Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: January 1996 Volume 34 Number 1, Pages 3–19

Conestoga High School

Bob Goshorn

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It was forty years ago this fall, on September 9, 1955, that Conestoga High School opened for classes, replacing the 45-year old joint Tredyffrin-Easttown High School in Berwyn. Its forty-year history is the story of the evolution of a general comprehensive high school to a high school primarily preparing students for further academic work at colleges and universities.

As the second half of the 20th century began, the school directors of Tredyffrin and Easttown faced a dilemma. The joint Tredyffrin-Easttown High School, which had opened in January of 1909 as the first joint high school in Pennsylvania, had served the community well during the four decades since it opened. Enlarged in 1928, and again in 1939 when the junior high school program was inaugurated and it became a junior-senior high school, it had met the needs of not only the students of Tredyffrin and Easttown townships, but also those of Willistown and East Whiteland townships and the Borough of Malvern as well. In fact, it still could accommodate the students from Tredyffrin and Easttown, but was no longer large enough to meet both their needs and those of the students from the other three districts that it had been serving for many years and which in 1950 made up about a third of the student body.

And hence the dilemma: on the one hand, Tredyffrin and Easttown could hardly close the doors of the high school to the students from these other districts, and yet, on the other hand, the taxpayers of Tredyffrin and Easttown could hardly be asked to expand or enlarge a school facility that was still adequate to meet the needs of the pupils of their two townships.

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Conestoga High School is Born

To help find a solution, the Chester County Branch of the Pennsylvania Economy League in 1950 was asked to prepare a study of school plant needs for the area on a long-range basis. In its report in April of the following year it recommended that each of the five districts continue to furnish the elementary school programs for its school children in grades kindergarten through sixth grade, and that a new five-district jointure be formed for the secondary program for grades seven through twelve. It further suqqested that the existinq Tredyffrin-Easttown junior-senior high school be used as the junior high school for tne students in grades seven through nine, and that a new senior high school, for the students in grades ten throught twelve, be built.

Although no formal action was taken immediately by the five school boards concerned, the recommendation was thoroughly reviewed and discussed in each district. At the same time, the Charlestown school district requested that it too be included in the proposed jointure, expanding the number of districts in the jointure to six.

When a new study in 1952 showed that the school population in the area had increased by 25% in just the preceding two years, the project suddenly became much more urgent. By November of 1952 sufficient progress had been made to form a Planning Committee with a representative from each of the six districts to select a site for the proposed new high school building and an architect to help plan the project.

Four months later, on March 7, 1953, the school boards of all six districts met at Tredyffrin-Easttown High School and individually formally adopted articles of agreement to enter into the new jointure.

Under the terms of the articles of agreement, the capital costs required to build the new school, to purchase needed equipment each year, and to make improvements in the property were to be based on each district's proportionate share of the total market value of the six districts, with the operating costs to be based on each district's proportion of the total number of students in the junior and senior high schools.

To build the new school a local municipal authority, to be known as the "Paoli Area High School Authority", was created, with a representative from each district. Its function was to enter into the contracts to have a school built to the school boards' specifications, to float the bond issue to pay for its construction, and then to rent the school to the joint board at a yearly rental that reflected the amount necessary to retire the bonds and pay the interest and other costs involved.

At this meetinq the Planninq Committee also reported that a site had been selected for the new high school building, at the corner of Conestoga and Irish roads in Berwyn, to the west of the old junior-senior high school. (The Tredyffrin-Easttown Joint High School Board had already purchased a tract of about ten acres there from Melvin C. Long; another seven acres were subsequently added, making a little more than seventeen acres altogether.)

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The architectural firm of Howell Lewis Shay, of Philadelphia, was recommended for the project by the Committee, based on its previous work and its ability to proceed immediately with the project and have it ready for occupancy by September of 1955.

To operate and set policy for the secondary school program a twelve-person Operating Committee was formed, with each of the six districts represented by two directors. At its organizational meeting on June 10th the architect also reported that the estimated construction costs for the new building, designed to accommodate 800 students, were just under two and a half million dollars.

Ground-breaking exercises for the school were held on March 5, 1954, and were attended by some 450 students from Tredyffrin-Easttown Junior-Senior High School, school administrators, faculty members, representatives of the architect, and about 50 guests.

From the time the new jointure was formed, consideration was given to the selection of a name for the new high school. (Little enthusiasm, for obvious reasons, was shown for the name Paoli Area High School, the name chosen for the Authority, especially as the school was to be in Berwyn, not Paoli.) By April of 1954 the public relations committee of the Operating Committee had narrowed the list of suggestions down to two: retention of the name Tredyffrin-Easttown High School or changing the name to Conestoga High School.

