Category Archives: Highlights

CPS Goes to Camp at Hill Top Prep!

This summer, nine students from CPS had the pleasure of attending summer camp on the beautiful campus of Hill Top Preparatory School in Rosemont, PA!

Over the course of the last school year, students from Hill Top visited CPS each week to work with our Kindergarten, first, and second grade students. At the end of the year, CPS students returned the favor by visiting Hill Top’s campus to hike and have a picnic lunch with Hill Top students.

The CPS students who attended were able to do so at no charge, and transportation was included for them to get to and from camp each day.  Attending the camp provided them with the opportunity to not only interact with a diverse set of students, but to encounter a diverse set of experiences outside the city limits and serve as leaders among their peers.

Our students had a blast doing arts and crafts, camping, sports, and weekly field trips. Below are just a few snapshots from their jam-packed summer:

Arts & Crafts


Roller Skating

LOTS of roller skating!


The Franklin Institute

Dorney Park

…and of course, some much-needed down time at the end of a long, busy day!

Thank you to Hill Top Prep for hosting our students in such a fantastic program! Their summer camp adventures will surely provide many great stories to share with their teachers and classmates over the coming weeks.

The CPS Strings Program


violin 2This past school year, CPS students received the unique opportunity to learn the violin through a partnership with Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University. The lessons, held twice weekly after school by student volunteer Liv Gusmano, taught twelve lucky students in grades 2-5 the basics of music theory and playing the violin. This spring, the students were able to share their progress over the course of the year with their peers and teachers at Community Meeting.

The program was initiated last fall when the Chair of Temple’s Music Education Department, Dr. Rollo Dilworth, reached out to the school about getting involved with CPS. After seeing a collection of unused violins on a tour of the school, Dr. Dilworth had the idea of offering strings lessons to CPS students. He connected the school with sophomore student Liv Gusmano, an experienced violist who has taught other elementary age children with the Philadelphia String Project at Temple.

violin 1

The after school strings program is part of a larger effort to increase enrichment opportunities for CPS students. Research shows that students from low-income households suffer disproportionately from not only an academic achievement gap, but from an “experience gap” stemming from a lack of access to experiences in arts and culture, athletics, and music. Enrichment opportunities and extracurricular activities can help bridge this gap for our students and improve literacy and experiential knowledge. Other partnerships CPS has leveraged to expand enrichment programming this year have included arts and culture experiences through Art-Reach, cooking classes for our fifth grade students through the Vetri Foundation for Children, and an engineering curriculum developed and volunteer-taught by local firm In Posse.

Ms. Gusmano plans to return to CPS this fall to continue the strings program, and has tentative plans to integrate her volunteer work at CPS with her studies at Temple. The program has gained a great deal of popularity: all of the students who participated this past school year will be continuing for the coming school year, and there is a waitlist of students who would like to participate if additional slots become available.

The partnership with Temple’s Music Department has also sparked opportunities for further collaboration.  Dr. Dilworth plans to begin a North Philadelphia-based children’s choir, with the hopes of including CPS students in the program.



Celebrate CPS: An Evening in Tuscany

This past April, CPS held its annual “Celebrate CPS” fundraiser honoring board member Jeff Benjamin. More than 450 CPS supporters attended the Tuscany-themed event at Vie for a festive evening of cocktails, dinner, and auctions to benefit the students of CPS.

Confident and upbeat in anticipation of their performance later in the evening, fourth grade students greeted guests as they arrived at the venue on a gorgeous spring evening. CPS staff and Event Committee members, members of the Young Friends of CPS, parents, and weekly school volunteers helped ensure that the night ran smoothly. Many members of the CPS faculty, staff, and board were in attendance, along with new and longtime supporters alike.

During dinner, fourth grade kicked things off with a performance of the song “One Day” by Matisyahu, originally performed for the CPS Winter Concert. One student, Jordan, shared about her experience at Vetri Eatiquette and the lessons she has taken away from the Friday lunch program. Alumnus Zahir revealed how CPS helped him overcome his personal struggle and helped him get to where he is today (click here for more about Zahir).

This year’s honoree, CPS board member Jeff Benjamin, was presented with a citation from Mayor Nutter’s office in recognition of his unwavering commitment to Philadelphia’s school children. In his remarks, Mr. Benjamin discussed his journey to becoming a champion for education, and how he was taken with CPS from the first time he visited and saw the students in action. He stated that a “good enough” education isn’t good enough for Philadelphia’s children and urged the audience to take part in ensuring access to a quality education by participating in the CPS Scholarship Fund, which helps keep tuition affordable for families by subsidizing the cost of the student’s education.

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Events like Celebrate CPS not only help generate needed revenue for operating support, but help to “friendraise” for the school by spreading the word about the work CPS is doing to provide a high quality and affordable education alternative in North Central Philadelphia.

Event sponsors included Jeff and Janine Yass, John and Leigh Middleton, and Philadelphia Financial. For a full list of sponsors, click here.

The evening grossed over $425,000, and was a memorable evening for all.

