Middle School Life

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Middle School Life from a Distance



This installment of our weekly newsletter includes a two-minute video message of gratitude from me. As we close out the school year next week, we wanted to be sure to acknowledge you, our parents and guardians, for your commitment to the education of your children. The sacrifices you have made this spring to help your children learn and grow in these unprecedented circumstances deserve a huge applause. We thank you.

With gratitude on behalf of the Middle School faculty and staff,

Wilson Felter

Director of Middle School

Heading into the final week of school, here are some highlights and important reminders...

  • We are working on summer programming for Middle School students in light of most summer camps being canceled. We anticipate that we will be offering several virtual courses beginning the week of June 22 and continuing through the end of July. Currently under development are courses focusing on mathematics, reading, writing, visual arts, science, transitioning to Middle School, and more. We anticipate most courses will be free, and will require 8-10 hours of virtual time per week. More details will be shared as we complete the syllabi for each course, which is difficult while we are working hard to finish the regular school year! We appreciate your patience.
  • Summer reading and math work for incoming sixth through eighth graders is now posted on our website.
  • Our Middle School Diversity Club created this video to help educate our middle graders about anti-Asian sentiment during the coronavirus and ways to prevent and combat it. The video and the accompanying lesson was delivered during advisory on Friday. We applaud our students for furthering the values of our school through their activism. Inclusion, equity and celebration of differences continue to be important areas of focus in our program, and this student-led initiative is inspiring.
  • We held two highly successful virtual events this week. Our Sixth Grade Capstone event on Tuesday was attended by over 100 people via Google Meet, and special thanks to Jim Pilkington, the sixth grade teachers, and our students for putting on an excellent showcase of their Memories, Hopes and Dreams project.
  • Our Eighth Grade Memoirs Celebration occurred on Thursday evening and over 150 people joined via Google Meet. The celebration showcased our eighth grade students' personal stories. The event brought us together as a community and reminded all of the importance of personal expression. This exceptional eighth grade class has many treasured memories, and we thank them for sharing these reflections of their lives. Special thanks to Jennifer Chernak, Memoir coordinator, and the eighth grade English teachers, James Bolden, Christie Pearsall and Holly Silberman, for their work with our students.
  • We have arranged for a family drop-off of school materials on Wednesday, June 10, 10 a.m.-12 p.m. If you have a school laptop, textbooks, uniforms, and/or sports equipment that needs to be returned to the school, please place it in a clearly labeled bag or box and bring it to school on June 10. You can drop it off at the front circle under the clock tower, where we will have personnel ready to safely greet you and take your materials.
  • Families have the option to keep their students' laptops over the summer. This applies to students who are returning in the 2020-21 school year and those already enrolled in our loaner laptop program. If you would like to enroll in the student loaner laptop program for 2020-21, please log into the Hub and click on the "Review Form" button in the banner at the top of the page. Forms are due on June 1, 2020. The fee for the loaner program is $225 for the school year. If the cost is a financial hardship for your family, please send an email to Director of Educational Technology Michael Moulton at

Events Looking Ahead


June 1, 7:00 p.m.: Seventh Community Event (virtual)

June 4, 9:00-11:00 a.m.: Eighth Graduation (virtual)

June 10, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.: Family drop-off time for school materials

June 15: Final report cards with grades and summary advisor narratives posted on the Hub

3000 West School House Lane   Philadelphia, PA 19144


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Dear Middle School Parents,


First a note to all our mothers, grandmothers and great-grands: Happy Mother's Day to all and thank you for all you do on behalf of our families! We hope you have a wonderful day on Sunday.

As I walked through the halls of the Middle School on Monday, I could feel the energy of school and I could see evidence of learning on the walls and in the classrooms. Our building, like a snapshot in time, was preserved exactly as it was on March 12, our last day of regular school. It was surreal to be cleaning out lockers in early May, it was awkward to be wearing a mask and gloves in a place where human connections like smiles and high-fives are part of our daily routine. (Above, see our small team of locker-material distributors at school.)


Like many of our students, faculty and families I found myself asking why. Why has our life in school been turned upside down? 