The former was strongly favored by the Tredyffrin-Easttown Alumni Association, which went on record "as opposing any change in the present name of our school to any other name". It was also noted that the "school's traditions are centered around T-E symbols and it would take years to build this tradition in a new name", and that because "this was the first Joint High School in Pennsylvania many citizens have urged that the name be perpetuated in our new high school". Many others, however, felt that this name was no longer appropriate with the expansion of the jointure to six districts.

In support of the name Conestoga High School, "suggested by various citizens" and the choice of the Student Council of the high school, it was noted that the name reflected the fact that the area served by the school "is rich in our country's early history" and that the name, with its association with the old Conestoga road, "lends itself well to the symbolism which is an important part of high school life". (One critic of the proposal, Dr. J. Alden Mason, head of the American section of the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology of the University of Pennsylvania, suggested that the name should more properly be Conestoga Road High School, pointing out that the Conestoga Indians had, in fact, been "mortal enemies" of the Lenni-Lenape who had earlier inhabited the area.)

After inviting comments from service clubs, civic organizations, and the public, the name Conestoga High School was officially selected in May 1954. (At the same time, the Operating Committee decided to retain the name Tredyffrin-Easttown Junior High School for the old junior-senior high school, even though it was now to be used by the students of all six districts.)

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One of the considerations leading to the selection of the new name for the high school, it was later noted, was that the famed Conestoga wagons were usually pulled by six horses (or oxen) and were therefore symbolic of the six districts in the jointure pulling and working together for the education of the youth of the area.

Construction work on the building, under the Baton Construction Company, the general contractor, proceeded with few difficulties and, in fact, ran ahead of schedule. On October 27, 1954 the cornerstone or date stone was put in place, near the main entrance to the building, with appropriate ceremonies, students, school administrators and officials, and board members all taking part.

By mid-August 1955, it was reported in the Daily Local News, work on the project was "in its final stages", and, as noted earlier, on September 9, 1955, forty years ago, Conestoga High School opened for its first classes. The total enrollment was 549 students in the three grades, with a faculty of 35 members. Later in the month, on September 24th and 25th, an open house was held for the community to visit the new facility, with the Hobson C. Wagner Auditorium formally dedicated on the second day. (Wagner was a former superintendent of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, and was recognized as "the father of the jointure". His foresight and efforts had been instrumental in the formation and establishment of the new jointure, but he had passed away in June of 1952, nine months before it became a reality.)

The "J"-shaped building contained 56 rooms altogether [Note 1], with a steam heating plant "large enough to meet the needs of future additions" to the building. (Although the school, as mentioned earlier, was built to accommodate 800 students, it was planned to provide for expansion eventually to a capacity of 1200 to accommodate expected increased enrollment.)


Expansion of Conestoga High School

As the enrollments at Conestoga -- and at all the secondary and elementary schools -- continued to increase, it was not long before there was a real need for this future expansion.

Before the end of the new school's first year, in May of 1956, the Pennsylvania Economy League predicted that by 1959 the high school enrollment would reach 745, and recommended that the Board "plan to expand Conestoga High School to at least 1,200 pupil capacity by 1961", pointing to a 112 per cent increase in the number of pupils that had taken place in the six districts during the past decade. Less than a year later, in February of 1957, the administration predicted that an addition would be needed even sooner, reporting that "present enrollment increases indicate that the senior high school will be overcrowded by the fall of 1959; [and that] it appears that the 745 pupils predicted by the Economy League by that time will actually be 945 or more", well over the building's capacity.

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Accordingly, at its meeting on February 9, 1957 the Operating Committee approved the filing of the necessary forms with the state Department of Public Instruction for an addition to Conestoga, and at the same time authorized the administration to make further studies of enrollments and educational planning. The latter included study of the adoption of a 12-month school year or of double sessions as possible alternatives to expansion of the school.

The enrollment figures that fall underscored the seriousness of the situation: "Enrollments indicate," the Board's Education Committee reported in November, "great overcrowding in the Senior High School in 1958-59, and an impossible situation in 1959-60 without resorting to double sessions." It also reported, "From all indications a 1200-pupil school is not too large [as] to be unwieldy but is large enough for a complete and diversified program", and therefore recommended that the Operating Committee "proceed immediately" with an addition to the school to be "available for 1959-60". The following month the Operating Committee, after formally rejecting the options of double sessions or a 12-month term, recommended to the Authority construction of an addition to the high school to expand it to a 1200-1300 pupil capacity. Howell Lewis Shay and Associates was again named the architect for the project inasmuch as the firm had designed the original building with a view to further expansion and was in possession of the basic plans for the building.

In February 1958 the plans for the 18-room, later increased to 19-room, addition were approved, extending the north wing to transform the "J" shape of the building to a "U". Construction bids for the project were approved in September, with Nason & Cullen named general contractor and the estimated cost $490,000. Included in the project was a greenhouse for use by the biology department, and provision for the later installation of language laboratories for the teaching of foreign languages.

