Last spring, as the covid-19 pandemic began to take an economic toll worldwide, Penn Charter acted quickly to develop a plan to keep our community whole.
The Preserving Our Community Fund—PC Fund, for short—was established to provide financial support to current families who were experiencing income loss. Generous donors, most of them Penn Charter trustees and alumni, contributed $1.2 million so that students did not have to withdraw from Penn Charter because of a disruption in family income.
The plan was a resounding success. John Zurcher, director of financial aid, was able to direct money from the PC Fund to help 87 students remain at Penn Charter.
In some cases, Zurcher said, parents had recently opened a business before the pandemic began, and some already owned a business that was experiencing a downturn. Others were in a manufacturing field for which there were no new orders. A number were furloughed or their work hours were reduced. Some parents were out of work after contracting covid-19, and others had to leave work to care for someone else who had covid.
“Some parents were committed to Penn Charter based on a salary that was no longer there,” Zurcher said. “You can’t stop paying your electric bill or your car loan. School is one thing you could cut—but it’s the last thing you’d want to.”
Although a million dollars could not make every member of the PC community whole, Zurcher said, using the fund to keep families at Penn Charter removed “a tremendous financial worry from people.”
While the inspiration for the effort was humanistic and community-minded, the fund turned out to be important from another perspective, too.
Penn Charter historically has one of the highest rates of students reenrolling annually among peer schools in the Philadelphia region. Often, financial difficulties are a leading reason for families to choose another school, and the economic downturn from the pandemic caused significant difficulties for many families. Making sure students could remain at their school, keeping community bonds strong, and minimizing social and educational disruptions was a priority. With the PC Fund in place, Penn Charter’s retention rate was one of the highest in recent times: 97.3 percent. In general, Zurcher said, “We did not see people leaving the school because of financial reasons.”
Along with all the practical benefits of the Preserving Our Community Fund, it represents a partnership between school leaders and donors—many of whom are alumni—to steward current families.
“It’s been a hand to help members of our community over a big bump in the road,” Zurcher said. “People who attended PC paid it forward. We hope these families will one day pay it forward. I think for a Quaker school that’s the right message.”