Stories From Penn Wood

  • Operation Gratitude

    Penn Wood Students collect candy for Operation Gratitude  US Troops receive candy donated by Penn Wood Elementary School Students

    Students and staff members at Penn Wood Elementary School set a new record when collecting Halloween candy for United States troops and veterans this year - 356 pounds!

    Diane Treon, a third-grade teacher at Penn Wood who organized the candy collection drive, said this year's response was overwhelming.

    "The Penn Wood school community reached out, asking when they could bring in candy for the soldiers. I loaded boxes and bags upon bags of candy into my car, having no idea that we would surpass last year's record number 329 pounds," said Treon. "What was even more amazing is that I learned that the father of one of our kindergarten students is serving on a ship in Bahrain and would be thrilled to receive a package of candy."

    Treon said the candy was sent to troops stationed on the ship in Bahrain, the Coatesville VA hospital, and Operation Gratitude's Halloween Candy Give-Back Program.

    Operation Gratitude's Halloween Candy Give-Back Program began in 2007. According to their website, " The organization donates the candy to deployed troops, local military units, veterans, and first responders with the goal of forging strong bonds between the civilian and service communities nationwide."


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  • Penn Wood Welcomes New Principal

    Dr. Garvin

    The West Chester Area School District welcomes Dr. Michael Garvin as the new principal of Penn Wood Elementary School. Dr. Garvin moved into the role when Dr. Ellen Gacomis announced her retirement after 44 years as an educator.

    The 2020-21 school year marks Dr. Garvin's 17th year in education. He began his career as a teacher in the Kennett Consolidated School District before moving to the Oxford Area School District. He spent the majority of his career teaching fourth grade at the Downingtown Area School District.

    Dr. Garvin says relationships, student safety, core values, and lifelong learning lie at the center of an effective school community, which he believes the West Chester Area School District is.

    "This district's commitment to students and the community is evident. The district's mission, 'Educating and inspiring our students to achieve their personal best,' is engrained in the culture," says Dr. Garvin.

    What does Dr. Garvin love the most about working with children?

    "Kids are the best! They keep things simple, and as an educator, I have found that the better relationships you have with your students, the harder they will work. I always had high expectations for all my students and provided them a space to make decisions on how they wanted to learn. Students thrive when they know that their teacher will always be proud of them, no matter what.

    A lifelong resident of Chester County, Dr. Garvin and his wife reside in Landenberg. The couple has two elementary school-aged daughters, and a dog named Lola. Dr. Garvin likes to travel, read, hike, coach his daughter's lacrosse and field hockey teams, and simply loves being a dad!


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  • Penn Wood Elementary Students Make Global Connection Through Art

    Students working on their art projects  Directions for the Memory Project


    Fourth-grade students at Penn Wood Elementary School are making global connections through the Memory Project. Established in 2004, the Memory Project seeks to breakdown cultural barriers and connect children around the world through art.

    This is the first year that Penn Wood art teacher Annie Seagraves has been involved with the Memory Project. Her students are creating original works of art that will be sent to students in Nigeria. In turn, they will receive original works of art from the Nigerian students.

    Students are free to paint or draw whatever they want, based on the themes of happiness, peace, kindness, and friendship. 

    For Norah Laasri, the African savanna and galloping antelopes come to mind. Norah Laasri works on her art project

    "Whenever I need to feel relaxed or calm, I always look at this picture and feel much better," explained Norah. "I hope when they get the picture they're going to be excited to open something up and see something new."

    The Memory Project also opens students up to a world that is far different from their own. Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of school attendance in the world, and students there fight the odds for an education and a better future.

    "It's probably scary sometimes to be a child there because there is a lot of fighting," said J.J. Warrington, who painted a beach scene for his project.

    J.J. displays his beach painting "I like beaches because they are quiet sometimes. I hope they feel happy when they get it."

    To help fund the students' participation in the Memory Project, Ms. Seagraves applied for and received a grant from the West Chester Area Education Foundation, a non-profit organization that supplements creative, meaningful, real-world experiences for students in the West Chester Area School District.

    "The Memory Project promotes intercultural awareness among our students, giving them the opportunity to create personal and meaningful artwork to share globally," said Seagraves. "It breaks down cultural barriers and encourages students to cultivate a kinder world through meaningful experiences with their similarly-aged peers across the world."

     Seagraves added that each student will trace an outline of their hand on the back of their artwork, and include a photo of themselves to make the project even more personal. They will also write an artist statement to reflect upon the process of creating their unique piece of art.