(Even with this addition, and before the project was completed, in May of 1959 planning was also underway for the construction of a second high school, now Great Valley High School, in East Whiteland Township.)

In September 1959 the enlarged Conestoga High School opened on schedule, with a capacity for 1200-1300 students. The enrollment that fall was 1036 students, almost double the enrollment at the school when it had opened just four years earlier, and 45.1 more than the original estimate of the Pennsylvania Economy League!

Still the population of the six municipalities comprising the jointure -- and the number of high school students -- continued to grow. Within an- other three years, in November of 1962, despite the opening of Great Valley High School earlier that fall, further expansion of Conestoga High School and the optimum size for a high school again became matters of continuing discussion. Two years later, in December 1964, it was recommended that an architect be consulted to study possible further expansion of the building, with the firm of Chappelle & Crothers selected in February 1965 for the study. (The alternatives of split sessions or a year-round program were again rejected.)

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By June the administration reported that the need for additional space was "virtually immediate", and that the project "should be completed and ready for occupancy by September of 1967". It was also noted that an additional five and a half acres of land, from the Doyle & McDonnell property, would be needed to accommodate the proposed addition.

The architect's plans for the addition were completed and approved the following April; bids for the project were received in June, and construction work started later that summer, to be completed by September 1967. The general contractor for the project was Ardo, Inc., and the estimated cost was $2,070,000.

The architect's plans included, in addition to 20 more regular classrooms, necessary to maintain the desired 25:1 pupil/teacher ratio, provision for three large-group instruction rooms, an adaptive gymnasium, enlargement and air-conditioninq of the library, and additional playing fields and tennis courts. (They did not include, however, a suggested planetarium, though an earth-space laboratory was included.) [Note 2]

With the closing of the eastern side, the building now had its present "0"-shaped configuration around a central courtyard, and had a capacity for 1800 students.

This was the last major addition to the building, though some internal modifications have been made from time to time since then to accommodate changes in the educational program. The library or media center was also again enlarged in 1980-81 and named the Karl Zettelmoyer Library in recognition of his almost 15 years as principal from 1957 to 1971; and a new gymnasium, named for John C. Rittenmeyer, the principal from 1971 to 1988, and a computer-equipped science wing were added nine years later.


Growth of the Curriculum

The effect of these increases in enrollment in the 1950s and 1960s was reflected not only in the construction and expansion of Conestoga High School, but also in the breadth of the curriculum and the content of the course offerings at the school.

With the opening of the new school in the fall of 1955 it was noted, "Now that a new building has been erected, providing ample rooms and adequate equipment, it becomes possible to do much in the way of adding to and improving the curriculum by means that were a physical impossibility heretofore. This year's program of studies is an effort, then, to accentuate the best of the past, at the same time permitting the addition of needed electives and flexibility of individual choices. ..." The program of studies issued for Conestoga's first year included some sixty-seven courses altogether. Specific courses were required for the academic program, business education, and programs in industrial arts or home economics, with various elective courses "open to all". (An example of these expanded elective courses was a creative language arts English course, added to the curriculum "to improve skills in expository writing, develop critical thinking, and to distinguish between fact and opinion".)

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Eight years later, in a brochure issued in 1963 on the 10th anniversary of the formation of the six-district jointure, it was further noted: "Our curriculum [today] is certainly much broader. Where ten years ago courses were offered in two [foreign] languages in our high school, today [in 1963] there are courses not only in Latin and French, but in German, Spanish and Russian as well. In English and mathematics, special courses are now offered to students with special aptitudes. The summer school program [that started in the summer of 1959 offers not only make-up courses, but enrichment courses as well."

Similarly, it was noted that where ten years earlier there had been one art instructor, in 1963 there were eight, offering a large and varied program with "instruction given in all types of media includinn weaving, ceramics, and jewelry, using many techniques and important basic skills". The courses in business education had been expanded to emphasis stenography, transcription, bookkeeping, and typing in the secretarial course; and, in the clerical course, clerical office practice, typing, bookkeeping, and consumer affairs, with personal use typing available to all students. The teaching of mathematics, it was noted, was "no longer a book of rules and laws", but was now taught "for understanding and thinking ... and to examine and explain the meaning behind each concept". In the social sciences a greater emphasis was given to the emerging nations of the world, with a world cultures course in the 10th grade that included study of the major countries of Asia, Africa, and South America, while in the junior and senior years 20th century American history and problems of democracy were stressed. And in science special courses in both chemistry and physics were offered to students who planned to be science or mathematics majors, as well as courses offering a general science background for college credit and a specialized chemistry course for students who planned to go into nursing.

"This broader curriculum," it was also pointed out, "while in part a by-product of the homogeneity of our community, also depends upon a sufficient number of children of like interests and aptitudes" to provide this variety of course offerings.

