Cultivating Community at the School of the Future

It's not easy planting a large, modern school prominently in a historic city park, let alone convincing the surrounding residents to blindly trust the school's motives for coming into their community. At the School of the Future, resistance to the school and its selection practices mingles with hope for its possibilities, not only for the students who attend, but for all who live nearby.

It’s not easy planting a large, modern school prominently in a historic city park, let alone convincing the surrounding residents to blindly trust the school’s motives for coming into their community. At the School of the Future, resistance to the school and its selection practices mingles with hope for its possibilities, not only for the students who attend, but for all who live nearby.

Preview [dial-up OR broadband]

SOTF and Microsoft are proving their commitment to community.

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A climate of tradition exists in West Fairmount Park.

Welcome to West Fairmount Park—home to a variety of historic buildings from boathouses and barns to stables and stately mansions. The Philadelphia Zoo, America’s first, is located nearby. In the surrounding neighborhood, fading brownstones, provide a reminder of the once-thriving middle class African-American community that now struggles with urban pressures of poverty and drugs.

West Fairmount community

Fairmount Park website

When news first surfaced that the School of the Future would be constructed in this historic spot, reactions were mixed. Microsoft had to be prepared to answer local residents’ questions about who would attend the new school, even when the answers weren’t what they wanted to hear. The school uses a lottery system, so students who live within walking distance were not the only ones to attend the school.


Community Perspectives [dial-up OR broadband]

Microsoft’s involvement in community development

SOTF offers community organizations a home in their school.

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Local organizations empower students through music and art.

Community concerns were not lost in the school planning process. The SOTF Curriculum Working Committee names five factors that are crucial to an effective learning environment—involving community is first on the list.

Critical Factors

The West Park Cultural and Opportunity Center (WPCOC) promotes the arts in the West Park area and is housed in the School of the Future. Director Betty Lindley coordinates a variety of after school programs, community events, and a spring art show. While these programs are available for School of the Future learners, other young people from the community are welcome to participate as well. According to Lindley, inviting external involvement is one way to address concerns about the number of local students accepted to the school.

WPCOC Website

Students also participate in Mural Arts, a program that connects students with local artists and the community through large-scale painting.

The Mural Arts Program


Community in the School [dial-up 

Students adopt a new role through the study of a local historic home.

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A panoramic view greets visitors to historic Belmont Mansion.

The view of the Philadelphia skyline from the Belmont Plateau is one of the most spectacular in the city. Visitors to the city trek to historic Belmont Mansion for the surrounding view.

Belmont Mansion

Belmont Mansion’s connection to the Underground Railroad was recently confirmed. This historical link to the African-American experience helps SOTF students learn about themselves and then interpret for others. Unlike a more established museum, Belmont Mansion is a work in progress, and the learners are given the opportunity to play an active role in its development. Currently in its second year, the partnership between Belmont and SOTF includes over 75 students. Young people can be found around every corner of the mansion, conducting tours, managing the gift shop, planning for a video project, and developing ideas for ways to promote the mansion to the public.

On a Wednesday afternoon, students congregate in the mansion’s dining room to learn about the history of the residence from director Audrey Thornton.


Learners In the Community [dial-up OR broadband]

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Student leader Iman guides first-year learners.

Students are also learning about leadership, cooperation, and social responsibility. Iman, a second-year learner, spent her summer working at the Mansion and participating in a United Nations science program. Back at SOTF, she continues to be a leader as she trains the new learners about the tour process.

Iman’s docent training materials

Iman’s thoughts on becoming a leader