    A copy of the students' original artwork, alongside their global peers' work, will be on display at Penn Wood's art show in May.


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  •  Seeing Eye Ambassador Dog Visits Penn Wood Elementary School

    Second grade students meet Christi, the Seeing Eye Ambassador  Christi

    Second-grade students at Penn Wood Elementary School got up close and personal with the only current Seeing Eye Ambassador Dog in the state of Pennsylvania, and learned how much of an impact service animals can make on the lives of those who need them.

    Westtown Township residents Dick and Bobbie Pomerantz brought 6-year-old American Yellow Labrador "Christi" to the school on February 13 to visit with the students. Christi is a retired seeing-eye dog that now serves as Bobbie's service/therapy dog.

    The Seeing Eye is a non-profit organization located in Morristown, New Jersey that breeds, raises, and trains puppies to become Seeing Eye dogs. 

    As an official Ambassador Dog of The Seeing Eye, Christi visit groups of people in settings such as schools and nursing homes to highlight the unique work of The Seeing Eye School and demonstrate a guide dog's job.

    Some students got to experience Christi's unique training. A few student volunteers had a kerchief placed over their eyes and were then guided around the room by Christi. A student gets led around the classroom by Christi.

    Even though they could not see, the students said Christi made them feel secure.

    "She was next to me the whole time, and I didn't feel lonely," said Adalyn Four. 

    To the Pomerantz family, Christi is so much than a dog. She is a beloved member of their household who has brought much hope to Bobbie - a late-stage cancer survivor. Bobbie's battle with the disease presented her with physical challenges.

    "The fear of falling is very real. I stopped doing any kind of long walks," said Bobbie. "At the end of last summer, I started thinking that she could help me to walk. She goes into therapy dog mode. She stabilizes me, and she knows that. It's wonderful. She has given me my life back."

    "She is an extraordinary animal," said Dick Pomerantz. "She and Bobbie are attached at the hip. From the moment she walked into our house, she knew Bobbie needed her."

    Despite being trained to do so, Christi never actually served as a seeing-eye dog. Rather, she was chosen to be a breeding mother.

    "Christi was selected as 'the best of the best' during rigorous testing after her initial Puppy Raising year of living with a family for early socialization, said Bobbie. "She possesses near perfect DNA and every attribute that they look for. Christi gave birth to three litters of Seeing Eye puppies before being retired and joining our family."

    Bobbie and Dick love to share Christi with young children and talk about the importance of service animals.

     "Kids especially are great. If one of these kids grows up and decides that they want to be a puppy raiser, or they might do some fundraising for one of these organizations which literally provide animals that can give people their life back after they feel that they've lost it, then it is all worth it," said Bobbie.

    Learn more about The Seeing Eye at


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  • Penn Wood Students Help to Put Smiles on the Faces of Children with Life-Changing Illnesses

    Liz Koshgerian, Penn Wood students, Dr. Ellen Gacomis, principal, and Jeff Pearsall, school counselor, dis

    Liz Koshgerian (second from left,) Penn Wood students, Dr. Ellen Gacomis, principal, and Jeff Pearsall, school counselor, display pillowcases in front of the Wall of Smiles as part of the Ryan’s Case for Smiles fundraiser.


    Students at Penn Wood Elementary School recently raised nearly $2500 for Ryan's Case for Smiles to help make a difference in the lives of children suffering from traumatic, life-changing illnesses.  Over the course of a week, students brought in donations that will be used to purchase fabric to make bright, colorful pillowcases for young patients at Philadelphia area children's hospitals, including Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, St. Christopher’s, and Nemours /Alfred I duPont Hospital for Children.

    Ryan's Case for Smiles began in 2007 after founder and CEO Cindy Kerr lost her son Ryan to osteosarcoma. Recognizing how stressful such illnesses can be, Kerr created the non-profit to bring comfort and support to young patients and their families. The uplifting prints help to brighten hospital rooms and remind patients that their illnesses do not define them.

    "Our focus is to help children smile and help their families get through these traumatic illnesses," said Liz Koshgerian, finance manager for Ryan's Case for Smiles and Penn Wood parent of two.

    Koshgerian said that once the pillowcases are delivered to area hospitals, the young patients will get to select their favorite and a choose a smile decorated by Penn Wood students. The smiles are currently on display on a bulletin board at the school.

    Ryan's Case for Smiles relies solely on volunteers to help sew the pillowcases. Koshgerian said young patients are also given the opportunity to make them if hospitals allow it.

