Quaker Life in Motion at Penn Charter
As the world's oldest Quaker school, Quaker values are at the heart of everything we do and expect of our students including what's taught, how it's taught, students' behavior and their relationships with one another. Through a loving and supportive school community, students grow as intellectual, emotional, social and moral beings. Ultimately, we are concerned less with what students will become than with who they will become.
That of God in Everyone
The central concept that there is "that of God" in every person is foundational to what we do throughout the school. That tenet leads us to value each child for his or her accomplishments, to believe in encouraging students from diverse ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds to attend the school, to discuss peaceful resolution of difficulties whether those difficulties occur on the kindergarten playground, the Upper School playing fields or in the world beyond Penn Charter, and to foster a commitment of service to others.
Though Quakerism has no creed, a group of core values reflecting the practices and principles of Friends has emerged over time. These are called the testimonies: community, equality, integrity, peace, service, simplicity, social justice and stewardship.
The testimonies are at once self-explanatory and ripe for exploration and interpretation. Take simplicity, for example. In former times, Quakers embraced simplicity by avoiding material possessions and by dressing and speaking plainly. Today, simplicity is demonstrated not by wearing gray clothing but by focusing on what is most important and downplaying distractions and superficialities, so that each person can hear the Spirit and lead a life consistent with their values.
Meeting for Worship
If asked about Quakerism at Penn Charter, most students would focus on Meeting for Worship, a time of silent meditation punctuated by thoughts any member of the group wishes to share. Students meet each week, most often by division or grade. For the pre-kindergartner, that meeting may be five minutes of silence. By the close of the year, the meetings have reached 20 minutes. Upper and Middle School students meet for 40 minutes weekly. Most often, students who choose to speak share a reflection about some event of importance in their lives or reflect on one of the Quaker Testimonies: community, equality, integrity, peace, service simplicity, social justice and stewardship.
During their time at Penn Charter, students learn to take pride in the accomplishments of all, watch out for those in need, and support one another in difficult as well as good times. Students come to understand that the school community is broad, encompassing not just their friends or their grade, but all students, teachers, staff and families. They are mindful of the give-and take involved in creating a successful shared experience. And, while learning how to nurture their school community, they discover their place in a wider one.
Seeking the Truth
At Penn Charter, we believe that questioning and the dialogue that ensues are marks of a healthy community. Teachers don't simply provide facts but instead foster a spirit of inquiry. Acknowledging that no one knows everything, teachers challenge students to figure out what to ask as well as how to answer it. Students learn how to devise good questions, and along the way naturally learn that sometimes there's more than one right answer or more than one way to get to an answer.
Participating in service is one way Penn Charter students develop an awareness and empathy towards particular community issues and others. One of the Quaker quotes “Let thy life speak,” drives discussion and action about doing good for others and our world because it represents the best of who we are and want to be. Service reminds students of the need to consider others and the powerful feelings that result. Students participate in school-wide events like the MLK Day of Service as well various division and grade level projects throughout the year. Our service partners include places like the Widener Memorial School, the Horizon House, Whosoever Gospel Mission, Fairmount Park, the Falls at Schuylkill Library, Philabundance, the Red Cross House, St. James School, and Aid for Friends.
Religious Life Committees
Religious Life Committees are charged with looking after the Quaker and spiritual life of their division. These committees helps schedule Meeting for Worship in a variety of settings and formats, be it whole division, grade level, or by homeroom. When special events or speakers come, this committee often helps to craft queries or material for the students that connect to the presentations. Lastly, the Religious Life Committee guides and shapes the "Quaker-ness" of each division, by organizing events or school materials that help bring attention to a testimony.