To plan and coordinate these changes and this expansion in the curriculum, in February 1958 B. Anton Hess, who had been the principal of Conestoga High School since it opened, and before that the principal of the old Tredyffrin-Easttown Joint High School, was named Director of Secondary Education. He was succeeded as principal by Karl Zettelmoyer.

Included in the business education program from the opening of Conestoga was a "work release" program, in which selected students reported for work in the afternoon at various local businesses to supplement their classroom instruction. (Among the local businesses cooperating in the program were the All State Insurance Co., Bell Telephone, Kurtz Brothers, and A.T.&T.) It was an initial effort in taking instruction "outside the walls" of the school building.

Another interesting innovation, in February of 1958, was the introduction of voluntary Saturday morning classes in advanced physics and chemistry as a "push towards technological, military and space sciences" following the launching of Sputnik by the Russians in 1957 placed "a new emphasis on science and mathematics".

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Of the 45 students who signed up for these voluntary classes, 44 showed up, despite a snowy day, for the first class. Advanced English classes "for able and ambitious students who have already demonstrated proficiency in the material usually included in the 11th and 12th grade classes" were also offered on a voluntary basis. (The Saturday morning sessions were continued until February 1963, at which time there was no longer sufficient enrollment to provide them.)

As this indicates, these changes and improvements in the curriculum, of course, reflected more than just the increased enrollment of the school. As was also pointed out in the brochure issued in 1963, "Course offerings and their content change as the community and the students served by the school change. The emphasis within a course may also change as the specific vocational goals or higher education aims of the students change,"

And during the 1950s and 1960s our community certainly did change. Farms became housing developments and small villages. The area became more suburban and residential in character, and less rural. The new residents were, for the most part, business and professional persons, more affluent, many of them college graduates, and they expected their children to attain the same or higher levels of education. As noted in the brochure issued at the opening of the 1967 addition to the high school, "As goals and fields of endeavor have changed, so have the needs for future leaders. ... In 1955 Conestoga High School was basically a comprehensive school. Twelve years have passed since the original building opened its doors to students. The curricular program has changed over the years to a point where it is [now] geared to training students for future learning and a terminal education." (Where in 1955 only 35 per cent of Conestoga's graduates continued their schooling after graduation, by 1967 that percentage had risen to 81 per cent. Today about 90 per cent of the graduating class goes on to attend four-year colleges or universities.)

At the same time, individual flexible, or mosaic, scheduling was also introduced to enable students to take advantage of the broadened curriculum and select courses to meet their needs and interests and abilities.

Two years later, in 1969, as a part of a state-wide reorganization of school districts, the six-district jointure formed in 1953 was divided into the Great Valley and Tredyffrin-Easttown school districts. Conestoga High School now became the high school for the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, and Great Valley High School, the high school for the Great Valley School District.

By the 1971-72 school year a total of 176 different courses were available to the students at Conestoga High School. They were described in a 35-page booklet entitled "Curriculum Guide and Course Description", which also demonstrated the breadth of the offerings. The courses were in twelve departments: business education, English, the fine arts, foreign languages, health and physical education, highway safety, home economics, industrial arts, mathematics, music, science, and social sciences.

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The breadth of these curricular offerings is dramatically illustrated by the course offerings in the English department alone, some 38 courses altogether. They included courses in writing, public speaking, American literature, world literature, Shakespeare, journalism, science fiction, mystery fiction, poetry and lyrical expression, television, and theater, to cite a few examples. (In fact, just plain "English" was not an option, though it was pointed out that "the reinforcement of fundamental language skills" was a part of each of the courses offered.) The courses were also adapted to five levels of ability, from those "designed for students who find their basic reading, writing and speaking skills need a great deal of improvement" to those that "offer a challenge to students who have excellent control of basic skills and are able to use difficult materials and complete activities in developing advanced language skills".

Similarly, included in the business education curriculum were courses in office practice, business law, and business management. The fine arts department had offerings broad enough to provide an art major for "students who are artistically inclined and want to continue their education in the visual arts after high school". (A similar music major was introduced in 1975.) In the mathematics department courses in college mathematics, trigonometry, and calculus were available. And in the social sciences the offerings included courses in sociology, psychology, political science, economics, the humanities, urban problems, and minority cultures, with world cultures a required subject, anticipating the emphasis that has been given to "multi-culturalism" in more recent years.

There was also provision for independent study for approved students, in which the students worked under the direction of a faculty advisor to pursue a "topic or project using approved research techniques".

Two years later, in the fall of 1973, the enrollment at Conestoga totalled 1948 students, with a faculty of 112, and had reached its peak.

Despite the declining enrollment since then, however, a similar catalog of the program of studies available at Conestoga has been issued each year. And although the individual courses offered each year have changed from time to time to meet changing needs, in each year's catalog, from 1974-75 through 1991-92, it was noted that "over 200 courses ... designed to meet the individual needs and personal interests of students" were offered, though some of them, of course, may not have actually been given if there was insufficient enrollment for them in a given year. (Since the 1991-92 school year the phrase "a number of courses" has replaced "over 200", but the number of course offerings in fact has still been well over 200, and, for the coming 1995-96 school year, well over 300.)

