by Sue Ann Rybak

Jayden Gladden, a third grader at Eleanor Emlen Elementary School, 6501 Chew Ave., was elated as he sat playing computer games at one of the 33 new iMac computers in the school’s new computer lab on Friday, Sept. 5.

Tammy Thomas, the school’s principal, said thanks to the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition, a collaboration of Mt. Airy USA, East Mt. Airy Neighbors and West Mt. Airy Neighbors, and the generous donations of community members “learning to use technology is just a click away” for Emlen’s students.

“This truly is an exciting time for the Emlen School family,” Thomas said. “We have many things to be grateful for as we kick off the new school year.”

She said thanks to the support of parents and community members “we can empower students to become middle school, high school, college and career ready.”

Thomas said the installation of the new equipment is the beginning of many collaborative efforts and partnerships within the Mt. Airy community, including the Philadelphia’s Children Foundation, the Lovett Library and Philadelphia Fresh Artists.

Abby Thaker, director of development at Mt. Airy USA and the Schools Coalition’s coordinator, said the coalition’s goal is “to ensure that all neighborhood families have access to a high quality public education by facilitating strategic investment of the community’s capital and financial resources.”

“We’re so happy about the outpouring of support this project has generated for Emlen,” she said.

Thacker said over $47,000 was raised in the coalition’s first fundraising effort to purchase the new iMac computers. She added that 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 neighborhood elementary schools including A.B. Day, C.W. Henry, Houston, Lingelbach, and J.S. Jenks.

Anuj Gupta, executive director of Mt. Airy USA said for Mt. Airy to be a viable and vibrant neighborhood, “the future of our public schools can’t just be left to the teachers, parents and principals.”

“It has to be a neighborhood priority and that is what the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition is about,” he said. “Giving the students of Emlen access to modern technology is something that every child should have and is the first of what I believe will be more collective efforts towards the betterment of our neighborhood public schools.”

Jaclyn Costello, one of the school’s technology teachers, said she was unable to fully implement the district’s technology curriculum last year because they only had 25 outdated computers, which did not have Flash, a software program needed to access websites such as First in Math and Lexia Reading.

City Councilwoman Cindy Bass said she was thrilled that the latest technology will be available to students at Emlen.

“I have been to every school in my district and I know what technology looks like in these schools and I know that it’s lacking,” she said. “I have seen computers that look they were around when I went to Temple over 20 years ago.”

She thanked community members for sharing “their time, their talent and their treasury.”

State Rep. Cherelle Parker reminded the audience that a few years ago the school, which has more than 500 students, was one of the schools slated to be closed. She said officials, teachers, parents and members of the community fought extremely hard to keep the school open.

Parker said the community sent a message that the children at Emlen were worth investing in and noted that too often elected officials in Harrisburg believe that the City of Philadelphia and the school district are just “looking for a handout.” She said nothing could be further from the truth.

“What you demonstrated today equips those of us who are elected to serve you,” Parker said. “So, we can go to Harrisburg and advocate for you.”

She asked those in attendance to appeal to Harrisburg to pass the cigarette tax that will enable “Philadelphia to generate $83 million annually on behalf of the School District of Philadelphia.”

“We are not expecting the government to take care of us,” she added. “We take care of ourselves and this is a perfect example.”

Elayne Bender, president of East Mt. Airy Neighbors, said the community has “a deep understanding that all students want to learn.”

“If the wonderful success of the Taney Dragons can teach us anything, it’s that our city kids are just as exceptional as their wealthier counterparts if we give them the resources, the support, encouragement and sponsorship of grown-ups,” she said.

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

* All photos by Vibe Team Photo