Educate, Empower, Enlighten
The welcoming community of Saint Basil Academy enables girls to discover their voice, hone their passions and find their place in the world
by Sharen Nocella

It wasn’t until Erin Breen left Saint Basil Academy that she fully appreciated the invaluable gift she had been given. The four years Erin spent as an integral member of the Saint Basil Academy community not only prepared her to thrive at the university level but also provided her with an internal compass she believes will guide her for the rest of her adult life.

“Because of Saint Basil Academy, I entered Saint Joseph’s University not only academically prepared but also empowered to leave things at Saint Joe’s better than I found them,” she says. “My Saint Basil education has molded me into an individual who not only sees the personal benefits of my education but also understands that my purpose—on this campus now and in my career in the future—is one that is larger than myself.”

For the average American teenage girl, high school can be a daunting place, as she tries to figure out who she is and where she “belongs.” That’s hardly the case at Saint Basil Academy, which, as students such as Erin can attest to, is committed to educating, empowering and enlightening girls as they become young women. Saint Basil Academy begins sharing this spirit of community on a student’s very first day at the school; each incoming freshman is given a gift—and a hug—by members of the senior class. 

A college preparatory high school for young women, Saint Basil Academy is sponsored by the Sisters of Saint Basil the Great, and forged in the Ukrainian Byzantine tradition of the Catholic Church. Saint Basil Academy provides an exceptional education based on a challenging academic curriculum, all in a warm, welcoming environment in which all students feel they belong. The teachers, staff, students and alumnae all live by the credo, “You Belong Here!” In fact, those three words became the school’s official tagline earlier this year.

“The reason we came up with this tagline is because it’s true,” says Mrs. Kimberley Clearkin, director of admissions.

This year, a student hospitality committee was formed and students were asked to write essays explaining why they wanted to be part of the committee, the community and Saint Basil Academy.

“All the essays said the same thing, basically: Students felt they were accepted and that they belonged here the minute they walked through our doors,” says Mrs. Clearkin, herself an alumna of Saint Basil Academy. “It is just a very welcoming, accepting atmosphere here. While we have great academics and great extracurricular activities, we have something special in that you can come here and feel like you have a place and your voice can be heard. I think that is really important for young women trying to find their place in the world.”

In addition to preparing students for college life, Saint Basil Academy strives to develop the whole person by integrating spirituality and community into its educational approach. The community atmosphere instills confidence in students and encourages them to act on their strong desire to get involved in public service and give back to communities in need. 

SBA Cares was borne of this desire. Now in its third year, SBA Cares provides students with copious opportunities to help those in need. In the past, SBA Cares has worked with organizations such as The Breathing Room Foundation, Wreaths Across America and Toys for Tots, as well as St. Martin de Porres, Special Olympics and Bringing Hope Home.

“Since we started our programs, I have been simply amazed at the way the girls have responded,” says Mrs. Theresa Hartey, who moderates SBA Cares with fellow teacher Mrs. Emily Kleinle. “They are just so reliable and dependable. SBA Cares ties into our mission and values. It is good for the girls to be exposed to social justice issues now. Their work also allows them to realize how fortunate they are.”

Other notable works the students have done include:
* Tutoring students from low-income homes in Philadelphia;
* Helping build a house for Habitat for Humanity;
* Throwing a senior prom for the residents at Rydal Park, a retirement community in Jenkintown;
* Preparing and serving meals to families at Ronald McDonald House and Face to Face, a soup kitchen and dining room in the Germantown section of Philadelphia;
* Holding annual mini-thons that raised more than $50,000 for pediatric cancer research; and
* Hosting Community Day, a school-wide day of service on honoring the works of the Sisters of Saint Basil.

“Of course, we want our students to be academically prepared, but it is also important that they feel empowered to be themselves and to make the world a better place,” Mrs. Hartey explains. “Community service and social justice are parts of our everyday life here.” 

The school’s altruistic endeavors have left lasting impressions on both the students and on those who have benefited from of their philanthropic deeds.  Mrs. Hartey adds: “People always tell me how impressed they are by Saint Basil Academy girls. So many people have been touched by the students’ dedication to helping others, as well as their ability to recognize the humanity in everyone.”

Most of the student body is involved in SBA Cares, according to Mrs. Alexandra Penkalskyj, a Saint Basil Academy alumna who now serves the school as vice principal.

“Our girls are so diverse, and our schedule allows them that diversity,” she says. “The way we schedule things allows them to be an athlete, a musician and to participate in other important activities like SBA Cares. They get involved, and they stay involved, even after they leave here.” 

Saint Basil Academy has an average college-acceptance rate of 100 percent. The school’s influence, however, follows its students long after they leave the high school and even college.

“Many of our graduates go on to achieve very highly; a lot go into medical fields, doctoral programs and several have written books,” Mrs. Penkalskyj says. “The girls want to succeed. They are spiritual and care about their community and families. We are so proud of what our graduates have become and achieved.” 

Saint Basil Academy
711 Fox Chase Road
Jenkintown, PA 19046

Photograph by Jody Robinson