Camden, NJ — The atmosphere on the corner of Copewood Street and Haddon Avenue Monday morning was as bright and electric as the shade of yellow that lines the halls at Uncommon Schools Camden Prep Copewood Elementary School campus.
Federal, state and city officials, along with the Uncommon Schools Camden Prep community celebrated the dedication of the renaissance school's brand new second campus in the city.
Uncommon Schools Camden Prep was founded in 2014 as a renaissance school, and currently serves almost 600 students in grades kindergarten through six. The 85,000-square-foot Copewood campus, located at 1650 Copewood St., will eventually serve 800 students in grades kindergarten through eight, and Uncommon Schools Camden Prep will grow to five schools and serve students in grades kindergarten through 12.
Outgoing Camden City School District Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard called the opening of the new school an example of "long lasting sustainable change," and praised the two Camden Prep principals, Laura Fern and Natalie Cooper, and the Uncommon Schools leadership.
"It starts with leadership to ensure that this work continues for a very long time," said Rouhanifard.
"It was truly a movement together. It was truly working with parents and the community to make sure that we are establishing what you want for your scholars and putting them on a path to greatness," said Julie Jackson, Uncommon Schools chief schools officer for grades kindergarten through eight.
Jackson said that when Uncommon Schools Camden Prep began, 3 percent of the students were proficient English language arts, and 4 percent proficient in math. Since, Jackson said, Uncommon Schools Camden Prep scholars have increased proficiency 16 times in English language arts and nine times in math.
"What you see here is that we're breaking down barriers," said Congressman Donald Norcross. "What you see here today is proof that when people truly work together for the betterment of the city, great things can happen.
As a state senator, Norcross was the primary sponsor of the Urban Hope Act, the law that allowed renaissance schools to open in three New Jersey cities — Camden, Newark and Trenton.
Mayor Frank Moran, who also in attendance, said that the opening of the school, an over $30 million project, has transformed the community.
"Several years ago there was an abandoned building that sat right where we stand today," said Moran. "Right down the street there is a medical institution known as Lady of Lourdes, which also invested in this community. There is a park right behind the school, that's called Whitman Park, that's going to see $2.5 to $3 million in improvements. There is an apartment complex right behind the park, that's known as the Tamarack Apartments, that's going to see approximately $45 million of investment. So what this school has done is really transformed the community."
The morning was not just filled with celebratory officials and politicians, however. It began with a "community circle," led by Tania Christopher, performing arts teacher at Camden Prep Mt. Ephraim and Copewood Elementary schools, and Laura Fern, principal of Camden Prep Copewood Elementary School.
Students showed off their math skills and positivity through a number of chants and songs, including "One school, one vision, together we are on a mission," and a rendition of "This land is your land."
There was also a performance from Camden Prep Copewood Elementary School's kindergarten and first graders, singing the opening number from their spring musical, along with a performance from the Camden Prep Mt. Ephraim Middle School Step Team.
"This school has the potential of being an anchor, not just in Whitman Park, but in the City of Camden," said Assemblyman Arthur Barclay, who grew up in Camden.
Also in attendance was Susan Bass Levin, president of the Cooper Foundation, Councilman Brian K. Coleman along with Phiadelphia 76ers mascot Franklin the Dog and legendary NBA player World B. Free — managing partners of the Philadelphia 76ers, David and Allison Blitzer, were among the project's donors.