Wissahickon Charter School was founded in 2001 by a passionate group of Northwest Philadelphia community volunteers and educational advocates who believed that every child deserves a quality education. The group imagined a school that would utilize its nearby natural resources and provide outdoor learning opportunities to students who are not usually afforded them.
The founders of Wissahickon Charter School designed the school as a K-8 public school with a mission to provide a community of learning with an environmental focus that stimulates the child's intellectual, social, and character development. WCS opened its first campus (the Fernhill campus named for the nearby Fernhill Park) in September 2002 to 250 kindergarten through fifth grade students, and eventually grew to a fully K-8 school that now serves 480 students from across the city of Philadelphia. The student demographic it serves accurately represents the city of Philadelphia.
One of the founders, Julie Stapleton-Carroll, served as the CEO for the first five years the school was open. In 2007, Kristi Littell (former WCS Founding Teacher) and Jamal Elliott (former WCS Dean of Students) were appointed as Co-Heads of School, reflecting the organization’s shared value of collaborative work.
In the school’s first decade, there were many developments, awards, and grants. Much of this work focused on the development of different aspects of the mission and the academic program. Environmentally, WCS strove to align the school’s practices with its philosophical beliefs. WCS developed a school garden, an environmental service program, a healthy lunch including locally raised produce, solar panels and a native stormwater retention basin. Academically, WCS adopted the Teachers College Readers and Writers Workshop Program to help boost literacy. Our commitment to differentiation in the classroom and a robust special education program grew as well. Wissahickon began to receive attention as one of the top performing charter schools in the city of Philadelphia.
Demand for enrollment at Wissahickon was high and the waiting list of students not admitted through our blind lottery often exceeded 600. Due to the demand, the WCS Board of Trustees, administrators and stakeholders started planning in 2011 to expand and a build a second site. In 2012, after a rigorous charter renewal process, the School Reform Commission renewed WCS’s charter for the second time and approved a 500 student increase in the student enrollment cap. A site for a second school was strategically selected on a former brownfield site in East Mt. Airy, adjacent to the Awbury Arboretum and Weaver’s Way Community Farm. WCS received the 2013 “Extreme Makeover” award at the 2014 PA Brownfields Conference for its cleanup of this formerly blighted land. The school received an approximately $600K Industrial Sites Reuse grant from the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). Wissahickon used the funding to cover costs of environmental remediation and hazardous materials cleanup at the new site.
In September 2014, Wissahickon Charter School’s Awbury Campus (named after the neighboring Awbury Arboretum) opened its doors to 324 Kindergarten through 3rd grade, 6th and 7th grade students from across the city of Philadelphia. In the 2016-2017 school year, WCS Awbury will serve 486 K-8 students in addition to the 486 K-8 students at WCS Fernhill. Wissahickon prides itself on offering a strong holistic program that results in remarkable outcomes for students.