To provide additional flexibility to schedule a variety of courses, in the fall of 1993 the school day was divided into eight, rather than seven, periods.

In developing course offerings, the educational needs of the students are assessed on a continuing basis, both informally by the staff members and formally in periodic needs assessment studies made among the staff, the students, parents, and community members.

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(For those students not planning post-graduate studies, the course offerings in vocational-technical education were also indirectly expanded with the opening of the Northern Chester County Technical School, now the Pickering campus of the Center for Arts and Technology, in Phoenixville in the fall of 1973. Conestoga High School is one of four high schools, together with Great Valley, Phoenixville, and Owen J. Roberts, to use the school for special courses in a variety of technical subjects, among them automobile technology, automobile mechanics, cosmetology, electronic technology, floriculture, food handling and food preparation, printing, and welding, to name some of the courses offered.)

But perhaps the most widespread additions to the curriculum over the past two decades have been in the area of computer science and technology.

The first computer course at Conestoga, a course in computer programming using the FORTRAN computer language, was offered in the mathematics department in the 1972-73 school year. Seven years later, in the fall of 1979, a second programming course, using BASIC language, was added, and in the following year a course in systems analysis and problem solving, later designated as advanced computer training, was also offered. By the 1985-86 school year, just a decade ago, there were still only four computer courses available to Conestoga's students; nonetheless, it was announced that beginning with the Class of 1987 at least one course in computer education would be required for graduation.

In February of 1989 it was noted in a special study, "Over the past twenty years, the use of computers within our society has increased tremendously. All areas of society have been affected, including the public schools. Within the past five years the educational use of computers has expanded at each instructional level due to the declining cost of microcomputers and the development of software geared to the needs of students. ... In five short years we have acquired [for the district as a whole] nearly 400 computers and 300 printers." In the previous school year courses in the use of personal computers were offered at Conestoga, and the courses in typing and bookkeeping were phased out of the curriculum, with the manual and electric typewriters replaced by computers over a two-year period and multi-purpose computer laboratories established. "Hundreds of students," it was further noted, "are using word processing equipment on a daily basis. ... Student productivity has increased and reluctant writers are producing longer documents. Self-esteem is increased in students and they display a strong sense of pride in their accomplishments."

It was also pointed out, "Computers [themselves] are no longer instruments of study, and the ways in which computers are used have also changed. Programming languages are still taught at the high school level, but this is no longer the primary use for computers. Today's computer users are working with application or instructional software written by others, and [computers are] being used to solve problems and practice skills." Beginning in the fall of 1992 a course on desk-top publishing was first offered, and this fall [1995-96] more than a dozen different courses, most of them courses on the use of software, were offered.

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In 1992, as part of an over-all reorganization of departments, a new communications/technology department was formed, including the courses of the former business department; with a"focus on practical experience" it also included the production of the school publications and television programs. (At the same time, a new fine arts department, combining the courses in the visual arts, music, dance, and theater, was formed to "offer all Conestoga students opportunities to grow aesthetically", and a new wellness/ fitness/life skills department, including the courses in health, physical education, highway safety, and home economics, was created.)

As computer technology continued to evolve, computer projection services also found their way into the regular classroom, not only in the new communications/technology department, but also in classes in English, fine arts, sciences, mathematics, foreign languages, and social sciences. With such devices, it was noted, teachers were "able to use one computer with an entire group of students within the classroom ... as a tool to retrieve, analyze, or display data in a variety of settings" and formats.

Computer technology is now also used by the guidance department and in the library at Conestoga High School. (In 1990 the library-media center was designated an Apple Library of Tomorrow, the only high school library in the state so designated at that time to receive this award.) Over the years the library's collection had grown to more than 32,000 items, with not only books and other material in print or microfilm format, but also audio-visual materials. To make them more accessible, they were all catalogued in a computerized system. A variety of laser disc titles and networked CD-ROM programs are also now available as electronic researching skills have become increasingly important to students as they use them to garner information in new and different ways. This past spring Conestoga became one of the first schools in Chester County to connect with Internet, the international network of computers at universities, the so-called "electronic information highway".

Another area that has experienced considerable growth during the past two decades is the advanced placement, or AP, program. It was introduced in the fall of 1976 when "academically challenging" college-level courses, prepared in cooperation with the Advanced Placement Program at Educational Testing Services in Princeton, were made available. The program enabled successful students to obtain college credit when they entered college. Such courses were offered initially in chemistry, American history, mathematics, and foreign languages; this fall 25 such courses will be available, in art, English literature, journalism, foreign languages, mathematics (including an AP course in computer technology), science, and social studies. More than one out of five students in the current school year are enrolled in one or more AP courses. And since the fall of 1973 "academically capable" students have also been able to take courses at nearby colleges or universities for credit and/or enrichment.

