Stories from Fern Hill

  • Fern Hill Principal Jennifer Southmayd

    Fern Hill Elementary School Principal Ms. Southmayd

    The West Chester Area School District is pleased to welcome Ms. Jennifer Southmayd as the new principal of Fern Hill Elementary School. Ms. Southmayd is no stranger to the West Chester Area School District, having served previously as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, and Instructional Technology Coordinator in the district. Ms. Southmayd spent the last year as an Assistant Principal at Garnet Valley School District.

    "The educator I am today is representative of the different perspectives I have had," said Ms. Southmayd.

    Ms. Southmayd is inspired by children's energy.

    "They fill our classrooms, hallways, stages, and gymnasiums with wonder and curiosity that allows us all as adults to never forget the power of moments, relationships, connection, and new learning. When our students feel seen, heard, and valued within their school community, their growth socially, academically, and emotionally is limitless."

    Ms. Southmayd looks forward to helping students achieve their personal best through a strong home-school partnership and a collaborative, committed community.

    "This year is filled with new beginnings at Fern Hill. As a new principal with a new population of students and families due to redistricting, I am most excited about uniting our community together as we reacclimate to a more normal school year and propel our learning forward together."

    When not leading students toward success, Ms. Southmayd can often be found dabbling with power tools and a new DIY project or taking her nieces on an adventure to a new park or playground.

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  • Fern Hill Principal Named 2020 Millennial Superstar
    Fern Hill Ribbon Cutting Ceremony  Dr. Rebecca Eberly  Dr. Rebecca Eberly and students

    Congratulations to Fern Hill Elementary Principal Dr. Rebecca Eberly on being named a 2020 VISTA Millennial Superstar! Vista Today is celebrating 40 professionals under the age of 40 who are breaking down walls, shattering expectations, and making their company, nonprofit, and Chester County a better place.

    Click here to read the article about Dr. Rebecca Eberly


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  • Fern Hill Second-Graders Try Their Hand at Songwriting

    Second-graders perform their songs with KJ Second-graders students perform with KJ

    Second-grade students at Fern Hill Elementary School recently performed songs that they wrote with the help local musician KJ Reimensnyder-Wagner. KJ, as she is known to the students, has been visiting Fern Hill for the past four years and collaborates with them to create songs based on various topics tied to their curriculum.

    KJ spent a week working with all four second-grade classes, coming up with the melody and lyrics for songs that tied in with their poetry unit, science, and social studies. Students also made instruments using materials from home designated for recycling. The visit ended with the students and KJ performing the songs for the rest of the student body.

    KJ started coming to Fern Hill four years ago after second-grade teachers Shawn Dzielawa and Angela McCullough met her at the National Agriculture in the Classroom state and national conferences. KJ Reimensnyder-Wagner

    "It is a great partnership to have an artist in residence with us and a wonderful opportunity for them to work together to perform for everyone," said Dzielawa. "We began with an agriculture focus and then moved to allow the students to pick their topics for the songs."

    Her annual week-long learning experience to Fern Hill continues to make an impact on students both in and out of the classroom.

    KJ grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and now resides near Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Her career as a singer-songwriter began at the age of 12 after she received a guitar from her parents. She has established herself as one of the true "positive leaders and motivational musicians" of the U.S. Folk Circuit and Motivational Speaking circuit today. Her incredible upbeat attitude and positive energy combine to make her one of the most sought after performers in the business today.

    Besides entertaining and speaking throughout the United States, KJ has also toured extensively in the British Isles – especially her "second home" of Scotland, where she maintains a secondary base of operations.

    Currently touring with her CD projects such as "Proud to be a Farmer," "Dreaming Inside Her Mind," "PonyTales," "Oliver's Quiet" (with Sweetwater Reunion Band), KJ also covers family concerts with such music CD projects as her "Simply Kids", "Agriculture Is A BIG Word (supported by the PA Dept. of Agriculture), and "Farms, Food & Fun!". Her newest adult CD is slated to be released in the near future.

    For more insight on KJ Reimensnyder-Wagner, visit

    Click here to see second-grade students from Fern Hill Elementary perform with KJ.

    *WCASD Communications intern, Gracie Cleveland contributed to this article.


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  • Two WCASD Teachers Recognized for Social Studies Contributions

    Christina Letrinko receives her award. Ken Fuette and Veterans Day Program team.

                                                   Christina Letrinko (left)                                                              Ken Fuette (seated center) and his Glen Acres Veterans Day Program team

    The Middle States Council for Social Studies (MSCSS) recently recognized two West Chester Area School District educators for Social Studies for their outstanding contributions to education and dedication to their students.

    Christina Letrinko, a first-grade teacher at Fern Hill Elementary School, was presented with the Collins-Skinner Award, which is named for the past two presidents of the Middle States Council. The award is given to an outstanding elementary educator from the Middle States region who emphasizes social studies instruction in the classroom. Earlier this school year, Mrs. Letrinko welcomed two new students from Latin America to her classroom. To help ease the students' transition to a new county and new school, Mrs. Letrinko had her class research where they were from and created presentations using iMovie.

    Ken Fuette from Glen Acres Elementary School was awarded the Middle States Council Certificate for Communication for his work on the school's Veterans Day play. The certificate is presented to an individual or organization that shares communication with social studies educators that supports innovative teaching methods and advances in the field.

    The awards were handed out at the Council's annual conference, which was held in King of Prussia on March 2.

