|The Perkiomen School|
|Type||Co-ed, Private, Boarding|
|Motto||"Solvitur Vivendo: Experience is the best teacher"|
|Student to teacher ratio||7:1|
|Campus||165 acres (0.67 km2)|
PantherHeadmaster = Christopher R. Tompkins
The Perkiomen School is an independent, co-educational, boarding and day college preparatory school located in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania. Perkiomen admits 6th-12th grade students and offers a year for postgraduate students. Founded by a descendant of a Schwenkfelder immigrant in 1875, The Perkiomen School now educates over 300 students a year. The campus encompasses 165 acres (0.67 km2). This traditional structured boarding and day school includes students and faculty from throughout the United States and the world.
- 1 Campus
- 2 History
- 3 Landscaping/ Land Acquisition
- 4 School motto
- 5 References
- 6 External links
The campus features five dormitories, an Athletic Center (including a swimming pool, two gymnasiums, weight room, wrestling room and indoor batting cage), eight tennis courts, five athletic fields, baseball and softball fields, outdoor batting cage, a Dining Hall, Health Center, and Faculty housing.
The campus also includes six academic buildings (including a fine arts building, middle school center, and the Carnegie Library). The original “old main” school building Kriebel Hall was renovated in 1995 (due to it burning down). In 2007, Perkiomen opened The Schumo Academic Center, which offers 4 double classroom science labs, a computer lab, and 18 classrooms including the Harkness Conference Room; all of the classrooms are equipped with Activboards. During the summer of 2009 the school acquired a new property, “The Creamery.” The building located on Third Street further adds to the growth of the school. The World Language Program includes German, Mandarin, Latin, and Spanish, and offers over 20 AP courses. In 2009 the Student Center (Robbie's) was completely renovated and in 2010 the Carnegie Library was rededicated after major enhancements.
A Seed Was Planted
On the day before her death in 1965, Helen Wieand Cole wrote to the school her father, Charles S. Wieand, founded with great nostalgia and in recognition of the history of which she was a part – “How proud my father would be to see the growth of the small seed planted these many years ago.” The seed to which Mrs. Cole referred, was that which had grown from the Perkiomen Seminary to Perkiomen School and the seed that has grown into the independent, coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school it is today.
In 1874, the Upper Perkiomen Valley was a rural landscape with market towns, dairy farms, cigar factories, and the distant lights of Philadelphia to the south barely casting their influence in this predominantly Pennsylvania Dutch community. Many of the families that inhabited the area lived in their family homesteads from the 18th century and attended churches founded by their ancestors. Education in the community was limited with few public schools and the academies of old long closed. It was in this atmosphere that The Reverend Charles S. Wieand implemented the vision of his mentor, The Reverend Dr. Clement A. Weiser, Minister of the New Goshenhoppen Reformed Church, to establish an independent school to provide educational opportunities to students from the Upper Perkiomen Valley and beyond. Dr. Weiser exhorted The Reverend Wieand to “form a school in our valley, Charles. The need is urgent, and you are the man who can do this.” To this day, the New Goshenhoppen Church is a beacon over the Perkiomen campus and its carillon spreads the sounds of hymns across the verdant fields of the old Gruelich farm on any given day.
An 1874 graduate of one of America’s great liberal arts colleges, Franklin and Marshall, Charles S. Wieand succumbed to the urgings of Dr. Weiser to open an independent school in Pennsburg to supplement the limited educational opportunities provided in the area. With financial backing from the New Goshenhoppen church and funds inherited by his wife, Mr. Wieand purchased a small plot of ground on the border between East Greenville and Pennsburg and built a combined house and school on the site of what is now Kriebel Hall – Perkiomen’s “Old Main” and the structure that is the physical foundation of The Perkiomen School today. The Wieands moved into the new school building in 1875 and, thus, began The Perkiomen School, known then as Perkiomen Seminary.