    The Wayne, Pennsylvania based non-profit currently has 120 chapters and provides pillowcases to 363 hospitals. Approximately 1.7 million pillowcases have been delivered since the charity began.

    For more information, or to volunteer, visit


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  • Penn Wood's Legacy Garden Dedication Ceremony

    Penn Wood Legacy Garden Dedication  

    Assistant Superintendent Dr. Sokolowski (left,) Barry Burkholder, Lisa McGonagle, Dr. Gacomis, Superintendent Dr. Jim Scanlon

    Thanks to the hard work and generosity of parent volunteers and Malvern-based Burkholder Landscape, the dream of the Penn Wood Legacy Garden is now a reality. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on May 17, 2018, to officially mark the opening of the garden.

    Parent Lisa McGonagle spearheaded the project when she was head of the Penn Wood Beautification Committee. Her children attended the school.

    "Mrs. McGonagle had a dream that this beautiful courtyard that we dedicate this evening will exist long into the future to be enjoyed by Penn Wood students, staff, and families every year for many years to come," said Penn Wood principal Dr. Ellen Gacomis. Penn Wood Legacy Garden Boulder

    The space, which is located just off of the school's library and cafeteria, is used as an outdoor classroom and a place for students to eat lunch and relax. While it was always accessible, it was not enclosed. When renovations were done at the school several years ago, the addition of a hallway surrounded the courtyard making it a safe, usable space for students.

    The idea to fix up the courtyard came to McGonagle after spending time volunteering at the school.

    "There were a few picnic tables in the courtyard at the time, but the more I was there I realized that the space was undervalued and underutilized," said McGonagle.

    In 2017, McGonagle teamed up with 3rd-grade teacher Josh Williams who also felt the space could be transformed for the benefit of the students. They quickly realized that they needed the help of a professional landscaping company and reached out to Barry Burkholder, co-owner of Burkholder Landscape.

    "He said yes to the project, right away," said McGonagle. "He was really excited to help out."

    After weeks of planning and meetings, plans for the courtyard were presented to and approved by Penn Wood's Home & School Association (HSA).

    Money was budgeted for the project through the HSA, but there was a shortfall. Mr. Burkholder generously donated the difference.

    "My kids went to Penn Wood, " said Burkholder. "It's a great school. I feel it's really important to give back. It feels great to be part of a legacy - something that all the students will be able to enjoy for years to come."

    The garden is large enough to hold an entire grade level at a time and has been a welcomed addition to the school. A boulder with a dedication plaque sits nestled in the garden with the words "Our Penn Wood garden begins with tiny seeds that bloom into bold flowers; each one unique, each one important." The same words could be applied to each student that graces the Penn Wood community.


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  • 5th-graders Build a House, Build a Dream

    Build a Dream Build a House Project Build a Dream Build a House Project Build a Dream Build a House Project

    5th-grade students at Penn Wood Elementary School recently combined their art, math, science, and social studies skills in a project inspired by Habitat for Humanity's Build a House, Build a Dream contest.

    Students paired up with each other as part of an Integrated Learning Unit (ILU) to design, build, and market their dream home. In its simplest conception, integrated learning is about making connections across disciplines.

    Their first task was to design a 2D blueprint of their house with specific square footage.

    "It really helped teach students about spatial awareness," said 5th-grade teacher Brian Cermignano. "Some students designed rooms that you could only crawl through. We used our classrooms and rulers to get an idea of how to measure space."

    Once students had their blueprints set, they created a 3D model of their home using Planner 5D, an online tool that creates detailed home plans and modern interior design.

    "My favorite part of the project was using the computer software," said 5th-grader Hayley Bennet, who worked with Anna Fow to complete their home.

    "The best part was working together," said Fow. "It was neat to build it in our brains, then on paper and then physically build it."

    Students also had to design a marketing brochure to sell their homes. They were instructed to price their homes in the $200,000-300,000 range.

    Mr. Cermignano designed the ILU with art teacher Annie Seagraves as a way to help students integrate art, math, science, and social studies skills into one project.

    "This lesson really reinforced the skills that I've been teaching in art class," said Seagraves. "But, because of the math component, it really encouraged the students to want to make these super-realistic, technical drawings.

    Students began working on the dream home project in January. The houses "hit the market" on March 15 during an open house for parents.


    Build a Dream Build a House Project Build a Dream Build a House Project Build a Dream Build a House Project

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