The Covid-19 pandemic upended the world, forcing us to rethink many of the “traditional” ways we work, live and learn in community. Education, and how to deliver it safely, has often been at the center of this discussion. Church Farm School, a private boarding and day high school for boys in Exton, PA, transitioned to remote learning in spring 2020 along with most of the world. Despite lingering uncertainty about the year to come, the Class of 2020 all committed to college and were celebrated during a virtual ceremony. Many of our graduates’ plans detoured as their first semesters loomed. Some decided to defer matriculation to their chosen institution in favor of a local, more affordable option; some took a gap year to work and tend to their younger siblings at home; and some were able to attend college, although often in fits and starts of remote and in-person learning.
Remote learning continued through Church Farm School’s first semester of the 2020-2021 school year. Hybrid learning during the second semester accommodated our 100 on-campus students and 50 off-campus students, with the former restricted to campus for the duration of the semester. Additional safety protocols including no visitors, daily health screenings, weekly antigen testing for faculty and staff, mask-wearing, social distancing and eventually, vaccine availability for educators, gave us confidence that we were creating as much of a “bubble” as we could. It worked; the school saw zero Covid-19 cases or exposures among students. On Sunday, May 16, we honored the 43 young men in Church Farm School’s Class of 2021 during our 99th Commencement Exercises, a live, outdoor event held on the lawn behind our historic Chapel of the Atonement. Every senior has committed to college, mostly sight unseen, with more than $5M in scholarships to schools including Cornell, Bowdoin, Amherst, Penn, Lehigh, Skidmore and USC.
“Our students endured a year like no other as it relates to the college process. Since they were unable to visit colleges, each student created a virtual picture of their colleges of interest. They took time to meet with admissions counselors virtually, participated in virtual tours and open houses, and followed social media accounts affiliated with the school in order to find their best fit. The resourcefulness of our students despite their constraints reflects the resiliency of our students,” says Tiffany Scott, Director of College Guidance.
Church Farm School, founded in 1918 on old farmland in what was once known as Glen Loch, has often been the misunderstood private school in a sea of independent school options in and around Philadelphia. Its heritage as a working farm through the 1980s perhaps led to the misnomer that families “shipped” their sons off to Church Farm to get them on the right track. While hard work on the farm did result in a diligence and work ethic that led many alumni to successfully navigate military careers, most Church Farm School graduates have attended college. In the past 10 years, every senior has been accepted to leading colleges and universities, and, since we started tracking college persistence rates through our Alumni Success Program, Church Farm School’s persistence is well above the national average of 56% (this number drops to 42% for male students of color) with an average since 2015 of nearly 90%.
In the 1990s, the school sold off much of its 1,600 acres to create an endowment that would sustain its mission of making a college preparatory education affordable to the young men it serves. The shift in focus led to an expansion of its mission to include day and international students, and families with a greater ability to pay tuition. Today, Church Farm School continues to provide significant financial aid to all of its families, with 85% paying less than $5,000 annually for an education that costs the school nearly $65,000 per student. The difference is made up through some tuition and facilities revenue, the endowment and a strong donor base who supports educational equity and access.
Angela Torres from the Bronx, NY, says private school wasn’t even on her family’s radar five years ago. “We’re Hispanic,” she laughs. “We don’t send our kids away. I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who had done it. I had to open up my mind to the idea.” She had a lot of help along the way. The enrichment program that her sons Josh ’21 and Caleb ‘22 were a part of – Fieldston Enrichment Program – convinced the family to not look anywhere but Church Farm School. “They told us that CFS is a wonderful gem that does an excellent job making boys into men. They told us the experience would be so different than the NYC-based schools that we were considering, and to be open to it.” Josh was accepted to 17 colleges, and will be attending Skidmore (along with six of his peers at CFS). “CFS has become a true partner in educating my greatest treasures and offered them tremendous opportunities. They meet each young man exactly where they are, show him the potential of where he can one day be and help him emerge to that plane and beyond.”
Church Farm School is still offering admission for the 2021-2022 school year for young men entering grades 9 and 10. Learn more and request a tour at www.gocfs.net