    Founded in 1903, the Middle States Council for the Social Studies is the oldest professional organization in the country devoted solely to social studies education. The mission of MSCSS is to provide leadership, service, and support for social studies educators of all levels.
    Members include Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.


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  • State Rep. Carolyn Comitta Observes Full-Day Kindergarten Program      

     Representative Carolyn Comitta and Dr. Scanlon visit a kindergarten classroom at Fern Hill Elementary School           Representative Carolyn Comitta receives an "apple pie" prepared by kindergarten students as part of their dramatic play            

    State Representative Carolyn Comitta recently paid a visit to Fern Hill Elementary School to witness the District's full-day, play-based kindergarten program in action. The program, which is now in its second year, allows children time to play – in both directed and non-directed ways – as a critical part of their school day.

    Representative Comitta visited each of the school's four kindergarten classrooms, where students were running apple orchards and a restaurant as part of dramatic play. The play component of the students’ day always centers on a lesson they are learning.

    "This is so impressive to see," said Representative Comitta, an alumna of Fern Hill Elementary School. "Everyone is engaged. They are clear about what they are doing. They are learning and having fun."

    The District consulted with child development expert and author Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek to design the program.

    "Our kindergarten curriculum was built with the knowledge that play is a central component of children’s growth," said Dr. Tammi Florio, Director of Elementary Education for the West Chester Area School District. "It helps them make meaning of their world, learn about themselves and how things work, and guides them as they learn how to get along with others and develop the crucial social skills that are necessary for them to flourish."

    As part of the curriculum, students plan their play scenarios, take on roles, create storylines, and make props as they engage in dramatic and construction play. Language skills are fostered, and children learn to take risks, work in groups, and focus their attention in new ways. Representative Carolyn Comitta helps kindergarten students complete their puzzle.

    "We believe that play-based learning forms the foundation for future academic success as our students advance through the grades and face increasing academic rigor," added Florio.

    District officials are closely monitoring student progress, which is already evident. According to Florio, 87 percent of full-day kindergarten students were reading at or above grade level at the end of the 2017-18 school year, compared to 67 percent in the District's half-day program the year before.

    Forty percent of full-day students scored advanced on the spring writing assessment, compared to 32 percent in half-day kindergarten.

    Math skills were also significantly higher for full-day kindergarten students compared to half-day when it came to knowing names and values of coins, understanding concepts of length, width, area, and capacity, and applying concepts of subtraction.

    Occupational therapy referrals were down by one-third compared to the previous year, which Dr. Florio credited to a greater emphasis on fine motor skills in full-day kindergarten.

    "Not only did we achieve similar or better results with full-day kindergarten compared to half-day, but we also did it with more kids," said Florio.

    There were 892 students enrolled in full-day kindergarten last year compared to 671 in half-day kindergarten in 2016-17. With the implementation of full-day kindergarten, the District saw an influx of students from charter schools.

    “We estimated that full-day kindergarten would bring back between 35 to 40 students from charter schools. When we began the 2017-18 school year, we had 85 children return, giving us roughly two-thirds of what we needed to cover the costs of the program," said Dr. Jim Scanlon, superintendent of the West Chester Area School District.

    The District was incurring the tuition cost of approximately 685 students a year to charter schools.  In Pennsylvania, the laws require schools districts to pay the tuition for charter school students or about $13,000 per regular education student, and $30,000 for a child with special needs. "In essence, we were already paying for full-day kindergarten; we just weren’t offering it in our schools," said Scanlon.

    Although official enrollment numbers will not be available until October 1, Dr. Scanlon estimates another 40-50 students enrolled in the WCASD this year, reducing charter school tuition costs for the District this year by approximately $700,000.


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  • Fern Hill Elementary Students Unite for Her

    Fern Hill Elementary raises money for Unite for Her

    Students at Fern Hill Elementary School recently came together and raised over $7,000 for Unite for Her. The organization helps bridge the gap between the medical and wellness community by giving women access to therapies that they would typically pay out of pocket for such as acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy, nutrition talks, and counseling sessions.

    Unite for Her has grown from helping 24 women through one hospital affiliation to helping nearly 1200 women and partnering with a total of 36 cancer centers and hospitals.

    For more information, please visit

    Click here to view highlights from the successful fundraiser.


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  • World Read Aloud Day

    World Read Aloud Day   World Read Aloud Day   World Read Aloud Day

    February 1st was World Read Aloud Day. Students at Fern Hill Elementary School participated in a Buddy Class Guest Reader activity which featured the book Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de le Pena.

    The book is about a little boy named CJ who ride a bus with his grandmother every week. On one particular ride, he asks his grandmother - Why don't they have a car like his friend? Why doesn't he have an iPod like other boys on the bus? Why they disembark in the "dirty" part of town? His grandmother responds with encouraging answers that helps CJ see the beauty in the world around him.

    Students in kindergarten were paired with their 3rd-grade buddies;1st-graders were joined by their 4th-grade buddies;2nd- graders listened to the story with their 5th-grade buddies. Guest readers filled the classrooms and worked alongside with teachers to help the students understand the lesson that beauty is everywhere if you learn to recognize it. The lesson ended with students preparing self-portraits that will be added to a giant school bus created by art teacher Mrs. Russell.

    The school-wide Buddy Class Guest Reader activity coincides with Fern Hill's canned soup drive which runs through February 15. Students are encouraged to bring in food donations which will benefit the West Chester Food Cupboard.

    World Read Aloud Day   World Read Aloud Day   World Read Aloud Day

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