The Friends of Mifflin School (FOMS) made its neighborhood debut this weekend at the first annual Mifflin Community Festival in East Falls.

Amid the school tours, dance lessons and face-painting was a rising sense of optimism from an auditorium full of parents, residents and Thomas Mifflin Elementary School staffers who are on a mission to turn around their neighborhood school.

"We want to come together as a community and rally for the school," said George Matysik, one of FOMS' co-chairs. Matysik, who is a deputy director of policy and planning for Philabundance, said he founded the group after recognizing a need to improve his neighborhood school. Although not yet parents, Matysik and his wife agree that supporting the school goes hand in hand with supporting the community.

"We want to take momentum from this event and initiate future events, fundraising campaigns and grant writing," he said.

The FOMS group, which was created in June, is making efforts to bring more music programming to the school and is exploring potential partnerships with local colleges for after school tutoring and mentoring programs. All proceeds from this weekend's baked goods and student artwork sales will go towards the purchase of reading materials for the school's library. 

Welcoming new and old neighbors

An essential aspect of the festival was to open Mifflin's doors to the East Falls community and invite neighbors to learn more about the school, take a tour and consider Mifflin as a viable public school option.

Blythe Davenport, who's lived in East Falls since 2007, says she is considering sending her two children, four-year-old Taylor and six-month-old Amelia, to the school one day.

"It's right here in my neighborhood," said Davenport, "I'd love to walk my kids to school."

Davenport explained that because the school district is "challenged," she and her husband have considered Friends schools, although they don't want to go outside of their neighborhood.

Nancy McGuire brought her three-year-old granddaughter, Aubrey, to the festival and says her family has plans to start Aubrey's education at Mifflin. 

"It's a neighborhood school and it has a lot to offer," said McGuire, who says she's pleased so far with the efforts of the FOMS.

Community member Kevin Williams said he came to the festival to show support for his neighborhood school. His daughter went to Mifflin before moving on to the Philadelphia High School for Girls and currently majors in sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

"I hope that people will see that Mifflin is a real choice for them," said Williams. "I think there's a negative image of the school because of the school district as a whole."

'Every little bit helps' 

School Principal Leslie Mason said she was thrilled with the idea of a Friends group for Mifflin. 

"It was born of a financial need," said Mason, who added that "every little bit helps" in a school district that can't cover every school-based need.

Many Mifflin teachers and staff came to the festival this weekend to meet the community and show their support.

"I think it's great to get everyone involved," said Wendi Borton, who teaches second grade at Mifflin. "We have so much to offer, we have so many amazing teachers here who love teaching here."

Mason said that the school's push to reach out to the community is essential to avoid "becoming a dinosaur" and losing touch with the neighborhood it serves. 

"We have to build trust in this community; we can't just shut our doors at 3 p.m.," said Mason. "We're a part of the neighborhood."