The first students enrolled in 1875 and, for eight years, Mr. and Mrs. Wieand operated the school. The earliest years were difficult, with funding in short supply and illness plaguing the valley. During Christmas recess of 1883, diphtheria struck the Wieand family, taking the lives of three of their four children in a matter of five days. Mr. Wieand himself was so weakened and the fear of illness spreading so severe, the school did not reopen after the holidays.
Success and Growth
In 1892 the General Conference of the Schwenkfelder Church, another local Protestant denomination, purchased the school and appointed The Reverend Dr. Oscar S. Kriebel headmaster on October 3. With a faculty of four (including the headmaster and his wife) and nineteen students, Perkiomen was incorporated and recognized by the State of Pennsylvania as an independent school with a board of trustees made up of members of the denomination as well as community leaders, alumni, and other friends of the School. By June 1895 sufficient funds were raised so the trustees could purchase the school from the General Conference of the Schwenkfelders for $3500 and to complete Kriebel Hall. Enrollment increased during these early years and, by 1902, surpassed 300 with a faculty of nearly thirty. To accommodate the expanding enrollment, two additional buildings were erected: Kehs Hall (gymnasium and dormitory) in 1906 and the Carnegie Library (library, museum, and classrooms) in 1913.
Dr. Kriebel successfully guided the school through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During Dr. Kriebel’s tenure, the school grew in size and stature. While his leadership was recognized as strong, the period saw growth in interest in schools like Perkiomen as a direct result of the rapid growth and industrialization of the United States and the demands that came with wealth and increasing expectations for high quality education. Enrollment peaked immediately before World War I with well over 300 students attending the school from around the world.
The first international student arrived at Perkiomen School from Korea in the 1890s and was followed by students from Mexico, Cuba, Greece, Siam (Thailand), and China. Students arrived in Pennsburg by train and resided in local homes as well as dorms. With students from 25 counties in Pennsylvania, 17 states, and 7 foreign countries, the local paper, the Town and Country wrote “All hail to Perkiomen, her present, her future, her alumni, her faculty, her students.”
The curriculum of Perkiomen was decidedly academic. The college preparatory program provided a classical curriculum that emphasized the intensive study of Latin and Greek, as well as science and mathematics and one year of German in the senior year. The general education program was for those who intended to enter the professions and focused on the same program, with Greek omitted. The classical liberal arts of the early years remain the foundation of Perkiomen’s college preparatory program to this day, with Latin the foundation language of grades six and seven, and an emphasis on analytical writing, speaking, literature, mathematics, and laboratory based sciences.
During Perkiomen’s early years, the school was coeducational. In 1916, however, Trustees decided to change the name to Perkiomen School and gradually phase out the presence of female students. The school successfully operated as an all-boys school for 47 years following the trustee decision of 1916, but with the winds of change sweeping across the United States in the Vietnam era, the Trustees voted to accept day student girls in 1969 with boarding girls enrolled in 1971.
Dr. Kriebel's passed away after many successful years as headmaster in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. As with many schools of the time, the financial backing behind the school was simply too small and the question arose as to whether it would survive during such dire economic times. The trustees and families, however, invoked the words of Daniel Webster "It is a small school and yet there are those who love it." Following the one-year appointment of Dr. Webster Stover, the Trustees appointed the Reverend Clarence E. Tobias to be headmaster in 1934.
Renewal and Rewards
During his ten years on campus, Reverend Tobias steered the school safely through the aftermath of the depression, made many capital improvements, held together a fine faculty, and increased the enrollment. Upon his departure, Mr. Albert Rogers was appointed Headmaster and he served the school for seven years, continuing the programs of his predecessor.
With the selection of Stephen W. Roberts as headmaster in 1951, Perkiomen School embarked on an extensive modernization program to upgrade buildings, add facilities, and provide a first-class education in the post World War II era. During his tenure, Dr. Roberts completed five new buildings in seven years and presided over a thirty percent increase in enrollment. Additions to the campus included an addition to the rear of Kehs Hall, Roberts Hall; Parents Dining Hall, the Hollenbach Science Center, and two dormitories: Schultz & Ruhl Halls, as well as other upgrades to existing buildings. Poor health, however, caused Dr. Roberts to step down in 1965 and Assistant Headmaster & Director of the Schwenkfelder Library Mr. Andrew S. Berky was appointed to succeed him as Headmaster.