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Honors courses have also been offered for qualified students since the mid-1960s, and, as noted earlier, approved students in their junior and senior year have since the early 1970s been able to take advantage of an independent study program.

In the fall of 1972 a proqram of "curriculum atlernatives" was also introduced, recognizing "the reality that learning can occur everywhere ... in meadows, museums, machine shops, art galleries, police stations and hospitals". "By extending the walls of the school to embrace the community," it was pointed out, "the school adds a new dimension to education." Since its inception the program has included a career elective option for students in their senior year, in which they leave school for the last four weeks before graduation to participate in "hands-on experience", guided by a faculty advisor and a community sponsor. Over 75 per cent of the seniors historically take advantage of this option.

During the years since 1973, in part to meet state mandates, the staff available to assist students with special needs has also increased from one to four, with four part-time aides. These teachers were organized into a separate department in 1990, and provide for the development of individual education plans, or "I.E.P."s, for these students.

As noted earlier, this breadth of curricular offerings and programs has continued at Conestoga High School despite declining enrollments during the past twenty years. (This decrease in the number of school students, incidentally, was experienced throughout the country, with a decline in the birth rate that reflected the increasing number of women in the work place and the rise in the number of two-income families.) From a high of 1948 students in the fall of 1973, by the fall of 1991 the number of students at Conestoga had dropped to 944, less than half the peak figure. (In part because of the declining enrollment, in the fall of 1992 there was a restructuring of the district's schools in which the junior high school became an intermediate or middle school and the 9th grade students were moved into Conestoga. Twenty-one years earlier, in the 1971-72 school year, the 9th grade had similarly been moved into Conestoga, but at that time it was for only one year and a temporary move during the renovation and reconstruction of the junior high school building.)


The Extra-Curricular Program

From its opening in 1955, and even before that as Tredyffrin-Easttown High School, a wide range of extra-curricular activities, both in interscholastic sports and club activities, has been offered in the high school. As was observed in 1984, "[Extra-curricular activities] are an integral part of high school. ... In an atmosphere of freedom, students learn to express themselves, to display talents, to learn respect for the rights of others, and to work toward a common goal."

In its first year as Conestoga the interscholastic athletic program consisted of nine sports, seven of them (football, cross-country, basketball, golf, tennis, baseball, and track) for boys, and two (hockey and basketball for girls.

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(Incidentally, three of the nine teams won the Ches-Mont League championship that first year, the football and baseball teams and the girls' undefeated hockey team.) Today Conestoga fields teams in twenty-one different sports, with the division between girls and boys teams much more even, ten for the boys, nine for the girls, and two teams composed of both boys and girls. [Note 3]

Beginning in the fall of 1963 Great Valley High School replaced Conestoga in the Ches-Mont League and Conestoga became a member of the newly-formed Central League. Since that time, Conestoga has won the Central League championship in each sport, except girls' cross country, at least once. (The golf, girls' softball, both boys' and girls' tennis, and girls' and boys' swimming teams have been particularly successful in league competition, each having won the championship a half dozen times or more.) In 1980 the girls' swimming team also won the state championship, as did the boys' soccer team in 1988.

More than 45 per cent of Conestoga's students participate in the interscholastic sports program, and in a number of sports junior varisty and/or freshman teams are also fielded.

(During Conestoga's first two years there was also an extensive intramural sports program at the school. Each student was assigned to either the Garnet or the Gray teams, the school's colors. Competitions were held in a variety of events, among them volleyball, ping-pong, basketball, foul shooting, softball, track and field, gymnastics, tennis, and cheering. In the second year touch football and hockey were added. The Gray team, incidentally, won the first year's competition.)

Forty years ago the extra-curricular music program included the Conestoga marching band, the orchestra, and the boys', girls', and mixed choruses. The concert band and choir were soon added to the program.

Over the years the band and orchestra have performed at a number of parades and festivals, among them the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City, two World's Fairs (at New York in 1964 and at Expo '67 in Montreal), the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, Disneyland, at parades in Memphis, Niagara Falls, Atlanta, Winchester, and Charleston, and, in 1980, at the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena. (Money for the trips was raised through the sale of hoagies and similar enterprises: as one newspaper reporter observed, "If the students don't leave Conestoga's bands better musicians, they at least will be experienced salesmen and saleswomen.")

Allied with the marching band is the band front which includes the majorettes and flash flags, the color guard (introduced in 1956), and the kick line (introduced in 1975).

From time to time the extra-curricular music program has also included small ensembles and a dance band.

