A Little Bit of History

Construction of the new General George A. McCall Elementary School was was awarded on October 26, 1909 and the school was officially opened in February 1911. McCall’s first principal was named Louis Nusbaum who formerly was principal of the Horace Binney School at 6th and Spruce St in the Fifth Ward The Fifth ward was bound by 7th street, the Delaware River, South street and Chestnut street. The capacity of the new building was for 1,300 students. Many students from Horace Binney School were transferred to McCall in order to relieve the congestion in the Fifth Ward and because the building was in poor condition.

In the early 1900s (circa 1920s and 1930s), children were required to attend school regularly until the age of 14, after which children were able to leave school and get full time jobs. However, until the age of 16, teens were to attend “Continuation School” one day each week. McCall School became well known for its “Continuation School” in the 1920s and taught various trades. McCall Continuation school taught printing, tailoring, carpentry, metal working (they built a car in 1927) and electrical work (they made a radio in 1927 and gave as a gift to Homeopathic Hospital children in Christmas).

By the 1930s, the education style continued to be an emphasis on inspiration not information. Children were given the opportunity to try their hand at many different trades including; plasterer, paperhanger, electrical, and automobile mechanics, tailor shop (clothes bought by Red Cross), banking, sales, business practices, printing, carpenter and metal shop. Students receive 6 hours of academics to 2 hours of shop. McCall invited employers to inspect work done at McCall Continuation School. “Employers Week” was celebrated at McCall Continuation School every year from 1923 to 1928. Among those who participated in this event was Ellis A. Gimbel, head of Gimbels department stores, who spoke to students about future jobs and offered career advice.

The Depression era led to “Opportunity Classes” at McCall which catered to boys ages 16-21 years of age. There were no credits given for attending classes and no grades assigned or commencement exercises. It was simply a way to gain skills to help young men obtain jobs and kept them from roaming the streets. From this, the concept of Vocational School was born and the students were successful in securing opportunities in stenography, typing, bookkeeping, cost accounting and commercial law.

The McCall School has always had a diverse immigrant population with a multicultural make up. Beginning in the early 1950s, immigrant children were assigned to McCall as part of a special program for the school that taught English, the only such program in a public school in the USA. Children were sent to McCall from all over (including suburban areas) to learn English before being transferred to other neighborhood schools and entering into regular school classes. By 1953, McCall had as many as 200 students from more than 20 countries studying English. The cultural blend of students included those from Ukraine, France, Japan, China, Greece, Puerto Rico, Germany, Brazil, Hungary, Cuba, Korea and African nations. McCall had become a place for children to learn how to assimilate, learn American customs learn to read, write and socialize in the community. The McCall School welcome signs could be read in 14 different languages and the school was at times referenced as a mini United Nations.

In the 1950s, the socio-economic status of Society Hill (and surrounding catchment areas) was slightly above the city wide average and many area children in Society Hill attended private schools. But, the school continued to grow and by the early 1960s the school was ready for expansion and in 1965/1966, an addition was added onto McCall School which included a new gym and auditorium.

In 1970, the school has a long waiting list of students and teachers to come to McCall and there were as many as 700 students enrolled at McCall.

Today, McCall continues to have a diverse, multicultural population. The catchment includes Society Hill, Washington Square West, Old City and Chinatown. McCall continues thrive and to be a highly regarded public school in Philadelphia.

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