The most significant construction during Dr. Roberts' & Mr Berky's tenures was due to the generosity of Walter F. Hollenbach (Perkiomen '99, Princeton '03) who had amassed a fortune despite a life spent as a teacher in the Jersey City, NJ Public School System. His gift of the Hollenbach Science Center came with a stipulation that a small apartment be part of the building so he & his wife would have a place to stay during their frequent visit to the school. Students of the time were well familiar with the sight of the octogenarian Mr. & Mrs Hollenbach strolling around the campus or joining them for meals in Parents Dining Hall. Mr. Hollenbach followed the Science Hall with a multi-million dollar challenge gift in 1966 for the building of the Hollenbach Athletic Center. The Perkiomen campus would look far different were it not for the generosity of Walter F. Hollenbach.
With the Hollenbach Athletic Center underway and the building program almost completed, Mr. Berky concentrated his attention on academic policies and practices, in particular the school's desire to meet the individual needs of students in preparation for college.
In August 1968 the Board of Trustees asked Mr. Berky to assume the title of President of the School. This new position was created to provide a liaison between the school and community, industry, colleges, and the alumni. For the position of Headmaster, the Trustees appointed Reverend Jack Rothenberger, who had been working at the school for the previous seven years as Chaplain and Director of Admissions. After one year The Reverend Rothenberger resigned to become Minister of Education at a local church. The Board of Trustees chose Mr. James O. Brown, Assistant Headmaster and Director of Admissions at the Pennington School, to succeed Reverend Rothenberger on September 1, 1969.
With the arrival of Headmaster Brown, the school returned to its roots as established by founder The Reverend Wieand and reintroduced coeducational enrollment with the first five girls in the Class of 1973 admitted as day students in September 1969.
In 1972 Mr. Brown departed Perkiomen to pursue other educational opportunities and the Search Committee of the Board of Trustees announced that Mr. Howard K. Deischer, formerly principal of Emmaus High School and highly respected member of the school's mathematics department since 1963, had agreed to serve for two years as interim headmaster while the Committee carried on its search for a permanent headmaster.
Mr. Deischer assumed his new duties in August 1972 and his quiet expertise and experienced leadership provided the stability needed to bring the changes begun during Mr. Brown's tenure to healthy maturity. In the meantime the Search Committee continued its work and hoped that the appointment of the new headmaster would be announced early in 1974.
In the spring of 1974 the Search Committee completed its work and the Board of Trustees announced the appointment of John B. Hewett, former head of Bordentown Military Institute as the twelfth headmaster of Perkiomen School.
Under Mr. Hewett's guidance the School was able to modernize the Business Office and start an Alumni and Development Office.
The Future is Now
George K. Allison was appointed the thirteenth headmaster of Perkiomen School on July 1, 1985. Mr. Allison brought extensive experience, knowledge, and understanding of the American boarding school tradition to Perkiomen and made immediate and necessary improvements to the physical plant and curriculum to compete against the many independent schools in the region and beyond. Improvements included the renovation of the Health Center, landscaping upgrades throughout the campus, remodeling of faculty residences, the bookstore being relocated to Roberts Hall, and renovations to Kehs Hall as an art center.
A devastating fire in April 1994 that destroyed the original Kriebel Hall was a defining moment for the school. Kriebel Hall was re-built for $9.7 million with a capital campaign raising $3 million. While the re-building was taking place, students were housed in trailers that formed a dormitory and trailers for offices were placed on campus as well. All classrooms, dorm rooms, and offices were wired with fiber optics that year to keep the school up to the latest standards of technology, with the rest of the campus following with installation of fiber optics and a T-1 line in 1996 and 1997.