In the fall of 1985 these musical activities were all elevated to a co-curricular status and students participating in them earned credits toward graduation, as did students working on the yearbook, the school newspaper, which in the fall of 1956 became known as "The Spoke", and the literary magazine, started during the 1967-68 school year.

Page 16

Similarly, in the fall of 1987 the co-curricular program was expanded to include the student aides, an extra-curricular activity that had started in 1961 with students working in the library. Over the years the program had expanded, and by the 1987-88 school year included attendance aides, audio-visual aides, greenhouse aides, guidance center aides, science aides, and health/nursing aides, to which physical education aides, and communi- cations aides have since been added. (Biology lab aides, chemistry lab aides, physics lab aides, and math/computer aides have now taken the place of the science aides.

With students encouraged "to initiate new clubs at any time during the school year", and as the interests of the students -- and of society -- have changed, the number of the various extra-curricular clubs or activities available at Conestoga over the past forty years is in the hundreds.

Some of the more perennial ones have been associated with the arts: the modern dance club, drama club, public speaking and debating (debating is now a co-curricular activity), stage crew, and so on. Others have been curriculum oriented, such as the French club, Spanish club, German club (now combined into the international foreign language club), or the National Honor Society. (From time to time there have also been other short- lived curriculum-oriented clubs: a horticulture club, history club, science club, fine arts club, and the like.) There have been extra-curricular clubs that reflect hobby interests, among them a radio club, chess club, photography club, investment club, sports car club, and outdoors club, some for only a year or two, others continuing for ten years or more. There have been clubs that reflect future vocational interests: Future Teachers of America, Future Homemakers of America, Future Nurses of America, and, since 1969, Future Business Leaders of America, which has now taken the place of the more specific clubs.

Several extra-curricular activities popular at one time or another have provided services for the school: the Student Council, pep club, cheer leaders, greeters or host/hostess clubs, leaders club, school store and book store, hall monitors, and press club are examples.

But perhaps the most significant trend in the extra-curricular program, especially during the past twenty years or so, has been the increase in the number of clubs concerned with the outside community. Where in the first decade at Conestoga there were a few such clubs -- the Hi-Y from 1956 to 1961, the Junior Red Cross, during the same period, and the American Field Service Club, started in 1962 and now in its 33d year -- during the last twenty years a number of such clubs have been formed: the Black Student League (now the African-American Student League), a world affairs club, a women's liberation study group, an INTERACT club, youth traffic safety club, Students Against Drunk Driving [SADD], Students Active for the Environment [SAFE], an Asian-American cultural project, Amnesty International, Adopt-a-Grandparent, REACH, Habitat for Humanities, and so on.

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In fact, about a third of Conestoga's forty-six extra-curricular clubs listed for the coming school year reflect this involvement with the outside community!


Recognition for Conestoga High School

Among the extra-curricular activities is the academic competition team, started in 1986 when the first county-wide interscholastic academic competition was inaugurated by the Chester County Intermediate Unit. Although Conestoga High School did not win that first year's competition, it has won the competition five times during its ten-year history, including three years in a row from 1990 through 1992.

Two years earlier, in the summer of 1984, the U. S. Department of Education had selected Conestoga as one of 144 high schools in the country "as the nation's most distinguished public high schools". The recognition was based on scholastics, student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and leadership by the administrative staff, with community and staff involvement, student activities, and the school's high academic standards also factors.

In 1994 Conestoga was also one of 134 high schools in the country named by Redbook magazine one of "America's Best Schools" after a year-long project. The schools so designated shared in common "a curriculum which challenges; knowledgeable teachers who nurture, challenge and inspire; involved parents and community members; the latest in computer and video technology; many extra-curricular activities and community service projects; a strong principal who both innovates and inspires; [and a] positive competition among students".

As Dr. Kaye Pollock, the present principal at Conestoga, has observed, "This pattern of success can be attributed to a community that expects results from its high school and to a faculty that models academic success for its students." More than 90 per cent of the school's faculty have a Masters degree or higher, with seven per cent having attained a doctoral degree, and from 175 to 200 parents and other community members do volunteer work in the school on a daily or weekly basis throughout the year.

During its forty years Conestoga High School has had but five principals. Two of them, Karl A. Zettelmoyer and Dr. John C. Rittenmeyer, died while still principal. Two of them, Dr. B. Anton Hess and Dr. Daniel E. Waters, were promoted, Dr. Hess to director of secondary education and Dr. Waters to director of education in the district. And the fifth, Dr. Kaye H. Pollock, is now in her third year as principal of the school.

The educational policy of the school, and of the district as a whole, as set forth by the Board of Education is "both to challenge and to assist each student toward becoming a constructive member of our changing society. By providing experiences that develop intellectual excellence and promote a positive understanding of one's self, the school can effectively help each student to appreciate the contributions of our nation's heritage, the interdependence of individuals, and the dignity of all. ... The responsibility of the District is to motivate and to assist each student to develop independent critical thinking; to accept responsibility; acquire self-reliance and develop leadership skills; to develop self-discipline; to gain effective use of communication and mathematical skills; to understand and appreciate the contributions of the arts, humanities, and sciences; to formulate social and ethical values appropriate for living in a multi-cultural society; to appreciate the value of individual effort; [and] to gain a fundamental knowledge that will serve as a basis for future development."

