Jenks parents created lawn signs to "compete" with private school messages around the neighborhood.

by Jennifer Katz

Every fall, when schools are back in session for the year, Vanessa Yingling, a local mother of two, would notice the lawn signs popping up all over Chestnut Hill. The signs, some brightly colored, some austere, usually invite passersby to an open house for the private or parochial school of the homeowner’s choice.

So this year, Yingling finally persuaded her cohorts on the J.S. Jenks Home and School Association board to create a lawn sign campaign.

“Vanessa has been pushing this for years,” said Stephanie Mayes, treasurer of the Jenks HSA Assoc.

Yingling and Hayes teamed up with two other parents, Haviva Goldman and Julia Reed from the board, to design and purchase 25 lawn signs hailing the local public school. “Local, Smart, Public” is the campaign.

“We wanted people to think of it as an option,” said Yingling, who has a daughter in the second grade and a son who will start kindergarten in the fall. “We are not asking for the neighborhood to go to Jenks, but we want it to be an option.”

The families, who paid for the signs, each kept one to display and donated the remaining signs to the school to be sold as a fundraiser for the HSA. By late November there was just one sign left for sale.

“They (the signs) have started some interesting conversations,” said Hayes. “With all the other schools around, Jenks has always been quietly in the middle. People don’t know how many people have gone there or send their kids there.”

Like many families, the Jenks parents said they struggled with where to send their kids when they first moved into the neighborhood, but unlike the vast majority of parents, particularly in Chestnut Hill, they were quickly and decidedly won over by Jenks.

“There is this assumption when you move here that your kids will go to private school or you will move to the burbs,” Goldman said. Goldman.

When Goldman started looking around for her son, who is now in first grade, she came across the C.W. Henry School parents group, which she checked out to learn more about what other families were doing, which led to attending one of the Jenks kindergarten teas.

“I realized that here was this small school – each grade has just two classes,” she said. “I looked at the suburban schools, and I was terrified by the number of classes, 10 per grade. At Jenks I felt welcomed and needed. Everyone knows my kid and not for any bad reason. It’s a good thing.”

Since the signs have gone up, people have opened up to many of the Jenks families about their own struggle with public schools in the city.

“There is a fear of the Philadelphia school district as a whole and the lack of diversity,” said Hayes, whose 7-year-old twins are in first grade.

“There is more diversity than appears,” Goldman said. “Our kids are exposed to diversity beyond color.

“I think for some people who have never been the minority, it’s hard to cross that barrier but the kids don’t see it that way.”

The lawn sign campaign is the latest effort by the HSA parents to increase awareness and access to the families that have chosen the school. The have their own web- site and a list serve for perspective families. The idea is to let people know where to come to learn more.

“There are people to talk to, ask questions of,” Hayes said.

And that is exactly what these parents are hoping more families will do.

Visit the Jenks HSA website at jsjenks.org.