Alumni Spotlight

August 27th, 2020
Category: News

Alumni Spotlight: Jamaar Julal

From First through Sixth Grades, Jamaar was a student at PMFS, graduating in 2008 with what he calls “lifelong friends.” These are the people he still talks to every day, explaining that they are reminders of all the good memories from Plymouth. While at PMFS, Jamaar was taught to treasure different types of people and cultures and be accepting of everyone. He recalls using “mediation,” a social-emotional skill taught to PMFS students for expressing feelings, when speaking to peers about his thoughts and concerns. After graduating from PMFS and moving on to Renaissance Academy Charter School in Phoenixville, Jamaar struggled at times as he encountered classmates who had not developed a similar set of interpersonal skills. 

After graduation from high school, Jamaar focused on what he enjoyed – working in a restaurant.  He enrolled in the Restaurant and Hospitality Management program at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. Jamaar was focused on “front of the house” positions in the restaurant, but the Executive Chef of The Restaurant School saw other talent in Jamaar and upon Jamaar’s graduation in 2019, granted him the 2019-2020 Culinary Fellowship.  

Honored but nervous, Jamaar needed to make a decision – should he step out of his comfort zone in the front of the restaurant and consider being a chef in the “back of the house?” Jamaar accepted the challenge and took the position as Culinary Fellow at the Restaurant School, reminding himself that you “need to get out of your comfort zone to obtain a better outlook on yourself.” 

As the Culinary Fellow at The Restaurant School, Jamaar experimented with flavors and foods, in addition to sharpening his leadership and teaching skills. This gave him the confidence and palette to perfect his kombucha flavors. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jamaar was able to delve more deeply into his passion for fermentation and brewing kombucha. While many people were home and focused on their sourdough starters, Jamaar was home fermenting teas and experimenting with his kombucha. As friends tasted the brews and shared with others, the word and demand spread. 

Jamaar has just formally established his business, JamBrü, and has started a GoFundMe to financially assist with the shift from brewing in his kitchen to a commercial space. Even if you are not able to donate, he asks that you share his story wherever possible! How do you get JamBrü kombucha? – follow JamBrü on Instagram @jambruphl or check out his website Congratulations Jamaar!

Alumni in the News

August 13th, 2020
Category: Alumni News

Jamaar Julal, class of ’08, was recently featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer for his innovations with kambucha. Check out the full article here.

With supercharged flavors, Jamaar Julal is creating Philly’s culture of kombucha

photo credit: Tom Gralish

Alumni Spotlight

August 13th, 2020
Category: Alumni News

Anya Rose, Class of ’95, and her Ants on a Log musical partner Julie Be have put together a fantastic compilation album for kids that affirms and celebrates gender diversity. They are making it available for free, and are accepting donations to benefit a summer camp for transgender and nonbinary youth. Give a listen to the NPR article on them!

Julie Be and Anya Rose (right)

Check out their album here.

Alumni Spotlight

July 14th, 2020
Category: Alumni News, News

Alumni Spotlight: Amira Parker, ’14

The spotlight should certainly shine brilliantly on this bright, joyful, independent, young woman!  Amira Parker graduated from PMFS in 2014, after attending from Kindergarten through 6th grade. Invited to be the guest speaker at the graduation of PMFS’s Class of 2020, Amira shared encouraging and insightful words with our 6th grade graduates. 

Amira speaks very highly of her time at PMFS. She states, “I would love it if I could have just one more day at Plymouth!” She recalls creating strong friendships and laughs at a memory from 5th grade when her class got to have a sleepover in the school gym. Amira recognizes that her elementary education not only prepared her academically for middle school, but also socially. PMFS empowered her to step out of her comfort zone while being true to herself. While at PMFS, Amira enjoyed learning about nature and spending time outdoors. She attributes her love for the environment to Mike Greene, her PMFS Science teacher. Amira also recognizes that her love of travel and other cultures can be tied to PMFS’s 5th grade Mexican Exchange program, when she had the opportunity to live with a family in Mexico for two weeks. After that, she had the confidence and desire to travel the world.

Amira went on to Abington Friends School. There she thrived on the tennis team, took every opportunity to travel (collecting data on bison and bear in Yellowstone National Park and spending five weeks on an exchange program in Tasmania) and discovered that collaborative work and helping others is a passion for her. Amira recently graduated with the AFS class of 2020 and will go on to study Environmental Engineering with a minor in Spanish or Art at the University of Pittsburgh this Fall. Good luck Amira!

Amira’s inspiring speech to the PMFS class of 2020:

I would like to start off by congratulating you all! You did it! Your time as a PMFS student has sadly come to an end. I can’t believe it’s been six years since I’ve been a Plymouth student. It feels like just yesterday that my classmates and I were gearing up for the circus, that Leann gave us our first letters from our Mexican buddies, and that Varley was telling us to take a lap because we wouldn’t stop talking. I always tell people that Plymouth Meeting Friends is my heart. I truly feel like this community is always with me and part of me. The love that I have for this school runs deep and is beyond anything I could have ever asked for. 