Of course, my mind understands perfectly well why we are in this situation, but my heart still yearns for the dynamic, high-paced and fun close to the school year that I've been a part of for the last six years at Penn Charter, and for the past 25 years as an educator. It has become clear that one silver lining that has emerged through being away from school for the past two months is a true appreciation of school. It seems to me that our students have been similarly impacted and are finding themselves looking at school through a new lens. They are realizing how much they miss it, they are more aware of how hard our teachers are working on their behalf, and they are learning the value of community and connection in their lives.

Next week is teacher appreciation week, and I would like to encourage all of our students and families to recognize the effort and commitment of our Middle School teaching team. This pandemic has challenged our faculty in new ways and, at each turn, our group has risen to the call. Please join me in applauding our teachers!

As you read in last week's update, we will be holding parent-advisor-student conferences virtually over the next two weeks. The conference will last up to 25 minutes, and the content will be up to the advisor, who will choose from a menu of options the best fit for each child's current situation. Options include: student-led conversations about the adjustment to distance learning; showcasing a proud moment from the school year; reflections on the school year related to community; leadership and co-curriculars; and/or looking ahead to next year. 


Wilson Felter

Director of the Middle School

Staffing News


Amanda Lelii, who has been a math teacher in our Middle School for the past 13 years, has accepted a new teaching job for next year at Westtown School, which is much closer to her home in West Chester. This change is bittersweet in that we feel deep sadness that Amanda will be leaving Penn Charter, but also happiness that her family will benefit and her life will simplify as her commute shortens from over an hour to less than 10 minutes. We thank Amanda for her steadiness, her advocacy for girls in math, and her willingness to take on many roles in Middle School. She served as seventh grade coordinator, coached three sports (water polo, swimming and softball), helped start the alGIRLrithms club, and much more. Please join me in wishing Amanda and her family well in her next endeavor.

Two of our teachers have babies on the way, and their families will be expanding in the fall of 2020. Allen Vandegrift, assistant director and visual arts teacher, and his wife, Alison, are expecting their first child in mid-September. And, MS science teacher Lisa Howard and her partner, Steve, are expecting in mid-October. Please join me in congratulating Allen and Lisa on their expanding families. 


Events Looking Ahead


  • May 11-22: Parent-advisor-student conferences
  • May 18-22: Spirit week; Some ideas include Color Day challenges, wellness and de-stress activities, service projects and fun-themed dress days! More details soon.
  • May 21: MS Day of Service (virtual); The MS Student Service Council, along with Sharon Ahram and Allen Vandegrift, have created a program that will include an inspirational video and some options for at-home volunteer work.
  • May 26, 7:00pm: Sixth Capstone/Showcase Evening (virtual); Parents will receive video conference invitation
  • May 28, 7:00pm: Eighth Memoirs (virtual); Parents will receive video conference invitation
  • June 1, 7:00pm: Seventh Community Event (virtual); Parents will receive video conference invitation
  • June 4, 9:00-11:00am: Eighth Grade Graduation (virtual); Parents will receive video conference invitation
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Community Building Highlights

Jim Pilkington, sixth grade coordinator, led sixth graders in its first full grade-level meeting. With the motto "Bring your Tigger energy," students participated in a rock-paper-scissors competition, shared photos of their favorite reading spots (see picture) during distance learning, highlighted book club groups, and reviewed the projects they will be presenting at the Showcase night on Tuesday, May 26.

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In keeping with our Monday assembly tradition of having eighth graders present on a passion or person of influence in their lives, Mac H. shared a video showing how he is making the best of the quarantine situation and how he is learning to build a skateboard ramp. We showed the video to all our students during advisory. Great leadership from one of our eighth graders!

3000 West School House Lane   Philadelphia, PA 19144



Dear Middle School Families,

Hard to believe that we just completed our third week of distance learning in the Middle School. In the first two weeks, it certainly felt disorienting and strange, and now it feels like we are settling into a routine. Our solid infrastructure, including one-to-one laptops and a robust learning management system (PC Hub), has helped immensely. But, more significantly, the commitment and talent of our teaching team and the flexibility and motivation of our students has propelled our distance learning forward to great success. I find myself quite humbled and awed by what I am seeing on a daily basis, and it makes me proud to be a part of our learning community.

This week, we were pleased to implement the following upgrades and changes. We...

