William Penn Elementary is a community school in the heart of Northside Bethlehem. A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement lead to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities. Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of support and opportunities to children, youth, families, and communities. Moravian College serves as the lead partner to William Penn. William Penn staff, Moravian College, and community partners work together to educate the whole child.

As the community school coordinator, I coordinate mentors, tutors, volunteers, and after-school programs and services that come into our school. I also work to eliminate barriers to learning for our students, such as making sure their basic needs are met and connecting them with physical and mental health services.

The William Penn mission is “Together we learn, together we lead.”

[Note: Greer Hockemeier is pictured at left with students from William Penn]

What do you love most about your job?

What I love most about my job is the relationships I’ve built with the students, families, staff, and community. I’ve been in this role for seven years, which has allowed me to really get to know the students and families I’m serving. Once a relationship has been established, it’s easier for families to trust the school community to know we are working in the best interest of their children.

I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with the students helping in class or meeting with kids who are struggling on a particular day. We work to develop coping skills to help them succeed in school and in life. The relationships I have made at William Penn make coming to work rewarding and enjoyable.

How does Moravian College support your mission?

Moravian College supports our mission in so many ways!

  • Each year we partner with the 1742 Experienced organized by the Center for Career and Civic Engagement, and we work with Heritage Day volunteers to complete needed jobs in and around our school.
  • We have America Reads tutors in our classrooms daily tutoring and running an after-school Homework Club.
  • We work with the art and science departments to bring events and programs to our students both at William Penn and on the Moravian campus.
  • The admissions and nursing departments donate gifts for our students during the holidays
  • Athletes participate in school events, present sports clinics and invite our students to attend their games at Moravian.
  • College students mentor our kids weekly and are positive role models to those who need it most.
  • Nursing students volunteer their time to run health fairs, help in the nurse’s office, and present classroom health lessons.
  • Student teachers spend their practicum hours at our school, and education classes write and present lessons to our kindergarten students as practice.
  • We trick-or-treat on the Moravian campus for Halloween and use Makuvek Field and the gym for our field day and March Madness events.
  • Our annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration is also held on campus with our 5th graders and their families with the help from college volunteers and breakfast served by Sodexo.  

We believe our relationship with Moravian College is mutually beneficial. The elementary students gain new experiences from these interactions and visits to campus while the college students get real-life experiences with a diverse group of kindergarten through 5th grade students.

How can Moravian College—and the greater community—be more involved with William Penn?

We hope to work more closely with Moravian College graduate students as counseling interns in the future. There is such a need for mental health services, especially in the Covid-19 era, that it would benefit us to use these counseling students as a resource. We’re also hoping to utilize graduate students for research projects in the years to come. Research on culturally responsive teaching, social emotional learning techniques, trauma-informed schools, and restorative practices would be welcomed.

As for the community, we are always looking for volunteers, mentors, and donations. There’s always a way to help out at William Penn!

What is the biggest challenge William Penn Elementary faces?

The biggest challenge we face is a housing crisis. Our enrollment has declined in the last two years due to limited low-income housing options in the area. Our families are moving out of the Northside of Bethlehem to find affordable housing, and this interrupts children’s stability and education. Housing instability also has a significant impact on attendance.

What do you hope for the future of the school?

Our hope for the William Penn community school is to continue to grow in numbers so we can serve more students in a positive, welcoming environment. We hope the housing market stabilizes and more low-income housing options become available so our families can keep their children in the Bethlehem Area School District from kindergarten through 12th grade. This will allow us to help our students reach their educational and emotional potentials while providing opportunities for them to grow into well-rounded adults.

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