The maintenance facility was acquired in 1997 and the Lewis House on Third Street in 1998. A renovation of the kitchen in Parents Hall took place in 1998. To meet the needs of a growing campus, a new road was built from Third Street in East Greenville to the Hollenbach Science building (now the Allison Middle School in Hollenbach Hall). The purchase of the Gruelich Property (55 acres) in 2000 assures that the campus will remain protected from housing developments and have ample open space for future growth of athletic fields and other campus needs. The Christman House was purchased in 2001 and serves as faculty housing. There have been countless changes on the campus including sprinkler systems installed on athletic fields, upgrades in faculty housing and dormitories, and upgrades to campus technology.
The Moving Forward Campaign transformed the Perkiomen School Campus. Plans that at one time seemed distant became reality. The $13.5 million campaign was by far the largest campaign in Perkiomen history. Trustee Drew Lewis was the driving force in setting and meeting the ambitious goals of the campaign. The objectives of the campaign were to create a state of the art academic center, improve landscaping, increase endowment, and renovate the upper level of the Carnegie Library and Hollenbach Science Hall.
Robert M. Schumo Academic Center
Since 1994, the size of the student body increased and Perkiomen was faced with the need for more academic space. The science laboratories in Hollenbach Science Hall had come to the end of their lifespan. It was obvious that Perkiomen was in need of modern classrooms with the ability to adapt to new technologies and changing expectations from students, their families, and the colleges they would attend.
A leadership gift from Mrs. Peg Schumo P '78 made the construction of a new academic center possible. The Robert M. Schumo Academic Center is named in honor of Mrs. Schumo’s late husband, Robert, and their son Robbie, Class of 1978. The 36,000-square-foot (3,300 m2) building houses the Mathematics, History, Computer Science, World Languages, English as a Second Language and Science Departments.
The Spiezle Architectural Group (Trenton, NJ) designed a building with traditional brick to match the earlier and historic campus structures, and the southwest side of the building will be a curved glass wall to blend with the modern side of campus. The glass wall is topped with an observation deck. Access to the observation deck is from the science floor and offers a panoramic view of the countryside.
Board President Jim Schultz '81, P '02, '10 led the construction committee with contractor V.J. Scozzari and Sons (Lawrenceville, NJ) adding all the extras such as terrazzo floors and cherry paneling. The building is wireless with laptop carts on every floor provided by a generous grant from the E.E. Ford Foundation. Additionally, each classroom has an Activboard and the building has multiple laptop carts as well as at least four student desktop computers in every room. The Schumo Academic Center is now the center of learning on campus and provides bright, inviting, and expansive learning spaces.
Bringing out the Best
Following the retirement of Mr. Allison in 2008, Christopher R. Tompkins was appointed the fourteenth headmaster of The Perkiomen School. Mr. Tompkins spent eight years prior to joining the faculty of Perkiomen at Mercersburg Academy where he served as Director of Admissions and Financial Aid and Assistant Headmaster for Enrollment. With a B.A. in history and government from Colby College, and a Master of Social Science from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, Mr. Tompkins describes himself first as a teacher. Since 1989, when he started his career in independent schools, Mr. Tompkins has taught middle and upper school history and government, including International Baccalaureate History, AP United States History, AP United States Government, and AP Comparative Politics.
Working with students to help them achieve their collegiate aspirations is Mr. Tompkins’s first priority, which translated into the creation of the Office of College Counseling with two full-time counselors. During his years at Perkiomen, the school undertook the first renovation of the main floor of the Carnegie Library since 1913, with a focus on electronic research and media, and student study and reading spaces. With a love for inquiry-based education and a dedication to the relationship between students and faculty, Mr. Tompkins set active, engaging learning opportunities as priorities.
These priorities were put into action through the establishment of several new academic programs, including the Model United Nations program – both an academic class and club team that competes and wins awards throughout the region. The Science Department established a system of portfolio assessment, the World Language Program expanded to include Latin, Spanish, German, and Mandarin, and AP Micro and Macro Economics were added to bring annual offerings in Advanced Placement courses to over 20. By 2010, the number of AP Scholars had jumped to 19 from 6 and the percentage of students earning a 3-5 on their AP exams rose from 55% to 70%.