I’m not going to lie, I was extremely nervous to graduate. My guess is that you’re nervous right now too. It’s completely normal to be nervous and scared for change, especially a change of this magnitude. But, let me tell you, Plymouth has prepared you extremely well for anything and everything that your next chapter brings. It might not feel like it now, but you’re ready and Plymouth will always be a part of you. Plymouth is your home that will always be there for you to come back to. 

I know this isn’t how you expected your last year at Plymouth to end. I’m with you, I feel your anger, pain, and sadness. But, remember all the amazing memories you were able to make with your friends. Find comfort in knowing that this community will always love and support you and the friends you’ve made here will be with you for life. 

Being a Plymouth student is an amazing privilege that I’m so lucky I got to experience. You’ve been given an unparalleled environment to truly grow and not only learn about yourself and your passions, but how your actions affect the people around you and the environment. This is extremely valuable because you now have skills, passions, experiences, and knowledge that most people won’t have in their entire lives. 

There are three things that have especially stuck with me that I’ve learned at Plymouth and I want to share them with you in hopes that you too carry them into your life. The first one is to be your own individual. PMFS gives you the opportunity to explore every part of yourself. Whether that be athletics, academics, art, or wherever your passions lie. Don’t lose sight of what makes you, you. At PMFS you learned that who you are is enough. Show up as your true, unapologetic self each and every day. 

The next is to be an advocate for yourself and others. Plymouth teaches you how to see your inner power. You are brave, you are fearless, and you are courageous. You are ready to be an active member of your next community. Don’t let anyone else tell you or others your worth. You know your worth. Speak up for those who don’t have a voice. Create a safe space for people who might otherwise not have one. Hear and listen to all sides of the story. You have the ability to see the world in so many different ways and perspectives. Use that to your advantage and to help others.

And the last but certainly not least is to step outside of your comfort zone. Stepping onto that plane in 5th grade was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do. But I’m so happy I did. That trip opened so many possibilities for relationships, interests, and just pure curiosity for me. From that trip, I developed a love for traveling and learning new cultures and languages. Since then, I’ve studied abroad by myself in Tasmania, Australia; I’ve researched Bison in Yellowstone; and I’ve had countless other incredible opportunities that Plymouth prepared me for. 

And with that I want to send you off with a couple words from the queen herself, Michelle Obama, “Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered.” I hope you friends encounter nothing but love and success in your next journey. I am so proud of you and everything you’ve accomplished.

Reflections on Distance Learning

July 8th, 2020
Category: News

“Campus is Closed! What Now?”

Reflections on Distance Learning at Plymouth Meeting Friends School

By Jessica Lember, PMFS parent 

We were a week away from the start of Spring Break and every adult in the Plymouth Meeting Friends School community was tracking the news of Covid-19 and its spread across the U.S. Would PMFS be able to remain open until Spring Break? Would the students and families be back on campus come April? If campus did have to be closed in April, could we maybe be back by May? 

As it turned out, like schools across the country and across the world, PMFS would experience an unprecedented final two and a half months of the school year.  While the pivot to online learning has not been without challenges, the overall success of PMFS’s remote learning program speaks volumes to our teachers’ passion, tenacity, and care. From the youngest to the oldest, every student had daily opportunities to connect with friends and teachers and engage with continued learning.  

Working with Head of School Brenda Crawley and seeking out feedback from parents, teachers figured out what kind of online learning tools, curriculums and schedules would work best for each age group. In PreK, teachers provided families with a suggested daily schedule that would allow their young children to maintain the rhythm of a school day, while keeping in mind that the “work” of PreK is play and that actual screen time needed to be kept to a bare minimum. Each week started with a Zoom check-in for the whole class on Monday morning. Most other days included one “live” time to connect with friends and teachers, through shared snack time or Meeting for Worship or listening to a book read aloud. Each day of the week also included an engaging activity from one of our Specials teachers (Art, Science, Music, Spanish, Gym and Library). Kindergartners, who were ready for more time to connect and learn with their teachers via Zoom, had a daily Morning Meeting with their class, followed by some whole group and small group instructional time, interspersed with breaks. Afternoons were a time to play and to try out the activities created by the Specials teachers. 

The amount of time spent online and engaged in daily assignments and long-term projects increased at each grade level. At “the other end of campus,” the 6th grade was engaged in learning together on Zoom, sometimes as a whole class, sometimes in partnerships or small groups, for multiple hours of the day. Sixth grade teacher Varley shared that the 6th graders really enjoyed their daily partnered math time in Zoom “breakout rooms,” working through pre-algebra problems and ratios and percentages with a classmate.  Varley would make the rounds and check in on math groups as needed. Sixth graders, who dig deep into geography and world cultures in their final year at PMFS, were also finishing up presentations they had created about various countries around the world. 