  • increased academic blocks to 30 minutes with a balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning.
  • modified the homework policy to reflect that assignments or asynchronous work can be given on days when classes do not meet.
  • integrated a flex block into the morning break time for project-based learning, student collaboration, and extra time for students to meet with teachers.
  • integrated a reading period for sixth grade once per week to encourage pleasure reading and disconnect from screens.
  • implemented a student clubs and activities block twice a week to provide students with opportunities for connection and leadership, as well as share ideas for building community.
  • phased in assessments, both formative and summative, into the flow of our academic classes.
  • added a Meeting for Worship or Worship Share on Thursdays to provide students with a centering and spiritual community connection consistent with our Quaker values.
  • moved advisory to the middle of the morning a few times a week so that students and teachers can connect informally in a more alert and awake mode, and so that we have the flexibility to integrate advisory lessons in the weeks ahead.
  • Reminder: if you or your child are looking for a daily workout or an exercise challenge, please visit the PC Middle School physical education website and follow on Instagram @PCMSPE.


Of course, we will continue to make changes to our schedule and offerings as needed.


Highlights from Middle School Distance Learning

Seventh grade math with Pete Shaifer. Students learn how to calculate the volume of several shapes like pyramids and cylinders. Notice the makeshift chalkboard in the background!


Eighth grade Spanish with Antonio Calvo. Students are separated into groups of four to conduct interviews in Spanish. The interviews are recorded for playback later, and Señor Calvo drops into each group to check progress.


Seventh grade science with Lisa Howard. Sadie presented her screen about what happens to the villi on the small intestine when humans have celiac disease. Each student chose a topic related to a human body system. Many were about viruses – go figure!


Sixth grade science with Patrick McDonough. Pictured is one group working on their presentation using data from Ecomuve – software that simulates real-world ecological challenges. In this case, students are hypothesizing the reasons why two types of fish died in their pond while some others survived.


More Parent Feedback Opportunities Next Week

Next week, we will hold live Zoom sessions for a Middle School Parent Forum on Wednesday, April 22, and distribute another parent survey on Friday, April 24. The Zoom sessions are intended to provide parents with a real-time opportunity to share ideas or ask questions about our distance learning program, and also build community with one another since we can't see each other at school! The two sessions will be held at 8:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. and will last 30 minutes. Assistant Director of Middle School Allen Vandegrift, learning specialist Heather Larrabee and counselor Katie Martin will join me in the parent session. Parents are welcome to join for the entire session or just drop in for a few minutes to say hello.

Parent Forum Zoom on Wednesday, April 22


The zoom link for the 8:30 am meeting is...

Time: Apr 22, 2020 08:30 AM Eastern Time

Meeting ID: 963 4560 6959
Password: 1yuf04


The zoom link for the 7:00 pm meeting is...
Time: Apr 22, 2020 07:00 PM Eastern Time

Meeting ID: 990 2373 6837
Password: 0HTWbu

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.



Wilson Felter

Director of Middle School

3000 West School House Lane   Philadelphia, PA 19144


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Middle School Life

January 2020


From the Director's Chair

"Our child-centered society has lost sight of one of the most important ingredients for healthy, happy children – healthy, happy parents," writes Erin Andersson in a recent article in The Globe and Mail titled "To Be a Better Parent in 2020, Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself." In the month of New Years' resolutions, this one should top most of our lists. 

Whether you are co-parenting, single-parenting or even grandparenting, if you haven't had several humbling, confusing or frustrating moments helping guide your middle grader, then you simply are not being honest with yourself. As we, and our society, continue to push our children to achieve excellence in all their endeavors, and the pressure mounts for our students to earn high grades, excel in arts or athletics, make good decisions on their devices and with their friends, and much more, we, as the adults, need to remind ourselves to model self-care and give ourselves permission to not know what to do next.

In the article, Andersson references David Anderegg, who wrote about parent anxiety in his 2001 book, Worried All the Time: Rediscovering the Joy in Parenthood in an Age of Anxiety.  He offers that parenting is often presented falsely as a science, when it is really about values. These values include parents asking, "What is best for me and my family?" And remembering to take care of their own needs, too. Furthermore and perhaps most edifying, he asserted, "You cannot be a decent parent if you have no life of your own, because you have nothing to communicate to your child about why they should grow up."

