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From the archives: Moffet School and community: A mutual respect

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Notebook was launched in 1994 as a newspaper committed to ensuring quality and equity in Philadelphia public schools. We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first publication this spring. We are featuring an article from our archives each week, shedding light on both the dramatic changes that have taken place in public education and the persistent issues facing Philadelphia’s school system.

This piece is from the Fall 2000 print edition:

by Jeanette Kaplan

Joe Pomales, proud parent of two Moffet graduates and one student in the 5th grade, does it all. With his desk by the front door, his is usually the first face that greets incoming visitors.

A warm, self-effacing man, whose formal title is bilingual tutor, Pomales exudes the Moffet spirit. "He puts everybody in a good mood," one teacher comments.

Theresa Venhaus’s history with Moffet stretches back 32 years to when her then 5-year-old son enrolled at the school. What started out as volunteer work through the Home and School Association eventually turned into a 21-year career as a food service worker.

Mother Venhaus, as students and staff call her, is a Moffet fixture, active in the school’s "Voyager" afterschool program and always available to sew a loose button or two.

Joe Pomales and Theresa Venhaus are just two of the many concerned parents who have become an integral part of Moffet’s staff and helped to make the school’s culture one that is attentive to its multicultural community.

"There are parents in the classrooms, in the school yard, in the lunchroom. Everywhere. There are always parents here," observes Nereida Pomales, herself a parent and a noontime aide.

Many schools hire parents, but Moffet’s staff is noteworthy because it is characterized by teamwork and camaraderie among the various staff members.

"We don’t treat aides or parents differently," says Betsy Lamb, who has taught kindergarten for 16 years. "We see each other all as educators."

Mrs. Estrada, Lamb’s classroom assistant and long-time community resident, agrees,

"We respect one another. We love each other."

Respect for the cultural diversity at Moffet is not just lip service.

Principal John Kelly himself is bilingual. Joe Pomales, already bilingual in Spanish and English, is learning Albanian to serve as a better intermediary for Moffet’s growing Albanian student population.

"I don’t want to leave the parents bewildered," Pomales says.

Moreover, the school makes a conscious effort to celebrate the multiculturalism of its students and to make it a point of pride.

Moffet students spend a better part of their last marking period studying different countries for an "International Week" celebration that culminates in a series of assemblies and an outdoor parade.

In these performances, music teacher Irene Pelech includes songs that represent the variety of places from which Moffet students hail, including Puerto Rico, Palestine, and Albania.

Interestingly, for a school that garners so much parental support and praise, Moffet’s formal structures for parent participation are not exceptionally strong.

While meeting regularly, the School Council, according to Principal John Kelly, "is not big," and he added that the Home and School Association has been through rough times recently — "going in cycles."

Nevertheless, Moffet enjoys a long-standing positive relationship with the neighborhood.

Parents who went to Moffet themselves and who now send their children to the school still speak highly of its strong points.

"I love this school. It’s the best in the area. The teachers and staff are nice. The principal is the greatest. He relates to parents. He is happy, laughing. He knows how to come to people," says Secundio Rosario.

‘"The old school was the same way." Rosario continues, "I like the way they communicate. They don’t treat anyone special or better. My daughter has never missed a day in two years. My son graduated with straight As. He’s now in Edison. He says, ‘I miss it. I wish I could go back to school there again.’"

Because of the school’s good relationship with the community, Jeff Kall, Moffet’s gym teacher since 1974, feels comfortable conducting track practice in the neighborhood.

"Moffet is an oasis," Kall says. "We run around the block here. Nobody has ever bothered us walking to Temple for gymnastic meets. There’s respect in the neighborhood for the school."

Surely, this is because the respect also goes the other way.

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