The Concept School had its beginnings in the spring of 1972, when a group of parents and educators met and decided to start a school. In a climate where public schools were becoming larger and more bureaucratic, these founders envisioned a small educational community where learning could be more personalized and where more interpersonal connections could be made.
During the summer of 1972, the school was incorporated as a nonprofit organization and licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Concordville invited the school to use its parish house facilities rent-free for two years. By September, a Board of Directors was in place, and school opened with 7 students and 3 teachers.
By the spring of 1975, our student body had grown to include about 40 young people. We were outgrowing the facilities at St. John’s, so the Board decided to find a permanent home of its own for the school. When fall came, one Board member discovered that our current building, then owned and operated as a school by the Seventh Day Adventists, was not being used. Inquiries revealed that the property was for sale, and our Board was determined to buy it. Funding was secured and we moved to our present location in January, 1976. The whole school pitched in to paint and clean our new building and get our things into it. We also worked hard to raise money to pay for our new home. The Board had dinner-theater parties for that purpose, and the students, parents, and staff began to have an annual fundraising Flea Market each spring.
This building provided separate rooms for our primary (grades 1 – 4), middle (grades 5 – 8), and upper (grades 9 – 12) groups, as well as an “activities”room for arts and crafts. More students arrived to fill these rooms, and we hired more teachers to instruct and interact with them. The kind of all-school, close-knit connections which our first students experienced at St. John’s now developed within each group. Groups received instruction to meet the needs of individual students, including activities and trips which promoted socialization and bonding. We had bike hikes and camping trips, confidence-course rope climbing, puppet and talent shows, plays, trips to museums, graduation dinner-dances, and overnight adventures. The purchase of a school van made traveling easier. Family activities continued to be a vital part of the whole school experience.
By the school’s tenth anniversary in 1982, it had become obvious that we needed more space. A tenth anniversary party launched a campaign to raise funds for an addition that would provide four classrooms, an arts and crafts room, and a large all-purpose space. With the help of a professional fundraiser, the Board secured funding for the construction of the addition, which was completed and dedicated in March of 1985. Again, students and parents helped with painting, washing windows, landscaping, and fundraising to bring the project to fruition. The presence of the all-purpose room made it possible for us to have programs for larger audiences. We put on a production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and we began to have graduation ceremonies each June. We had science fairs, dances, photography exhibits, a retirement dinner, a rock concert, visiting artist programs, talent shows, a production of Macbeth, and eventually a gala 25th anniversary party in 1997.
In the 1980’s, our school produced yearbooks and developed its logo. Our school fulfilled its mission to provide small classes to meet the needs of students with learning differences. This academic program was geared toward post-secondary success for those with average or above average intelligence. This was also the period when computer technology was becoming important. We purchased computers for our classrooms, and remodeled two of our small classrooms into a computer lab.
In the 1990’s, trips to European countries were offered — broadening many students’ horizons. In this decade, we also built another small addition to the school, gaining two classrooms and a basement with a small workshop. A large outdoor basketball court was constructed, as well as a paved walking trail. Significant improvements to our nature area were made when a bridge, benches, and a boardwalk over the marsh area were added. This was the period when students from Widener University’s graduate school of clinical psychology began practicum work at our school.
Since the inception of the school, the founding director has retired and new directors have continued the traditions and mission of TCS. The school community still enjoys family events, trips and student activities. Parent support remains vital to fundraising and school functions. We have installed a weather station, established a web site, and been honored to have a National Merit Scholar in our midst. In 2007 we celebrated the 35th anniversary and welcomed a new generation of staff to offer opportunity, hope, and support to young people at The Concept School.