So, just to be clear, I don't think Anderegg is telling us to "get a life," which could make us all feel inadequate in new ways, but rather to seek opportunities to show our children how to be human, vulnerable, find joy in the way we live our lives. And, finding time for our own pursuits and passions shows our children what we value in ways that speak louder than our words. Good to keep in mind for 2020.

Please read on to learn more about Middle School life.


Wilson Felter
Director of Middle School


Middle School Updates

Parent Forum

Our MS Parent Forum on Jan. 23 featured a session on youth sports and specialization. If you missed it, here is the slideshow and an article distributed at the event.


Peer Mentoring

Owing to the good work of several Upper School students led by Sydney '21 (shown above with Madeleine '20 and Julian '21, presenting at a Middle School assembly), along with Allen Vandegrift, assistant director of Middle School, we are pleased to begin a Peer Mentoring program. Starting soon, Middle School students will have access to Upper School mentors to help with academic, social or extracurricular challenges. To help Middle School students choose a mentor fit for them, we will provide information about the mentor, including grade, years at PC, clubs, sports and academic topics they can help with. We seek to create more connections between the Middle and Upper Schools, and a stronger support system for Middle School students.


More Happenings ...


We celebrated and thanked two long-term substitutes who have completed their time teaching in our Middle School. Above, Mariam Freeman (MS and US French) and Allen Van (MS PE and Health) filled in superbly for Aude Simon and Renee Gunning, who both returned from family leave in the week of Jan. 22.



Our Middle School Service Council, which is in its inaugural year, advised by Sharon Ahram, assistant director of the Center for Public Purpose, and Allen Vandegrift, has grown to 24 student participants. A trip to Waring Elementary School is planned next week. 



Eighth graders embarked on a field trip to NYC to see To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway. The trip coincided with our reading of the novel in eighth grade English class and sparked deep and meaningful conversations and reflections. 


During Community Time on Jan. 17, our Middle School students participated in a session on equity and inclusion led by Upper School students who recently attended a Student Leadership Diversity Conference in Seattle, Wash.



On the 10th anniversary of the ribbon cutting of the Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts, Middle School small ensembles joined groups from Lower and Upper School for the annual Small Ensemble Concert. Small but mighty! This concert rocked. Watch this week for all the concert photos on Flickr.


Upcoming Events

Friday, Jan. 31

Actors AJ Michalka (Lainey) and Brett Dier (C.B.) from ABC's comedy Schooled will visit Penn Charter for an assembly with Middle School students and teachers. The series, as many in our community know, is based on Penn Charter and PC teachers who shaped co-creator Adam Goldberg OPC '94 in the 1990s. Our own Charlie Brown, C.B. on the show, will emcee the assembly. Catch an episode (or three or four) of the family-friendly Wednesday comedy with your middle schooler before the assembly. Tonight's new episode, "Titanic Love," is all about PC/GA Day and our storied football rivalry, from the perspective of the 1990s.

Our annual Geography Bee will also take place on the same day. Twelve seventh and eighth graders who scored well on the national placement test will compete in the Bee with Jim Pilkington moderating.

Lastly, we are planning some celebrations of the Super Bowl LIV appearance of Mike McGlinchey OPC '13 as the starting right tackle for the 49ers. Look for a yellow rally towel to make it home on Friday.

Saturday, Feb. 1

Middle School Math Counts team competes at Temple University.

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 7 pm, Meeting Room

Moving Up to Upper School for current eighth grade parents.

Thursday, Feb. 6, 8:15-8:45 am, Meeting Room

Middle School families are warmly invited to join their children in Meeting for Worship. Experience silent worship and reflection as your children do each week. If you plan on attending, please join us in the MS lobby 8:00-8:15 am for coffee and fellowship with other parents. Then we will walk over to the Meeting Room with our students at 8:15.

Friday, Feb. 7, 8:30-11:30 am

MS Student Government leaders, including clerks along with homeroom representatives, will travel to Chestnut Hill Meeting for a leadership retreat on Quaker decision making, leading Student Meeting for Business, and more.

Tuesday, Feb. 11, 7 pm, Balderston Commons

Moving Up to Middle School for current fifth grade parents.


Middle School Life

October 2019


Excellent teaching and excellent parenting go hand in hand.

