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October 27, 2015

Growing the river wards, one school at a time

Local real estate agents visit elementary schools in the river wards to see how they serve the community

Schools Development
School Tour river wards Hayden Mitman/for PhillyVoice

Realtors arrive at Kensington's John Moffet Elementary School. Real estate agents tours schools throughout the river wards communities on Tuesday to learn about what the schools have to offer.

Philadelphia's river wards have long had a tough reputation, a place where empty drug baggies on the curb can be spotted today as often as newly constructed homes.

It can be difficult convincing millennials that these communities are a great place to live and educate their children.

On Tuesday, however, real estate agents from throughout the city toured schools in Fishtown and Kensington to learn about the turnaround that is helping bring new construction to the communities and better educational opportunities for new families moving into the area.

The tour was arranged by members of the schools' friends groups, anxious to show off their facilities.

Giving the agents a first-hand look at the schools and the improvements they are making can help erase the stigma that some may have about the quality of their city schools, according to Sasha Best, a supporter of the General Philip Kearny School in Northern Liberties, planned to be part of the tour but skipped due to scheduling concerns. 

"We've all made these connections now. And, we hope that in this way, our schools will be strengthened," she said.

At H.A. Brown Elementary School in Kensington, Principal Connie Carnivale told the real estate agents about the school's efforts to help provide students with extracurricular activities, even while the state government has yet to complete the budget that would provide additional school funding. 

"We have not let that impact our students," said Carnivale of the budget impasse in Harrisburg. 

She said the K-8 grade school offers activities normally considered extracurricular during the school day to allow students to be able to participate in student government, choir, gym club, yearbook and string and percussion instrument instruction. 

"I feel that our students should have the same opportunities that I had growing up," said Carnivale. "I don't think we should limit our students' opportunities just because government funding might not be there." 

At Fishtown's Horatio B. Hackett Elementary School, teacher leader Tessa Donnelly said the school hopes to raise $1.4 million to create a new schoolyard, which is now just a paved area. 

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Realtors arrive to tour Horatio B. Hackett Elementary School in Fishtown. (Hayden Mitman/PhillyVoice)

She also touted the school's music programs, including the school's summer and fall concerts. 

"I always say we are the best-kept secret in the Philadelphia school system," said Donnelly, of the K-5 school that has about 370 students.

At Alexander Adaire School, a K-8 school with about 350 students in Fishtown, Kate Hughes, a member of the school's friends group who helped organize the day's tour, said that the idea was to educate real estate agents about all the neighborhood has to offer. 

River Wards tour 3

The tour arrives at Fishtown's Alexander Adaire School. (Hayden Mitman/PhillyVoice)

"We figure that Realtors are really on the ground floor of building communities," said Hughes. "We wanted to show what our classrooms are really like." 

During a tour of the school, Anna Jenkins, the school's principal, shared plans for a new playground that could cost about $500,000 when it's completed. 

Hughes said they hope to start the project next summer. 

The tour wrapped up at John Moffet Elementary School, a K-5 grade school in Kensington with about 364 students. Here, Principal Carmen Navarro talked about the young families in the area and how the school works with the Philadelphia Orchestra to bring visits from musicians weekly for musical instruction. 

Walking the group to a computer room, Navarro said the school works with area businesses to hold art and dance programs. 

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Principal Carmen Navarro shows off a computer lab at John Moffet Elementary School. (Hayden Mitman/PhillyVoice)

"We want to make sure our kids have great opportunities," said Johnny McDonald, a real estate agent and COO of Onion Flats, a development company, when asked about the schools and the impact they have on the community. 

"And, where do great opportunities come from?" he asked. "From great neighbors – and schools are the catalyst for that." 

At the conclusion of the tour, many of the agents said their eyes were opened to the educational opportunities available in the river wards. 

"I wish I could go back to school," joked Deirdre Affel, an agent with Philly Home Girls Real Estate. 

"I definitely think this was helpful," agreed Stacy Sanseverino of Keller Williams at "It was definitely an eye-opening experience."