Spurred by faith and finances, Philly private schools embrace in-person learning

  • Avi Wolfman-Arent/Keystone Crossroads

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Walt Rice (left), Connie Vazquez (center) and pastor Edward Johnson (right) in front of the Holmesburg Baptist Church and Christian Academy in Northeast Philadelphia.

The school reopening plan for Holmesburg Christian Academy hews closely to the safety plan first proposed — and then abandoned — by the School District of Philadelphia.

There is, however, one important difference:

The school plans to actually open.

The small, evangelical school in Northeast Philadelphia says it’ll have face-to-face instruction for all students, every day.

“From youngest to oldest, from top to bottom, we really see this as something that is worth it,” said Walt Rice, the financial administrator and admissions director at the school of 175 students. “Worth it for the sake of serving Jesus. Worth it for the sake of serving these kids.”

Whether compelled by Christ or secular reasons, many private schools in Philadelphia seem to be following Holmesburg Christian Academy’s path.

As several major charter networks and public school districts — including Philadelphia’s — opt for an all-virtual start, private schools are leaning the opposite direction.

When WHYY canvassed private schools across the city, not one said it plans to start the school year fully online.

But roughly 20 independent schools did say they’ll have five days of in-person classes a week. And another handful plans to have a hybrid approach that includes some online learning and some face-to-face instruction.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which runs dozens of schools across the city, recently announced it would have an in-person model for its elementary schools and a hybrid approach at the high school level.

What’s emerging, it seems, is a rift that could influence the educational destinies of several thousand students in America’s poorest big city. Forget “pandemic pods.” The biggest factor in whether your child receives an in-person education this fall might be whether you pay for them to attend school in the first place.

“It just feels like we can do this,” said Rice with Holmesburg Christian Academy. “And we don’t have to compromise.”

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