The Rhoads Family, Westtown School
This Malvern family found the perfect fit at the pre-K through 12th grade school in West Chester.
When Silenia Rhoads was in her early 20s, she worked as an education consultant and toured countless schools. One stuck in her head as a shining example, but she mostly forgot about it as life took her away from the area.
Then she and her husband, John, moved to Malvern when their first two children were young, and she realized they’d stumbled into an amazing coincidence.
“I said, ‘I think we live really close to a school that I have dreamed about for 10 years,’’’ she said.
She was right: The Westtown School, a co-ed, Quaker-based school for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, was right there in West Chester. The 600-acre campus, Quaker values, and high-level academics that had so impressed Silenia were still pillars of the school.
Now, her three children are students: Carolina, an 8-year-old third grader; Jay, who’s 7 and in second grade; and Lucia, 6, who’s in first grade.
The family’s experience has been everything she ever hoped it would be.
“Westtown truly uses their campus, and I love that,” Silenia said. “For my kids, I see how the connection with being outside and learning something really happens when they’re touching it and feeling it and smelling it and seeing it.
“The amount of movement and outdoor time that they have is really special.”
At the lower school level, Westtown’s focus is on developing “pillars of action,” including thinking, caring, risking, speaking, collaborating, research, and problem-solving. Those qualities are built during inquiry-based science lessons, design projects in the school’s iLab, and other day-to-day aspects of the school’s curriculum.
The spiritual elements of Westtown’s curriculum have also resonated with her. The values the school is teaching are simple: peace, integrity, kindness, and individuality. But they’re deep and important for children to understand.
And because Westtown’s classes are small, it’s easy to build strong relationships, Silenia said. The teachers are like family.
“Every time I encounter a new teacher for one of my kids, they end up being a close friend of mine,” she said. “That says a lot about how they care for my family.”
It also means there’s near constant feedback and communication between parents and teachers. Every door is open to a parent, Silenia said, and there’s a level of respect for the students as people that’s remarkable.
“The community there sees each child as an equal,” she said.
Silenia used Jay’s experience as an example: he’s a typically wiggly 7-year-old boy, and his teachers have given him the opportunity to be himself while also building the skills he’ll need as he gets older. It’s not so much about instilling discipline, she said, as it is teaching kids how to be respectful of others and themselves.
His teachers even share the specific language they use with him, so Silenia and John can reinforce it at home.
“They give me that little fly on the wall feeling even though I’m not there all the time to understand what’s going on.”
Silenia and her husband feel as though parenting advice is part of the package with Westtown, and they’re grateful. She still marvels that that perfect-looking school from so many years ago is now such a big part of her family’s life.
“I had to visit a lot of schools with this job I was doing, and that one was the one school that truly stayed in my head,” Silenia said. “It’s incredible that we were close to it.”
Want to know more? Visit Westtown online, or attend their fall open house.
Photographs by Casey Kallen.