The need for students to have spaces that reflect their needs in a competitive world and that reflect the school’s respect for them as members of the community brought about the first renovation of Roberts Hall (Robbie’s) since its dedication in 1957. Headmaster Roberts’s nephew returned to campus for the rededication of the new student center and was pleased to hear students refer to it as “our very own Starbucks.” Robbie’s is the heart of student life, with its patio overlooking campus, and reflects the need for students to have spaces that they can call their own, but that the community can enjoy together.
During his fist months as headmaster, the school completed the renovation of the Exhibition Gym in the Hollenbach Athletic Center with the help of the Parents Association (bleachers), the Board of Trustees (floor and lighting), and the School (painting). By the end of his second year, the School had also completed upgrades and improvements to the Schumo Art Gallery and Krieble Theatre of Kehs Hall, as well as a complete remodeling and expansion of the Digital Arts Lab. Athletics and arts, two essential components of a Perkiomen education have seen improved participation and support from the student body in recent years. Moving the girl’s varsity lacrosse team to the Freeman Field and hiring exceptional coaches for female sports have transformed the girl’s athletic program and provided more opportunities for girls both at school and in the competitive college admission process.
While Mr. Tompkins began his tenure as headmaster during the Great Recession of 2008, the school successfully weathered the economic storm with increasing admission activity, growing boarding enrollment, maintaining a diverse campus, increasing giving from generous families, alumni, and friends of the school, and an increasing endowment with a $1 million gift from H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest. The importance of philanthropy to the future of the school and community beyond the school’s boundaries remains an important priority for Mr. Tompkins. The school maintains a positive relationship with the surrounding communities, and especially with the Upper Perkiomen Library, the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, and the Upper Perkiomen Chamber of Commerce. Students are regularly seen in the local communities as part of their ongoing commitment to community service. The idea of “giving back” is inherent to the Perkiomen ethos.
Like Mr. Allison before him, Mr. Tompkins brings a career-long dedication and understanding of independent schools to Perkiomen. Mr. Tompkins was a founding trustee of both the Southeastern Association of Boarding Schools and the Association of Independent School Admissions Professionals, he remains the headmaster representative to the National Association of Independent Schools Financial Aid Task Force (SSS), and was recently elected to the Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools (ADVIS) Board of Trustees.
As a teacher, historian, and member of the Episcopal Church, Mr. Tompkins embraces the rich past of Perkiomen School and seeks to enhance the educational experience of every student through the school’s traditions. While Perkiomen has evolved from a small, church school in the 19th and early 20th century to a 21st-century independent college preparatory school that reflects the local, regional, and international communities of today, the school retains its historical connections to the Perkiomen Valley. As of 2010, The Perkiomen School is truly independent with a board of trustees that is, in the words of the National Association of Independent School, the “final and ultimate authority for the school.”
Perkiomen remains the same welcoming place today that it was in 1875 – an educational community for students of every faith tradition. Perkiomen retains a School Chaplain, regular chapel meetings where various topics and issues are discussed, a daily ecumenical prayer to begin the day, and a graduation requirement to study a choice of several religion courses, including ethics. Since Mr. Tompkins’s arrival, the school has introduced a Baccalaureate Service that is now a formal part of Commencement Weekend with a celebration and blessing of the senior class.
As The Perkiomen School looks to the future, its past enlightens and guides the mission and purpose of the school. The school reflects American values with an emphasis on being an open, welcoming, engaging place where students from every color, creed, and socio-economic background can ask questions, delight in academic discourse, learn to be productive members of society, and where they risk being their best.