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It is with these goals that Conestoga High School enters the last decade of its first half-century and approaches the first decade of the 21st century.

Note 1

The building, when it opened, included sixteen standard classrooms, designed to hold 25 to 30 students each; six commercial instruction rooms, equipped with the most up-to-date types of bookkeeping and calculating machines and electric typewriters; an art room; four science rooms, with well-equipped laboratories, two for biology and one each for chemistry and physics; two general shops, one for woodworking and one for metal trades; a graphic arts room; a home economics suite; and a sound-proofed music practice room. There was also an auditorium with a seating capacity of 973, an orchestra pit, and a stage equipped "for practically any type of function"; a gymnasium, with folding bleachers to accommodate 1,000 spectators and which could be divided into two separate areas for boys and girls by an electrically-operated partition; locker and shower rooms and a commercial laundry; and a centrally located library which also contained storage space for audio-visual material and equipment. An audion room or visual aids center contained projectors and screens for presentations and could be used for small groups or meetings, and there were seven conference rooms that could be used for small group instruction or meetings without taking up classroom space or disturbing study halls. In addition, there was a cafeteria that could seat 400 students at a time; a kitchen; and areas for the medical suite, the guidance department, and school offices.

Note 2

With this expansion, when Conestoga High School opened for classes in September of 1967 it had 56 regular classrooms; five small-group instruction rooms and three large-group instruction rooms; five biology laboratories, three physics laboratories and four chemistry laboratories; two art rooms; two music rooms; an enlarged library twice the size of the former library and with shelf space for 25,000 volumes; two gymnasiums and two locker and shower rooms, and an adaptive gym; the laundry; and also an enlarged student dining room and cafeteria; a faculty dining room; the kitchen; the auditorium; and a new student activity room. There was also a six-room counseling or guidance suite, the medical suite; five teachers' work rooms; three conference rooms; and four administrative offices; as well as rooms for the school store and the book store.

Note 3

The girls' teams now include, in addition to hockey and basketball, tennis (introduced in the 1958-59 school year), lacrosse (1959-60), swimming (1967-68), track (1970-71), volleyball and softball (both introduced in 1975-76), and soccer (1987-88). (From 1969 to 1993 there was also a girls' gymnastic team, and from 1981 to 1992, a girls' cross-country team, but neither team is now included in the program.)

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Similarly, the boys' interscholastic teams now include, in addition to the seven sports mentioned, wrestling (introduced in the 1956-57 school year), soccer (added in 1959), swimming (since the 1967-68 school year), and lacrosse (since 1972-73). (For seventeen years, from the 1972-73 school year to the 1989-90 school year, there was also a boys' gymnastic team.) The two "co-educational" teams are winter track (started in the fall of 1966) and cross-country (since the discontinuance of girls' cross-country as a separate sport). But while golf is listed as a boys' sport, in in 1959 and 1960 the team's number one player was a girl!

Several of these teams, incidentally, were started as club teams and only later incorporated into the athletic program. The rugby and ice hockey teams still compete as club teams, and at one time or another there were also badminton, gym, fencing, squash, and bowling teams as club teams in the extra-curricular program.



Chester County Historical Society: Clippings file (Conestoga High School)

Chester County Intermediate Unit: Academic Competition

Conestoga High School: Curriculum Guide and Courses of Study, 1955 Program of Studies, 1971-72 through 1995-96 School Profiles Class Yearbooks, 1956 through 1995

Tredyffrin-Easttown School District Minutes of Board Minutes School Board Policy Manual Enrollment data Brochure: Contributions of a Community to the Future, 1955 Brochure: Ten Year Progress Report, 1963 Brochure: Welcome to Conestoga High School, 1967 Report: Acquiring and Using Computers: A Plan for the Future, 1990 through 1993, 1989 Report: Acquiring and Using Computers: A Plan for the Future, 1993 through 1998, 1993 Leaflets: Your Schools [various issues] Data prepared for Secondary School Recognition Program of U. S. Department of Education, 1984

Weiss, Michael J.: "America's Best Schools" [in Redbook magazine]

Author unknown: "The Experts' Choice of Excellent Schools" [in Philadelphia Magazine]

Discussions and conversations with, among others, Dr. Kaye H. Pollock, Dr. Daniel E. Waters, Dr. Kevin O'Shea, Rita Reichert, and Carolyn Gintheri and Patricia Wood. Their cooperation, comments, and suggestions, with those of other members of the staff and administration of the school and the district, were most helpful and much appreciated.


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