Where Students Learn and Grow
The Concept School
by Julie Shannon

photography by Nina Lea

When Nancy Maguire’s son, Sergei, started public middle school, she knew she had to find a different option for him to continue his studies and build his confidence.

“Sergei was adopted and was ten years old when he came to this country and was behind the right ball when it came to learning,” Maguire recalls.

Maguire found The Concept School, and although Sergei was frightened and did not feel confident walking in, those feelings quickly went away. “The Concept School gave him a safe place to learn, grow and develop; that continues to this day,” she says. “I see kids go in there and they may be angry, frightened and desensitized, but in the course of weeks, they relax and interact with others. Once they do that, they can learn.”

Since 1972, The Concept School—which serves students in grades six through twelve—began as a school where children with obstacles to learning could be comfortable and successful. That is still the case today, with the majority of the students coming from public schools where they had difficulty not only learning, but being accepted.

“Most of our students have had a less than positive experience in a more traditional, larger setting, maybe due to learning differences or social issues, and they need a smaller, more supportive environment,” says William Bennett, head of the school. “We provide a nurturing environment for students to learn, grow and be prepared for life after high school.”

The average class size at The Concept School is five to each student and addressing student differences in a way that a traditional, larger school cannot.

“From a parent’s point of view, when your child is struggling, no matter what the reason is, it’s very painful and you feel alone,” Bennett says. “Large, traditional schools do the best they can, but it’s really hard to meet the needs of every student and make accommodations that can have positive results. So, in a setting like ours, every student knows every teacher. We are able to individualize in ways that aren’t possible in larger settings.”

The Concept School’s curriculum is based on the Pennsylvania standards. However, instead of administering standardized tests, the school individualizes the “output expected from each student.”

“The biggest reason we do that is we are not under the pressure of the standardized tests that public schools use,” Bennett explains. “Standardized tests are not helpful for most of our students because they are overwhelming and can produce anxiety. We prefer to hone in on individual strengths students may have. Here we utilize teachable moments, I believe, in a way teachers in larger schools cannot because of the unnecessary pressure to excel on standardized tests.”

The Concept School integrates the newest technology, such as the use of Chromebooks, with individualized assignments and assessments at each student’s individual level.

“When I was a student, if there was a subject about which I didn’t feel confident, I sat in the back of the room and never raised my hand. That is really not possible at The Concept School,” says Bennett.

TCS incorporates hands-on activities in teaching to engage students and help them learn in non-traditional ways. “We had a student where the traditional method of using a textbook or even online instruction was frustrating for him,” Bennett says. “The teacher worked with the student to create geometric shapes out of balsa wood and glue. This allowed him to see shapes in a way that he could not from a book.

“One of the qualities I’ve seen with the students is they develop a self-confidence that was lacking and a belief that they can grow and become productive members of society. We had students in our 2017 graduating class—two of them went onto higher education, one of them went to another type of higher learning and three went into the work force. It is amazing that we are able to meet such diverse needs.”

Maguire and Sergei still are connected to The Concept School to this day, even though Sergei graduated six years ago. Maguire joined the school board after he graduated and Sergei goes back to talk to students about his experiences at The Concept School that changed his life.

“Sergei’s experience was incredible,” says Maguire. “TCS has a group of dedicated teachers that are there for one purpose and one purpose only—to help these children learn. These kids can be themselves. They are accepted and then they slowly find themselves. It’s a truly remarkable environment they have created there.”

That feeling of acceptance was something Andrew Nestor felt when he transferred to The Concept School sophomore year from a parochial high school. He said he instantly felt comfortable the moment he stepped through the front door.

“It was instantaneous; I felt so welcomed by everyone during the first interaction,” he recalls.

This was quite the opposite reaction from the last two schools he went to, something he never thought he’d experience. “I had been bullied since the beginning of middle school,” Nestor says. “At The Concept School, everyone is part of the same family. Everyone wants each other to succeed; everyone is on same team. We all work together for everyone to be the best they can be.”

And Nestor became the best he can be, rather quickly. Not only did his confidence skyrocket, so did his grades. “First semester of my sophomore year, I had a 2.6 GPA, and when I transferred to The Concept School, second semester, I had a 4.0. It was crazy how quickly everything changed.”

Now a freshman at the University of Delaware majoring in marine biology and thriving, Nestor says he wouldn’t be in this next chapter of his life if it wasn’t for The Concept School.

“It has meant everything to me. I truly believe I would not be going to college if I had not found The Concept School. It saved my life.”

1120 E. Street Rd. | Westtown, Pa.
(610) 399-1135

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life Magazine, August, 2017.