Landscaping/ Land Acquisition
With a historic and attractive physical plant and location, Perkiomen strives to provide a welcoming landscape to members of the school community and to the surrounding community. With a passion for landscape design, Trustee Ridge Goodwin '60 focused the board and the school on a campus-landscaping plan. The plan increased visual appeal and safety throughout the campus, including restoring the Arboretum, re-designing the Seminary Street corridor, landscaping the new quadrangle in the heart of the campus, and improving walkway and lighting systems. New trees have been planted from Carnegie Library to Schumo and the plaza between Kehs and Schumo is landscaped. The courtyard includes a mosaic of the school seal in the sidewalk, veterans' memorials, a pergola, plantings, and seating areas. All of the construction areas feature new sidewalks and lighting.
Behind Kriebel Hall a rain garden was created to reduce the impact of the HVAC tower and improve the overall aesthetics of the space. With ample water and foliage, the pedestrian bridge is now a favorite spot for faculty children to count the number of frogs and other aquatic life that call the garden home.
Marian Stefano Meditation Garden
A beautiful meditation garden was developed to honor the life and contributions of Marian Stefano, known by thousands of graduates from Perkiomen School for her love, sympathy, and understanding. A generous gift from her son, Frank Stefano '48, helped to create the garden. Students and faculty enjoy this peaceful space for reading, listening to the fountain, or just daydreaming on a beautiful day.
Perkiomen’s Carnegie Library is the only secondary school library in the United States ever funded by Andrew Carnegie. This historic building has had few structural changes since its dedication in the fall of 1913, thus making it one of the finest examples of a Carnegie Library in the region, if not the nation. During Mr. Allison’s tenure, the upper floor of the library was returned to the school by the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, which had been granted use of the space by the school to house their collection of memorabilia and artifacts that are now located in the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, which is located on land donated to the library by The Perkiomen School. Over the years, the upper floor of the Carnegie Library had deteriorated due to lack of upkeep, but during the improvements to other parts of campus, the School transformed this unused space into a new departmental space that now houses the English Department. The glass pyramid over the circulation desk is an architectural delight, providing light and airiness where there was once must and darkness.
The Middle School
Ever since the Middle School (grades six through eight) re-opened in 1986 the Board of Trustees planned for a purpose-built home designed for the unique learning needs of the middle years. The construction of the Hollenbach Academic Center (housing the Allison Middle School) created a spacious, student-focused home for the Middle School. The 13,000-square-foot (1,200 m2) building houses The Nallo Center (library and media center), dedicated arts and music rooms, science laboratory, and six general-purpose classrooms. Each classroom has an Activboard and natural light to enhance teaching and learning. Additionally, the building is wireless and provides laptop carts and at least four desktop computers for every classroom. This project was designed by The Spiezle Architectural Group and built by V.J. Scozzari and Sons. The Allison Middle School Program is unique in this region, with dedicated teaching staff, dedicated and designed space for middle schoolers, and a program as rich as the Upper School program with access to the full range of world languages and other advanced courses in which students are qualified to enroll.
The Stauffer Tennis Center
As the campus was transformed with the construction of the Schumo Center and Hollenbach Hall-Allison Middle School, the athletic facilities were also transformed with a lead gift from the Stauffer family to construct a tennis center with six lighted tennis courts. The Stauffer Tennis Center is one of the finest tennis centers in the region and can support regular matches, school teams, and outside groups.
"The Moving Forward Campaign embodied the school motto "Solvitur Vivendo"... it is solved by living. The Campaign touched all aspects of live at Perkiomen and improved it for every member of our community," stated Headmaster George K. Allison prior to his retirement in 2008. Mr. Allison’s tenure at Perkiomen witnessed a rebirth and transformation of a school with a proud past and a bright future.
While the literal translation of The Perkiomen School motto “Solvitur Vivendo” is “it is solved by doing,” the interpretation of the Latin is closer to “experience is the best teacher” or “we learn through experience.” Colloquial usage might even allow for “the learning is in the doing.”
- Baker, William. Perkiomen: Here’s To You. North Wales Press, Inc. 1975.
- The Perkiomen School. 15. May 2009
- Aramco ExPats. 2009.
- Journal Register News Service. "Perkiomen School establishes library ... in Africa." The Mercury. 2009. 2 October 2009
- Boarding School Review. 8. September 2009