Staats House Ribbon Cutting

On Friday, November 3, 2023, members of the community—including classmates and friends of Barbara and Allan Staats ’56—gathered for the dedication and ribbon cutting for the newly renovated Barbara and Allan Staats House. After a welcome from Anne Roche, Clerk of the Board of Trustees, Head of School Chris Benbow and Dean of Advancement Ellen Urbanski addressed the gathering. Once Benbow cut the ribbon, the Advancement team hosted a reception and open house. 

Formerly known as the Lane House, the building was completed in 1920 to be used as a faculty residence. It has remained primarily a space for faculty and staff housing, and most recently served as a second health center during the pandemic. “And now, friends,” shared Head of School Chris Benbow at the ceremony, “it is the Allan and Barbara Staats House! As many of you know, Allan attended Westtown from 1953 to 1956, and he and Barbara were active in the life of the school for decades, visiting campus regularly for class reunions and other events, including Commencent in the Greenwood…Allan described his deep appreciation for what Westtown taught him both as a student in the classroom and as a whole person. He noted that his years at Westtown were among his most memorable, and that he developed values and dispositions that grounded him throughout his life, including the critical importance of maintaining hope and positivity.”

The Staats have been tremendously generous to Westtown School over the years supporting the Westtown Fund, financial aid, capital projects, and several endowed funds. “Although we lost Allan in 2020 and Barbara in 2022, their legacy lives on,” shared Ellen Urbanski, Dean of Advancement. “Through their estate, the Staats’ generosity is now providing additional support to financial aid, the endowment, the Center for the Living Arts and the Staats House renovation. The Staats’ estate gift also provided resources for us to endow their annual Westtown Fund gift, which will support the Westtown community in perpetuity. Allan and Barbara understood the importance of community and took great pleasure in being with friends and family. In 2021, as we were preparing to honor his life during Alums Weekend, Barbara told me, ‘Allan loved Westtown and is smiling down on all of us knowing that his gifts bring joy to Westtown students, faculty and staff.’ While I do wish they were with us today, I imagine they are both smiling on us this afternoon and cheering on our work together on behalf of Westtown School.”  

“Living and learning together—and from one another—is an essential ingredient of the Westtown experience,” continued Benbow. “The community we build here each and every year—each and every day, really—the life long connections we make, and the ways these experiences and relationships shape who we are and how we move through the world simply would not happen without the generosity and intention of people like Allan and Barbara. Financial support for our students and families remains one of our highest priorities, and as someone who has known some of the young people who have benefited directly from Allan and Barbara’s generosity, I also know how much Westtown has benefited from the gifts those young people bring, grow, and share with us daily. We are thrilled to have another welcoming community space on campus where we can connect alums, parents, guardians, grandparents, students, faculty, staff—all members of our community. When I look at this building, I will continue to think with gratitude of Allan and Barbara, of their generosity, and of the connections and community they continue to help make possible.” The Staats House will now serve as offices for the Advancement Department and as a welcoming entertainment and meeting space for the entire Westtown community. The next time you are on campus, we invite you to stop by the Staats House to see this wonderful space. Until then, enjoy the gallery of photos from the ribbon cutting!

Center for the Living Arts Groundbreaking

On Friday, October 3, 2023, members of the Board of Trustees, donors, students, Visual and Performing Arts Department faculty, and community members gathered for the groundbreaking for the Center for the Living Arts (CLA).  Anne Roche, Clerk of the Board of Trustees, opened the ceremony and read the land acknowledgement, and Head of School Chris Benbow, Director of Pre-K- 12 Visual and Performing Art Alex Ates, and ninth grader Jamila Burgos shared in the ceremony before ground was broken. 

The groundbreaking marks the beginning of the third phase of the CLA renovation and expansion. During Phase I, renovations included creating a dedicated sculpture studio, a natural-light ceramics studio, and a reconfigured digital arts lab. The rehearsal spaces for choral and instrumental music were revitalized, state-of-the-art soundproof music practice rooms were created, and the green room and dressing rooms for theater productions were updated. 

Phase II of this project focused on the Barton-Test Theater which received wall finishings to sharpen acoustics, a new theatrical sound systems and lighting, HVAC installation, new catwalks, expanded storage and safety upgrades, and aesthetic renovations to the scene shop and costume storage areas. 

Head of School Chris Benbow shared with the gathering, “The vision for this final phase of the renewal speaks to our collective belief in the importance of the arts at Westtown. It will tie the entire Center together by means of an exciting addition, replacing unused space with a stunning gallery, creating a formal visual arts wing, adding flex performance space, and common gathering areas. Alongside critical modifications for accessibility and an aesthetic upgrade of the building’s façade, we will take advantage of one of the most beautiful vistas on the Westtown campus with additional outdoor education space, tying the community together around the arts.” 

Alex Ates, Director of Pre-K-12 Visual and Performing Arts, said, “To mark this occasion, I’d like to make three brief points as to why I love the name ‘The Center for the Living Arts.’ First, the word ‘center.’ Not only is this facility the center of operations for our artistic activity, it is also in the center of Westtown’s campus. When I first visited Westtown, it moved me that the CLA was located right next to the Meeting House, as both facilities feel like soul siblings, both are containers designed to induce divine expression and the equally divine reception of expression. Another way to think about the word ‘center’ is that the process of centering before Meeting for Worship is a similar process to centering before creating art, or receiving art. When we center ourselves, we ground ourselves in place. We also connect with others, we meet each other where we stand. Second, I love the term ‘living arts.’ We all agree that this building will be state of the art and will be a testament to Westtown’s commitment to creative expression. However, it’s a building. What I’m most excited about are the experiences of living that this building will contain, elucidate, and catapult. The arts are a way of expressing our aliveness. At a school like Westtown, where we see folks grow through childhood, we see a lot of living. This building will center the art and the heart of all that living. Finally, I’ll note that our department has been intentional in preparing for this moment to ensure that everyday we center living arts…As a department, we have cleared and aligned our thinking to ensure that we’ll engage these new facilities with mission-driven zest.” 

Jamila Burgos ’27, winner of the North Penn High School Black History Month Oratorical Contest and winner of  the Winner of the Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Patriots Challenge, read a poem she wrote to celebrate the event entitled, The beauty of the world fit into one moment. You can read her poem here

The special (and wonderful!) shovels used for the groundbreaking were created under the leadership and guidance of Middle School Art Teacher Cindy Hodgson, now in her twenty-first year at Westtown. Her Eighth Grade Visual Arts classes decorated the shovels to represent the various artistic disciplines taught at Westtown. The designs and artwork used on the shovels were inspired by visiting artist Todd Drake who worked with Middle School students during his residency last year to create linocut prints based on the Quaker SPICES: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. 

At the conclusion of the groundbreaking—and just as the rain clouds opened—the gathering enjoyed a lovely reception in the Science Center.  You can see more photos from the event here.

On a final note, we share our thanks to this community!  Every phase of this exciting project was made possible through a tremendous outpouring of generosity from alums, parents, parents of alums, and friends of Westtown.

Stay tuned to eCollections and other publications for updates on the progress of the CLA! 

Kicking off the New School Year

We were fortunate, and it seemed fitting, to have a beautiful day when we gathered as a whole school to celebrate the start of the year! Students, faculty, and staff assembled in the Greenwood for our Opening-of-School Assembly. Head of School Chris Benbow kicked off the festivities, then our Student Body Presidents—seniors Zaria Johnson, Kien Dang, and Olivia Bley—led the crowd in cheers. Finally, Benbow led the traditional roll call of the classes to great fanfare. There was even a special appearance by the moose! Check out the photos here.