By Chris Cooper
Michele Snyder always wanted to be a teacher, and spent several years teaching in the challenging environment of inner-city Philadelphia.
But the product of the Coatesville Area School District never forgot her roots, and is now committed to preparing local students for successful careers as the principal of Coatesville Area Senior High School.
“I grew up on Sixth Avenue in Coatesville in a community with Italian-American immigrants,” said Snyder, whose own background is Italian-American. “There was a whole neighborhood of kids I grew up with, and it was a lot of fun. We were outside all the time, but when the streetlights came on, you had better be back on the front porch.
“We walked to elementary and middle school together, and I attended ninth and tenth grade in the building that is currently Scott Middle School.”
After graduating from Coatesville, Snyder received her degree in Secondary Education with a concentration in Social Studies from Kutztown University, and landed a teaching position at Ben Franklin High School in North Philadelphia.
“I wanted to see if I could do it, if I could teach in a diverse area,” she said of her decision to go into the inner-city. “I wanted the challenge, and I wanted to start with a freshman class in Philly and watch those kids graduate. It was an experience like no other, and I loved every minute of it, but I always knew I wanted to come home eventually.”
Since then, Snyder furthered her own education by obtaining a master’s degree from Neumann University and an administrative certificate from Penn State Great Valley. This is her second year as principal at Coatesville, after serving as assistant principal there.
When asked about the main challenge she faces as principal, Snyder expressed a strong desire and commitment to enhancing the post-secondary educational opportunities for her students.
“I want to open up doors to their future,” she said. “I want my kids, 100 percent of them, to walk out of here with a plan, for either college, trade school, military, or work, because I’ve seen students that don’t have that focus.
“I want them to be able to go out into the world and have a future and have a plan for that, because their earning potential is so much lower if they don’t go to a trade school or have a career.”
Snyder recalls the time when Coatesville graduates could expect to find good work at the local steel mill like their fathers and grandfathers, or work at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the two big employers in the area.
One way the high school is helping students formulate a plan for their futures is by having all juniors take the SAT exam at no cost to the student. This opens up an interest in college for students who may never have previously considered it.
Dual credit and dual enrollment programs with local colleges are other ways Coatesville is helping to place students on a career track.
“We have had partnerships with Montgomery County Community College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, and those schools have vetted our teachers to teach college-approved courses here at the high school so students could earn dual credit,” said Snyder.
“And now we have a dual enrollment program where our students as early as tenth grade can go onto Delaware County Community College’s campus, take classes there in four career pathways, and earn college credits while they are earning high school credits.”
Students who take advantage of that program can graduate with as many as 27 college credits.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for the students, and we don’t charge them to do that,” said Snyder. “It’s just like going to high school, but they’re earning college credits while doing it. We’re really excited for that.”
Snyder and the administration are also behind an initiative to offer students a more rigorous science curriculum, citing the increased need for those skills in the job market. Biology is now being offered earlier as a ninth-grade course, with advanced science classes in 11th and 12th grade.
“We still have physics, but we now offer microbiology, zoology, botany, and nutritional chemistry,” said Snyder.
She is especially proud of the school’s ALS research course, where students are working in partnership with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“It’s about adding those opportunities that can attract our students to careers to get them ready for the careers of the future in jobs we don’t even know exist yet, which is so different from the world that I grew up in,” she said.
Providing opportunities for high school students to learn and better their lives after graduation is a key reason Michele Snyder returned to her roots in Coatesville, and why she wants to stay.
“My sister works for Intercontinental Hotels Group and travels the world,” said Snyder. “That was her thing. She just wanted to leave, and I just couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”