The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated a historical marker to the William Penn Charter School on Friday, October 23, recognizing the school’s Quaker roots and pioneering educational initiatives.
The text on the blue, cast aluminum marker reads, in part, “… it was Pennsylvania’s first public school and is the oldest continuously operating Friends school in the world. Pioneering educational initiatives were based on public charity and inclusion: free tuition to the poor, education for both genders and acceptance of all races.”
State and local officials joined Penn Charter alumni, faculty, friends and three entire grades, fanning out on folding chairs behind the new marker on the lawn of the School House Lane campus.
“I can think of no better way to celebrate Penn’s birthday and his school than with today’s program,” Head of School Darryl J. Ford said, noting that, according to one calendar, Penn was born on Oct. 24, 1644.
Referencing the language on the marker that recognizes the school’s contributions to society and education, Ford said, “I note our faculty and staff’s continued commitment to educate our students to live lives that make a difference, and I am certain that today’s students will make meaningful contributions to society as their lives unfold.”
Ed Rendell, former governor, mayor and Penn Charter parent, congratulated the school and the students, remarking that more than water or minerals “our young people are our most important resource.”
Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones, who represents the 4th District, which includes East Falls, presented a citation from City Council. The citation congratulated Penn Charter on the occasion and applauded “the school’s continued commitment to progressive education to Philadelphia children and families.”
Martin Rosenblum, a member of the commission, encouraged students to be alert to the 2,400 distinctive blue markers throughout the Commonwealth. Whether walking on Chestnut Street in Center City or in East Falls, he said, “history is all around us.”
The application for the historical marker was the brainchild of Randy Granger, a visual arts teacher at Penn Charter for 41 years, an expert in historic preservation and an assistant in the PC archives. Granger saw the demanding application process through from start to finish and had the honor of climbing an 8-foot ladder and removing, with a flourish, the protective cover from the marker.
The marker, Granger wrote in an overview of Penn Charter’s history, recognizes the “school’s importance to the evolution of our diverse, and interconnected history and culture as Philadelphians, Pennsylvanians and Americans.”
As is custom at Penn Charter, student speakers played an important role in the occasion. The 108-member senior class joined the festivities, as did the third and eighth grades, selected for the honor because they are studying, respectively, Pennsylvania history and civics. Representatives from those grades spoke to the gathering from the podium.
Senior class president Jonathan Weiss welcomed the crowd and encouraged students to recognize their place in the history of Penn’s school. “Historically, we led the movement to make education available to everybody in America and can still feel its effects today,” Weiss said. “ We can pride ourselves in honoring it so well, so long as we thank those who came before us and continue preparing those who will come after.”
Eighth grader Troi Rutherford explained some of the early history of the school and noted that, on Oct. 25, 1701, Penn signed an official charter for what he called a “Friends Public School” on the very same day that he signed the charter for the city of Philadelphia.
And third grader Alara Arkan explained the intent behind Penn’s decision to establish a school: “He wanted a public school so that children could be educated to become good citizens for the democratic government that he was setting up in Pennsylvania.”