighborhood. Students, grouped by advisory, contribute funds and purchase gifts for children and families at either Taylor School in Hunting Park or NPIHN (Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network).

The Taylor School, based in North Philadelphia, educates about 600 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. A major point of pride at this school is its bilingual Spanish program for grades K-3. Penn Charter students have built relationships with students and teachers from the Taylor School for more than 15 years. NPIHN (Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network) works to fight homelessness in the Philadelphia community by providing housing and meals to families at a variety of houses of worship in northwest Philadelphia. Ninety-two percent of NPIHN families have permanently overcome homelessness – an incredible feat! Through Penn Charter’s service program, students help families at NPIHN move their personal belongings from one residence to another. Gifts will be delivered on Friday, just before we recess for Winter Break.

How to Raise Resilient Children and Teens

Please mark your calendars for this parenting opportunity. More details and book order form.


Stay Connected!

There are so many important events happening this school year. We strongly urge you to read the weekly Parent Post and make sure you know all the tricks and tips for getting the most from the PC Hub.



By the Light of Our Charter, How Far Can We See? – our new campaign unveiled!
Scores, MVPs, photos.
Friends and family honor five student-athletes.

Calendar Events

    • MonNov20 No classes pre-K to 12
    • MonNov20 Pre-K to 12 parent conferences
    • TueNov21 No classes pre-K to 12
    • TueNov21 Pre-K to 12 faculty in-service day service day
    • WedNov22 School closed
    • ThuNov23 School closed
    • ThuNov23 Thanksgiving Day
    • FriNov24 School closed
    • SunNov26 Yellow week
    • MonNov27 Middle School sports begin
    • WedNov29 Fall Sports Awards Presentation (KC) 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM
    • FriDec01 Lower School Breakfast with Your Child (DH) 7:30 AM to 8:00 AM
    • FriDec01 4th grade parent meeting (TH) 8:15 AM to 9:30 AM
    • SatDec02 SAT Reasoning Test & SAT Subject Tests
    • SunDec03 Blue week
    • MonDec04 Upper School Parent Forum (OR) 8:15 AM to 9:15 AM
    • TueDec05 11th grade parents College Kickoff Night (MR) 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
    • ThuDec07 Parent Meeting for Worship (MR) 8:15 AM to 8:45 AM
    • FriDec08 Kindergarten parent meeting (TH) 8:15 AM to 9:30 AM
    • FriDec08 Parent Community Executive Committee meeting (TH) 8:15 AM to 9:15 AM
    • SatDec09 ACT Test
    • SunDec10 Yellow week

Penn Charter

A Friends School for Girls and Boys, Pre-K to 12

3000 West School House Lane Philadelphia, PA 19144 215.844.3460
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