The 4th and 5th Grade Wax Museum


Fourth and fifth grade took the CPS community back through time to recognize and celebrate inspiring African-American figures from history. Each student prepared a display and then took on the persona of the individual they learned about, in order to share their story with visitors to their station.

Each “character” had a diverse story to tell about their contribution to American society as we know it. “Billie Holiday” shared her journey to becoming a jazz legend; “Wallace Henry Thurman” told about his role as a journalist during the Harlem Renaissance; “Annie Turnbo Malone” explained her entrepreneurial pursuits as the first black female millionaire in the United States.

The students used props and costumes to help their peers and other members of the community better understand their character’s life. In addition to helping them engage hands-on with history, students reported feeling inspired by seeing the accomplishments that these figures were able to make in spite of setbacks due to their race, gender, and/or class.

We hope that our graduating fifth graders will take the lessons that they learned from participating in the wax museum with them as they graduate and go on to become the leaders of the next generation.

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The CPS Continent Fair

This May, the halls of CPS were filled with sights, sounds, and smells from all over the continent of Europe! The annual Continent Fair presents students with the opportunity to engage with different countries from all over the world by immersing themselves in the geography, history, and culture of one country from the continent. Each class picked a European country to study over the course of the spring semester and present to the CPS community.

In their study of Greece, 2nd grade made their own tzatziki sauce using Greek yogurt, dill, garlic, and cucumber – and then they were able to use what they learned to teach their peers about tzatziki at Vetri lunch! Meanwhile, 3rd grade was given the opportunity to enjoy authentic Italian cuisine at Vetri restaurant Osteria.

But food is just one exciting aspect of a new culture to learn. Visitors to the Continent Fair also got to participate in Olympic games, read traditional folk tales, and browse art from the different countries, including first grade’s “Picasso” paintings as part of their study of Spain.

The students of CPS will go on to learn a whole new set of histories and cultures for next year’s Continent Fair. We look forward to finding out this fall where the next journey will begin!


Fifth Grade Tackles Being a “Square Peg” in a “Round Hole”

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This year, the fifth grade class has taken on the fun and challenging task of writing and performing an original play. The piece, called “Square Pegs, Round Holes,” takes the students’ own experiences of feeling like an outsider and uses them to emphasize the CPS values of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

The play wrestles with the hardship of not fitting in, tackling issues like racism, gender divisions, and cultural differences. However, through these difficult experiences, the characters are able to understand how their differences can also be a positive factor.

In developing the script, volunteer director Susan LaPalombara led the students through improv exercises to help generate ideas. She and Ms. Kim then helped hone their ideas into believable, compelling stories. The process helped students understand the elements of a good story, including characterization, messaging, composition, and dialogue.

“It’s really great to see them find themselves both as actors and writers,” says Ms. LaPalombara. “When you write something, you have ownership of it, and you really see that come across in ‘Square Pegs, Round Holes.’”

Though many of the characters reflect the personal experiences of the writers, the students did not always get to perform as the characters that they wrote. In the casting process, the focus was on roles that would stretch the students as actors and provide them with the opportunity to reveal a new side of themselves. The students have run with the new experience, and are beginning to add new, unscripted elements of their characters in rehearsals.

However, the process hasn’t been without its struggles. The students are employing new skills, such as memorizing lines and “covering” for each other on stage. Some students have great line memorization, but then forget to express emotion when delivering them. Meanwhile, some students are naturals at covering for missed or forgotten lines, while other students prefer to be “word perfect” and deliver all of their lines exactly as they are written.

“It’s a new learning curve for these guys,” remarks Ms. LaPalombara. “They are on stage, whether they’re performing or not, and that can be a challenge.”

But challenges are something the class is learning to embrace through “Square Pegs.” Above all, the students hope to convey the message that no matter how rough life gets or how tough people are, having a support network can help you find the courage to embrace your individuality. The play concludes with a splash of self-love from 5th grade.

“I’m really proud of them. I think that they’ve written a beautiful play.”

The original performance of “Square Pegs, Round Holes,” scheduled for Thursday, March 5th, was postponed due to weather cancellations. It was performed in the CPS Auditorium on Tuesday, March 24th at 9am and 1pm.

In Posse Teaches Engineering to CPS Students

After volunteering with our Vetri Eatiquette lunch program last spring, engineering firm In-Posse has designed and piloted an elementary engineering curriculum here at CPS! Through the new curriculum, volunteers from In Posse have introduced our students to concepts such as what it means to be an engineer, the different kinds of engineers there are, and the basics of building design and structure.

The students enhanced their understanding of the concepts they learned during in-class workshops through a tour of the facilities in the Honickman Learning Center. During the tour, they were able to identify the various kinds of structures in the building, such as pipes and heating units, and how they function.

The engineering program culminated in an Engineering Day last week, where students visited different stations to participate in engineering activities and projects.

Emposse 13


“It was really a success,” remarked Director of Curriculum Beth Vaccaro. “The classroom lessons were great, and the students had a great time time today. I hope they can come back next year and do it again!”

