Parents Camp Overnight for Places at Coveted Kindergarten

Parents gathered outside the Penn Alexander School in West Philadelphia on Sunday, getting in line to sign their children up for a place at one of the most sought after Kindergartens in the state.

Parents adorned in ear muffs, several layers of clothing, and scarves took lawn chairs to the school gates on Sunday morning. And by late afternoon, more than 70 people were camped out, determined to stay until officials opened the doors early Monday to start taking applications to register at the school, writes Miriam Hill at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"The school was the only reason we bought our house," said parent Niambi Love.

The popularity is understandable. Penn Alexander receives a yearly subsidy of $1,300 per pupil from the University of Pennsylvania and parents consider it the best public school option in a district weighed down by financial woes. In fact, many families were drawn to the district to get into the Penn Alexander "catchment".

"People do it [camp out] for Rolling Stones tickets, and this is much more important," said parent Mark Bowerman.

Bowerman already has two sons in the school — and he had to sleep on the sidewalk in previous years to get them there.

There was a sense of community among the parents who were staking out the school. Bowerman and his wife, Hilary Bonta, dropped by the line to share cookies with the campers.

Crowds warmed themselves over a small fire in a metal outdoor pit while watching the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens on a large-screen television in the back of a Honda minivan, reports Hill.

"What we'd like them to do is for this not to be the only good school," Bonta said.

Bonta said that the success of the school isn't a secret. The principal at Penn Alexander, for example, can choose the school's teachers. The district, she said, could duplicate its success by adopting some of the same practices.

Two groups, Advocates for Great Elementary Education and the West Philadelphia Coalition for Neighborhood Schools, are pushing for ways to improve other schools in the district. The demand for Penn Alexander doesn't necessarily mean that the school is perfect, it may just highlight the desperation for decent practices in the district.

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