Weekly activities and live meetings with each of our Specials teachers rounded out the students’ online school experience. From creating your own paint with pigments found in nature or your pantry to doing yoga following directions in Spanish to doing ten jumping jacks every time you saw a red car during a neighborhood walk, our Specials teachers found ways to engage each age group. They also lent extra support to classes who were working on special projects. Music and Drama teacher John B had longer weekly meetings with the 6th grade as they turned their musical, The Island, into a masterfully produced “radio play” (including music, sound effects, and original art) that was ultimately shared as a Facebook Live event. 

Aside from the Sixth Grade Musical, other beloved school traditions, like the Arts Fest and Field Day were translated into virtual events.  Long live the many sock balls, laundry basket traps and plastic cup targets of Field Day! Who knew shoe flipping could be a sport? Weekly Meeting for Worship brought together students, parents, teachers and staff, School Committee members, and even alumni families and former faculty.  It was, perhaps, the most bittersweet moment of each week, as we “came together” as a community, drinking in each other’s faces, but knowing that it would still be some time before we could physically be together again.  Announcements following Meeting for Worship were always an exciting time, as we received updates on baby chicks (#pandemictrend) and waited with bated breath to hear whose birthday was no longer two weeks away, but now only one week away! 

As the school year came to a close, and each class prepared to say goodbye for the summer, all eyes turned toward the 6th graders, who would be graduating in a year like no other. How, in a time of social distancing and closed campuses, could a school community that had meant so much in the lives of these students show these students how important they had been to their school community? Unsurprisingly, PMFS did not disappoint. Stealthily-placed congratulatory yard signs; honking drive-by parades of teachers and staff; homemade strawberry shortcake deliveries; individual portrait sessions on campus by talented photographer and PMFS parent, Jaci Downs; an all-school Zoom celebration of the 6th grade featuring tear-inducing videos made by various classes, as well as by teachers; a hardbound, personalized memory book for each graduate; letters and gifts from younger students; and a beautiful, hand painted and hand lettered diploma for each Sixth grader…each new act of recognition and love only further cemented how special a place Plymouth Meeting Friends School is. 

Now that summer break has begun, many of us are already thinking about what the 2020-21 school year will bring. It’s already clear that we won’t be returning to “business as usual” just yet, and that maintaining a strong sense of community and connection for our kids and ourselves is paramount. I am grateful that over these last few months, my children had teachers who facilitated their continued learning and engagement with their classmates.  I am grateful that teachers, parents and administrators could work as a team, as we figured out – in real time – what was working and what needed tweaking during this journey into online learning. I’m grateful for the laughs, empathy, and cheerleading that came from my fellow PMFS parents. We can’t be sure what’s in store for our kids come September, but I know I have a trusted partner in the Plymouth Meeting Friends School community.

Plymouth Meeting Friends School is a Pre-K- 6th grade Quaker school, nestled on 11 wooded acres in the heart of Montgomery County and just 3 miles from Northwest Philadelphia.

Jessica Lember, Ed.M., has been a parent at Plymouth Meeting Friends School since 2012 and a School Committee member since 2019. Up until recently, she had two children at PMFS, and now is the proud parent of one PMFS student and one PMFS alum!  She teaches in the Lower School at Germantown Friends School.

Martha Wolf Retires

June 30th, 2020
Category: News

This June, after 17 years of teaching at Plymouth Meeting Friends School and an almost 40-year teaching career, much beloved teacher Martha Wolf retired from teaching. Martha is known for her warmth and sense of humor, her vast knowledge of child development and advocacy for young children, and her deep respect for each child who has crossed her path. Most who have known her at PMFS think of her as the anchor of the Pre-Kindergarten program, a program she created when she first began teaching at PMFS. Under Martha’s care, three- and four-year-olds developed their social-emotional and literacy skills, practiced their early mathematical thinking, spent a lot of time exploring and playing in the natural world just outside their door, and had their growing sense of independence and self-advocacy nurtured. Martha also served as a valuable mentor to several assistant teachers who then went on to lead their own early childhood classrooms.  

In her final year of teaching, Martha moved out of the Pre-K and returned to the very first grade she ever taught…  First Grade! She welcomed the chance to reengage with a slightly older age group, incorporating her early childhood expertise into her work with six- and seven-year-olds and the First Grade curriculum. When PMFS switched to online learning this past Spring, Martha continued to bring her grace and passion to her work, often staying up late at night, determined to bring her students the best experience possible. As she moves into this next chapter of her life, she has promised to stay connected to the PMFS community, and we are going to hold her to that.