Team CPS Profile: Chrystina Volcy

Chrystina with son Cameron, who began at CPS this fall.

Chrystina Volcy started at CPS in September of its very first year, working part-time with the after school program and providing additional help during the school day. Today, Chrystina works full-time as the CPS Staff Aide, doing everything from assisting with mealtimes to helping with parent calls and leading dismissal. She will be running this year’s Rothman Institute 8K on behalf of Team CPS.


 “We’re making history with this school, and it’s an honor to be a part of it.”

My experience at CPS has made me more compassionate towards others. I’ve grown so much as a person just being around the kids and working with parents – I’m just a lot more sensitive to different perspectives.

The community here is like family, and helped me get through a very rough time in my life. In 2007, the year after I started, I went through health challenges that left me unable to return to school for several weeks. I will never forget the way the CPS community came together to support me. Teachers called, students made cards for me, and the faculty and staff made sure my family had food sent to our house every single day. When I came back to school, there were kids running up to me to tell me how much they missed me and staff offered so much love and support, no questions asked. Coming back felt like I never even left.

Having my son Cameron start Pre-K at CPS this year is just a weight off my shoulders, because I know he’s in good hands here. The faculty and staff here care about him a lot, and they always make sure he has what he needs. He LOVES every second of the day here, and sings the Community Partnership School song every chance he gets.

Why Team CPS

I’ve always wanted to do the marathon for Team CPS. Mr. Lamay [the fourth grade teacher] was the first person to do it. I wanted to do it then, but my boys were still small and I wasn’t sure if I could. But I’ve always felt that the teachers should all get together and do something to support the school, since we’re such a support network for each other. We could make our contribution in a different way, and show the students that we’re involved in this school in more ways than just the classroom.

Even if I can’t run the whole thing – I’m recovering from an ankle injury – I’m going to get to the finish line whether I have to run, walk, or skip, and I’m going to do it for CPS. I came to this brand new school at the beginning, not knowing what the future was going to hold, and I’m a part of this history now.  We just keep growing, and keep getting better. Why not run a marathon?

It’s not just about supporting me, it’s about supporting the kids. They need the kind of education they’re getting at CPS. Even if you can’t help out with money, you can help out in other ways – just get involved.

Chrystina is preparing for the race by adjusting her diet, training in a local park, and drinking plenty of water.

To donate to her Team CPS fundraising page, click here.

CPS Grads Prepare to “Put In Work”

full alumni shot

This Wednesday, the CPS Alumni Program kicked off the year with a Back-to-School pizza party, where they had the opportunity to greet old friends and get pumped up for the upcoming school year. Representatives from all four of CPS’s graduating classes returned to the school to reconnect with their old teachers and classmates. However, students were not the only ones excited to see old friends; caregivers also took advantage of the opportunity to network with fellow CPS families, faculty, and staff.

CPS families reconnect over pizza.

CPS families reconnect over pizza.

CPS’s oldest alumni, the Class of 2011, are just beginning the high school phase of their academic career. They will be matriculating to schools such as William Penn Charter School and KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy. Members from the older classes expressed their gratitude for the strong foundation they received during their time at CPS. Sena, a member of the Class of 2012 who now attends Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, says that what she misses most about CPS is the community. She misses Friday morning Community Meeting, because she “loved being able to share news with the school.”

The most recent additions to the alumni network, having graduated just this spring, will be attending schools like Wissahickon Charter and Abington Friends School. Though excited to see their old teachers, the group is looking forward to the adventures to come. With an eye towards middle and high school, they spoke excitedly about the opportunity to play junior varsity sports, attend homeroom, and even pick out the perfect dress for prom.

Alumni gather around Ms. Budin, a Pre-K teacher at CPS.

Alumni and students gather around Ms. Budin, a Pre-K teacher at CPS.

Despite excitement for the social aspects of their future education, Head of School Eric Jones delivered a powerful speech reminding students not to lose sight of the importance of schoolwork. Inspired by a Tavis Smiley interview with Will Smith, Mr. Jones urged the group to “never stop working – you have to be willing to put in work.”

Energy was palpable as the meeting adjourned, and many attendees lingered to spend more time with the other students, families, and faculty members. Katie Greenbaum, Director of Alumni Support, hopes to capture that energy to make this year the strongest yet for the Alumni Program. This year, the program will continue to provide opportunities for alumni to gather and share their new experiences, as well as continue to support the success of CPS alumni and their families through middle school and high school. Students will have access to workshops and resources throughout the year, and caregivers can stay involved through potluck dinner workshops on topics ranging from homework help to demystifying boarding school.


Layla and Zahir welcome their new schoolmate Michael to Norwood-Fontbonne Academy.

“It’s exciting to see our older alums step up to the plate as leaders and mentors,” said Ms. Greenbaum of the event. “I was inspired watching Zahir [Class of 2012] share words of wisdom with Michael [Class of 2014], who is about to join him at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy. That sense of community and responsibility for helping fellow CPS alumni succeed is what it’s all about.”