February 12, 2009


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Newsletter and blog counter negative impression of Jenks

Vanessa Yingling, author of the Jenks parent newsletter and blog, is seen with her partner Rob Gabriel, daughter Alex, 6, and son Nicolas. 3. (Photo by Paula M. Riley)

When Vanessa Yingling, Ph.D., moved to Philadelphia from Brooklyn with her partner Rob Gabriel and their two small children, they sought out a strong neighborhood community. When they came to Chestnut Hill, they knew they found a home.

The growing family enjoys many walks along the Avenue and visiting the shops and bakeries near their home. When it was time to send their daughter to preschool, they chose Miquon.

“I have always been a believer in public schools,” says Yingling. “It is what makes America different.” When she and her children walked by Jenks or played on the community playground at Jenks, she often felt conflicted that her kids would not attend the community public school.

Last year when Jenks held its open house, Yingling decided to attend. “We loved Miquon and were totally satisfied there. I went to the open house to assuage my guilt for not sending my children there.”

The open house was all she needed. “I was so really impressed with the fun, exciting atmosphere at Jenks.” As she evaluated the kindergarten program, she described how happy she was with the principal, teachers, students and level of parent involvement. Yingling was most surprised by the ‘specials’ that the kindergartners attend. These include art, computers, physical education and Spanish.

Alex started kindergarten last fall. Yingling and Gabriel are pleased with their decision. Their daughter is eager to attend school, is proud of her role in the classroom and enjoys learning. Yingling loves the parent community and the endless opportunities available for her to make positive contributions to the school. She wanted to make sure that all the parents knew how great the school was so she re-instituted the Jenks News, a school newsletter.

The four-page bi-monthly newsletter is attractive with a professional format, pictures and images. Input for content comes from teachers, staff and parents. Its front page offers a letter from the principal and schedule of upcoming events. Inside are announcements of events and programs held at the school as well as student work including sixth graders’ haikus, fifth grade poems and photos of art work.

“Adventures in Kindergarten” tells of the class trip to Styer’s Orchard and the Philadelphia Art Museum. The fifth grade update describes their Native American Tribe studies which included learning of the people, the art work and the culture.

The newsletter is written on Yingling’s home computer using MS Publisher software, copied by the school district and duplicated in black and white to all Jenks students. For $65, a family or business can sponsor each edition of the newsletter to cover publication costs.

Yingling is very pleased with the newsletter and the positive reception the students and parents have expressed. She has ideas for improvements including incorporating the upper students’ writing as well as running more photos with a greater variety of subject matter. There were, however, other challenges that awaited her.

Outside of the school, she sensed that there was still a negative impression of the school, “I recognized that we needed something for people who want to get a parent perspective to counter the negative and misinformation that was out there.”

Although she does not consider herself the “blogger type,” she decided to start a blog so that prospective parents who were looking at Jenks could find positive information on the school. When Yingling explains how she set up the blog, she gives all credit to Kevin Peter, who put together the blog “Knowing Henry.” This site, which Yingling used as her model, has become a great source of information for potential and current C.W. Henry School families.

Yingling’s blogspot, “This year at Jenks” (, includes articles, photographs, upcoming events and links to other sites. A recent article tells of the Web site and encourages parents to submit and read other reviews of their school. Other highlights are links to articles about Jenks that have been in the Chestnut Hill Local, information about after-school programs and reflective pieces such as “Winter Doldrums; It’s all Perspective.”

As with many sites, her challenge is to get more traffic to the blog. She has many ideas for enhancing the site but for now, as with the newsletter, she is happy to be contributing to telling the “positive story about a Jenks education.” Her hope is that more parents will make posts and share their perspectives.

Although maintaining the blog and writing the newsletter can be time-consuming, Yingling still manages to work full-time at Temple University as an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology. In addition to teaching, Yingling runs a kinesiology lab currently examining bone strength development.

A native of Southern California, Yingling received her B.S. in bioengineering from the University of California at San Diego. She crossed the country (and weather patterns) and completed her master’s degree at the University of Buffalo in New York. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo and completed her post-doctoral work at Washington University in St. Louis.

The opportunity to run the lab at Temple convinced her to leave her job at Brooklyn College and her partner Gabriel to leave his teaching position at Long Island University. He is currently teaching at Temple University as well in the physical therapy arena.

After many residences, various climates and two countries, Yingling  believes she has found the right home in which to raise her children. A resident of Chestnut Hill, she loves the urban atmosphere of the area, but admits she and Gabriel did have to buy one car when they moved here three years ago.

Her mornings begin with a walk up the Avenue, stopping at Willow Grove Salon to visit Roberta or Bredenbecks for a breakfast treat for Alex, 6, and Nicolas, 3. The first drop off is Nicolas, who attends Christ Lutheran Child Care. They cross the street as Alex runs to her Jenks kindergarten class. “It’s a great feeling to love your kids’ school and to love the community where you live,” said Vanessa.