Read on to learn more about Martha’s impact on the PMFS community, as shared by her colleagues and parents of children she has taught:

“Martha is an incredibly dedicated person full of knowledge, resources and experience that clearly does not go unnoticed, especially during this time when parents had the chance to experience ‘a day in the life’ of our kids in class. Everything she taught had a meaning. We knew she was always caring and passionate about teaching our children, and we certainly saw so much creativity and fun in everything she did. My child was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to spend this year with her, and the PMFS family will surely miss her sweet and loving smile.” 

Martha’s mark on her students is palpable, even as they graduate PMFS. You can see their sense of community and being a team, their ability to work together, their creativity as learners. The foundation of these qualities began in Pre-K with Martha. She never hesitated to have them play in mud, snow, or with bugs. They were taught to embrace all elements of nature. Martha taught all three of my children with great love and flexibility for their vastly different needs. She respected each of them for who they were, as I know she did with all of her students. Martha did things like actively seek toys, materials, and books that reflected the diversity of her students in all ways. There was a celebrated and affirming space for every student in her classroom and my children certainly felt that.” 

“My child loved how honest Martha was, how she talked to the kids about hard stuff and silly stuff. He loved her idea that you need to make 15 mistakes a day in order to grow and learn.” 

Our three children all had the great fortune to have Martha for Pre-K. Martha created a classroom that made them excited to go to school every day. They learned things like how to write their name, and even more important things about how to be a good friend and member of the community. We will be forever grateful for everything that Martha has done to provide a foundation for their love of school and of learning.”

“We are fortunate as a family that my son was able to experience the love and joy in learning that is Martha. I’ve listened to many Zoom lessons when Martha took each question and sometimes quirky answer and validated that child’s curiosity each time, turning it into an experience to learn from each other and to dig deeper. This happened with topics from the birds they kept watch over on the live webcam, to discussing the social injustices that people in our country face. There’s much more to be said, but I am just thankful that my son was a part of her special experience this year.”

“Martha was such a wonderful First Grade teacher for our son. I will always be grateful for her telling the kids that if they didn’t make 15 mistakes a day, then they aren’t learning. A year later, I still return to that with him often. She is kind, immensely thoughtful, and loving.  Congratulations on a well-deserved retirement. We love you!”  

“For us, Martha was the gateway to the magic that is Plymouth Meeting Friends School. She embodies so much that is essential about the school. I thought I knew something about the importance of play-based early childhood education before I met Martha, but she showed me that it is a sophisticated practice which can be honed through decades of knowledge and skill. I was blown away when I first heard her talk about her teaching practice and hearing her talk about her passion and expertise inspired me to be a better teacher.” 

“She knew each of my kids so deeply, loved them as unique individuals and helped me know them and appreciate their strengths even more. She has been such a gift to the school and to our family. We will miss her so much at Plymouth Meeting Friends and I am sad that future students and parents won’t experience her unique teaching and love, but hope that she will find bigger, broader ways to share everything that she knows and embodies beyond PMFS.” 

“In the Pre-K classroom, Martha worked to empower her students to recognize that they can be a part of finding a solution to a problem. A question that she frequently asks is ‘How can you fix it?’, encouraging her students to be fixers and helpers throughout the day. It’s one of those things that might seem small, but is actually fundamental to the PMFS program. This simple, well-posed question sets the stage for so many important aspects of a child’s sense of self and wellbeing by giving each child the message that they are capable and resilient.”

“Working with the very young is the hardest teaching there is. It embodies everything that all teachers try to do, need to do, attempt to do. It takes a special person to do this. And it takes a unique and committed visionary to maintain this for years on end. Martha worked a long time at Plymouth. She also worked for many years in other places – always with early childhood. She has spent her life looking into the eyes of her students on their level. Martha bridges the heart of the very young and sees them as the adventurers, explorers, intellectuals, creators and change-makers that they are.” 

“Martha shines life and love into her students each and every day with each and every one in their each and every way. She has done this through the years with care, patience, and dedication. She is a humble hero of early childhood education. She has shown us each and every day in each and every way what teaching and education are all about.” 

“As a new faculty member, I met Martha in August as I set up the library space. Martha immediately made me feel welcome with her friendliness and warm smile. She was the person I would talk to if I had questions, if I was seeking a second opinion on some aspect of curriculum, or if I just needed to converse with someone for a moment who was over the age of 12. Her generous spirit and her love for her students was obvious. I wish her many adventures in retirement.”

“I have always looked up to Martha as a parent and a teacher!  Her teaching was filled with insightful Ideas and logical approaches to difficult situations. It has been my pleasure to have worked with her for many years, and I’m so happy for her as she embarks on this new stage of her life. She will surely be missed.”