CAMDEN, NJ — Shuffled out in the afternoon sun, Cooper’s Poynt Family School students grabbed t-shirts from the Sixers Youth Foundation and watched lively routines from the Sixers Stixers drumline and the Dunk Squad featuring team mascot, Franklin.
They saw their principal, Janine Casella, throw on a customized Philadelphia 76ers jersey bearing her name and the number 76.
It wasn’t a typical school day by any stretch. And the biggest moment of the special event Wednesday had yet to come.
Soon, officials from the Sixers, the Trust for Public Land, and the Camden City School District cut the ceremonial ribbon to unveil two new basketball half courts on the lot beside the school.
Some of the 50 students raced into shootarounds with members of the Dunk Squad or photos with 76ers first-year players Marial Shayok and Christ Koumadje, while others headed for a colorful jungle gym installed earlier in the summer.
Nearby on the blacktop were games of cornhole and giant Jenga. The event also offered the children a face-painting booth and free haircuts from Maestro’s Classic.
"I think the biggest thing is the smiles on their faces and knowing that this was for them," Casella said of the students in an interview. "And I think that when they know that something is for them, they feel valued inside ... That's what they're feeling right now, they're feeling loved."
The new courts will not only be of value to the Cooper's Poynt School students and programs, but also to the surrounding community when the bell has rung for the day.
Amy J. Hever, the Sixers' Executive Director for Social Responsibility, stressed the organization chose the project with the knowledge of that wide-ranging impact.
"It's not like after school is over the gates are locked. This is going to be public space," she said. "And all those things meet our criteria for creating a resource that's going to last well beyond today."
It's one of numerous investments made by the organization across the city. As recently as earlier in the summer, the Sixers celebrated the opening of a new children's learning center in North Camden, complete with a renovated basketball court.
In the Cooper Point neighborhood specifically, through a STEM program embedded at the elementary school in partnership with Rutgers University–Camden. This was established around the time of the organization's move to the waterfront in 2016, Hever said.
"From there, the relationship has just continued to grow," she said.
The transformation of what was a barren slab of asphalt at the Cooper's Poynt school is not finished, either. Still to come are rows of plants and trees and a garden bordering the yard for classes outdoors. More large yellow stars will also be added to the grounds, a nod to the school's superstars theme.
The design comes courtesy of the students themselves, for the most part. They contributed ideas to the team from the Trust for Public Land, the national nonprofit that preserves open spaces for community use.
Other upcoming projects in Camden overseen by the group will bring improvements to Dominick Andujar Park, the Benjamin Franklin underpass, and the schoolyard at Rafael Cordero Molina Elementary School, which is expected to be the first under construction this winter.
"It really is what a playground should look like, right?" Casella said.