Germantown Friends School

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Germantown Friends School
Germantown Friends School.jpg
MottoBehold, I have set before thee an open door.
Head of schoolDana Weeks
Faculty87 Full Time 24 Part Time
Student to teacher ratio1:8
Athletics conferenceFriends School League
AffiliationReligious Society of Friends (Quaker)

Coordinates: 40°01′58″N 75°10′18″W / 40.03278°N 75.17167°W / 40.03278; -75.17167 Germantown Friends School (GFS) is a coeducational independent K-12 school in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States under the supervision of Germantown Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). It is governed by a School Committee whose members are drawn mainly from the membership of the Meeting and the school's alumni. The School's current head of school is Dana Weeks.

Since the 1930s, Germantown Friends has been a respected and influential private day school, educating students in traditional humanistic studies in the light of the Quaker tradition. Many graduates have gone on to leading colleges and universities in the United States, including Ivy League institutions. In 1925, admission statistics at the University of Pennsylvania showed that 10-20% of the Germantown Friends School graduating class matriculated at the University. Due to the strong academic preparation of the school, the percentage of Germantown Friends graduates who matriculate at Penn remains about 10-20%. Other popular college destinations include Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Haverford College, Brown University, Trinity College, and the University of Chicago. Present Germantown Friends students generally have a reputation for community service, intellectual boldness, and broad artistic interests.


Germantown Friends School was founded in 1845 by Germantown Monthly Meeting which had grown in size and stature in the Philadelphia Quaker community during the previous several decades. The School was founded in response to a request of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting which like all Friends Meetings valued an equal education for boys and girls. Until some time in the early 20th century, Germantown Friends was a "select" school, meaning that only the children of Quaker parents were admitted. The school in the early 20th century was a cheerful but proper place. Germantown Monthly Meeting was an Orthodox meeting and thus valued classical education, but athletics and the arts were still considered, as they had been since the founding of the Society of Friends in the 17th century, a diversion from the essentials needed by a young person growing up in a complex world. Esther Greenleaf Mürer has collected some relevant sources on this issue. [2].

Athletic traditions[edit]

Germantown Friends School teams are nicknamed the "Tigers." A charter member of the Friends Schools League (FSL) [3], its teams are almost always competitive within the League and sometimes are well known in the Philadelphia area. In 2008, the boys' track team won the High School Boys' Distance Medley Championship of America at the Penn Relays. The relay's time of 10:11.54 was the second fastest high school Distance Medley Relay in the nation at the time, and the fastest in Pennsylvania. In 2009, the boys' cross country team finished second at the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional Championship, qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals. A rivalry exists between GFS and Friends' Central School, who compete with each other for possession of the Felsen Cup, named after an administrator who has worked at and given much to both schools. Another rival is Penn Charter School, whose campus is adjacent to Germantown Friends' athletic fields. However, Penn Charter is a member of the Inter-Academic League, de-intensifying this rivalry. In the fall of 2014, the girls' varsity soccer team made history by winning the Friends School League (FSL) Championship against rival Friend Central, 2-1. They then reached the semi-finals in the state tournament. In 2017, the boys' track team won the Distance Medley Relay with a time of 10:14.85 at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals.

Academic and extracurricular traditions[edit]

Since 1993, Germantown Friends has been divided into three divisions, the Lower School (K-5), the Middle School (6-8) (later named after former teacher, administrator, and Quaker, Eric W. Johnson), and the Upper School (9-12). First among the traditions of the school is weekly Meeting for Worship of each division. Meeting for Worship gives students the opportunity for introspection and discussion of spirituality. The weekly Meeting of each division have rather different characters. The Lower School Meeting is generally quite active with many short messages from students because elementary school children tend to appreciate the chance to be heard. The Middle School Meeting often is a very silent meeting, only punctuated by the occasional spiritual stirring of a faculty member. The Upper School Meeting is often focused on current events and fundamental issues of young adults. Seniors tend to speak, knowing that they will soon graduate and depart into the hopeful but complex world.

Other notable traditions include concerts by the GFS Choir, formerly under the direction of Mary Brewer and Lawrence Hoenig. The current director is Steve Kushner. Choir tours have visited London (UK), Falaise (France), Cracow (Poland) and Copenhagen (Denmark), among other locales. In March 2005, the GFS Choir traveled to China, where it performed in conservatories, concert halls, and in the occasional impromptu street performance. In March 2008, the Choir went on a tour of the Southern portion of the United States, culminating in a few days in New Orleans, where the group helped build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Most recently, the Choir traveled to and throughout Costa Rica during Spring Break of 2014. The most recent Choir tour took place in Italy, during Spring Break of 2017. Other traditions include the 9th Grade Musical, the Dionysia (an Ancient Greek dramatic festival performed by 10th grade Ancient History classes), the Latin III Debates during an annual "Classics Day," and a Writers Assembly, showcasing pieces by writers from the Middle and Upper School.

One unusual graduation requirement at Germantown Friends School is the requirement that each junior complete an independent project, known as a "Junior Project." During this project, students have the opportunity to pursue some independent but intellectually rigorous activity in the local community or elsewhere in the world. If completed in January, students are given the month off to pursue the project, although they must go through a proposal process and present written and oral accounts of their work afterwards. Students must pay for at least half of all project expenses out of money the student earned through work (rather than by means of a parental allowance).

For many years, Germantown Friends gave academic awards to its students. During the 1990s, there arose concerns that the tradition might contain an underlying negative effect on the broader school community. After five years of faculty discussion and four years of student and alumni surveys, in 2002 the school discontinued its practice of making academic awards. In announcing this decision to the school community, the head of school noted that there were long-standing concerns about the detrimental effect of elevating a select few students above others in a ceremony with clear winners and losers, and how the practice stood in contrast to Friends' beliefs in honoring every person. He further noted that when surveyed, "students opposed any practice that created incentive to compete for grades rather than for learning's sake." While athletic awards are still given at Germantown Friends, the academic awards have been replaced with more opportunities for all students to showcase their work.

Commencement in recent decades has taken place at Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia. The ceremony begins with an instruction concerning Meeting for Worship by a Quaker member of the graduating class, followed by a meeting. At present, GFS does not calculate GPA for purposes of class ranking, and therefore no Valedictorians or Salutatorians are selected. Instead, the graduating class elects one faculty member and one member of its own ranks to give addresses after the conclusion of the meeting. Following the addresses, the Head of School speaks and then awards diplomas to each member of the graduating class.

Notable alumni[edit]


  • The main character from the TV series Twin Peaks, FBI Agent Dale Cooper, supposedly grew up in Germantown and attended Germantown Friends School (as created by director David Lynch, who spent many years in Philadelphia).[3]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "The Girls of Henry Orient", Time, May 15, 1964
  3. ^ Frost, Scott: The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes, page 1, Pocket Books, 1991.

External links[edit]