Parents often ask me "what do you look for in a teacher?" Sometimes the query comes from a prospective parent at an open house, or a current parent curious about attributes that distinguish excellent teachers. Since my first administrative job as a dean of students in 2001 at a Quaker school outside of Washington DC, my answer has evolved, and three must-have attributes have emerged. In my view, these same characteristics are evident in strong parents. 

If you have ever taught, you know the job requires abundant talent and energy. Our team of teachers at Penn Charter, and teaching professionals across our nation, must possess a range of skills and depth of knowledge across dozens of dimensions. When we begin the hiring process at Penn Charter, we often start by brainstorming the skills and attributes we desire in candidates. After listing attributes like love for children, patience, knowledge of content area, creativity, collegiality, teamwork, relationship-building, innovation, social and emotional intelligence, strong writing and organizational skills, love of learning, growth mindset, reliability, sense of humor, and more, we invariably end with "and the ability to walk on water." 

In order to create an analogy for those who have not been professional teachers, a wise mentor of mine used a comparison to a child's birthday party. He would ask, have you ever organized a birthday party for your child? He would continue, now add about 20 other children and imagine the birthday party lasts for nine months. That's what teaching is like. Unquestionably, the job is hard.

As middle school educators, we are often applauded just for stepping into the building with over 200 adolescents, and on some days it feels like we need to walk on water to get the results we want — thriving, happy students who are learning. In my experience, the following must-have attributes set teachers up for success in the classroom and help students thrive beyond the classroom. Interestingly enough, these are the same attributes that I believe make excellent parents.

  • An abundance of positive resolve. Both teaching and parenting are messy, filled with challenges and require us to be adaptable and resilient. Having positive resolve means that we see opportunity in challenge and believe that positive results are possible in the face of significant adversity.
  • A balance of warmth and command. Warmth includes empathy, understanding, listening and kindness. Command is the ability to gain the attention of others quickly and respectfully and requires charisma and confidence. Excellent teachers (and parents) who possess both and are often referred to as warm demanders. Teachers and parents with this skill create connections based on trust and their students and children feel safe and loved while knowing that their teachers or parents have high expectations of them.
  • Follow-through. The ability to finish what one starts is critical across most professions, but in teaching and parenting follow-through creates predictable outcomes for our students and children, and this consistency helps them feel safe.


As we have begun the 2019-2020 school year, I have been thrilled to observe these attributes among our outstanding team of Middle School teachers (and parents!) and we are looking forward to helping your children grow, tackle challenges positively, build relationships based on warmth and trust, and follow through on our commitment to make sure every student knows that our goal is to help them succeed.

Looking forward to a great year!

Wilson Felter

Director of Middle School

Middle School News You Can Use


MS Writing Center Open

At this Monday's Middle School Assembly, English teacher Christie Pearsall announced that the Middle School Writing Center is open and ready to help students with writing assignments and tasks throughout the year. 


Students may come for one-on-one writing support for any class and at any stage of their writing process. Teachers will be reminding students of this resource, and parents may too.


Students may drop in during the times listed below, or email Christie at to make an appointment.


Writing Center Location: Middle School Room 202

Writing Center Hours

  • Wednesday Flex Period (Blue and Yellow weeks)
  • Homeroom Study Hall (Yellow Thursdays) 
  • Or by appointment



MS IdeaLab Courses for 2019-2020

As we mentioned in Parent Post, we are excited to offer our middle graders the following courses in our IdeaLab in 2019-2020.


Please contact Diane Kane at in the Middle School office if you would like to enroll your child in one of the courses.

Middle School Updates


Aquaponics Update

After a summer rehabilitation of our aquaponics system in the seventh grade science lab, we are pleased to share that we are ready to launch a fully functional system in 2019-2020. Plant beds are up and running and the fish will arrive very soon. Jeff Humble, Josie Wallmuth and Tim McDevitt from maintenance have been the catalysts. 



MS Trips

Students and faculty embarked on our annual overnight trips in the last week of September. The weather cooperated this year and our sixth graders traveled to Camp Victory in Bloomsburg, seventh graders descended upon the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, and eighth graders toured Washington, D.C. 

A special thank you to each of our grade coordinators for leading and organizing these outdoor and experiential learning opportunities for our students. Jim Pilkington in sixth, Jim Fiorile in seventh, and Jennifer Ketler in eighth.


3000 West School House Lane   Philadelphia, PA 19144