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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.

Reader’s Theater

Written by Marlis Kraft-Zemel, CPS Music Teacher

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Reader’s Theater is a perfect project for second graders! Proud of their reading skills, they can be narrators, while other children fill in the story with imagery and music, or in our case puppets — a great first step to “being on stage” without having to act.

The story was chosen to go with their study of Greece where to this day sheep graze in the rural landscape. Students expanded their vocabulary, learned about sheep and shepherds, and trades like carpentry, blacksmithing, pottery and weaving from YouTube clips. They sketched characters to make puppets and painted the backdrop with Ms. Jakab. They also identified places in the story where sound effects would enhance the telling and brainstormed the lyrics for our song based on one girl’s wistful singing of: “If I could be a carpenter….”

I saw such growth in their awareness and perseverance needed to put on this kind of play. Many layers of the curriculum came together along with the challenge to closely follow a text read aloud by a classmate. Everything hinges on the ability to focus and to work together as a team: when to bring the puppet up, ring the gong, hold up the screen, go to the next assignment, keep eyes open for the unexpected need of a classmate! And as their teacher Ms. Bechill summed up: “This second grade class totally loved it!!!  And they learned some important lessons about working together and taking pride in something they do as a group.”

Bravo to the 2nd graders and thanks to Ms. Bechill and Ms. Jakab for their support!


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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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.

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“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!”

MLK Day of Service 2015

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The CPS community honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through a Day of Service on MLK Day. The Day of Service, presented by the CPS Family Council, featured projects to benefit three organizations helping children and families in need: The Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, Project Sunshine, and the Salvation Army. Many segments of the community turned out to CPS for a “day on,” including staff, students, alumni, families, and volunteers.

Volunteers assembled lunches and snack bags for the families of chronically ill children, created greeting cards and friendship bracelets for hospitalized children, and put together toiletry kits for displaced families. Architecture and design firm L2Partridge assisted in collecting toiletries for the kits, and employees rolled up their sleeves on the Day of Service to help with the various projects.

A brief speaking program included words of commemoration from Mr. Eric Jones, a poem from an alumnus, and a performance by current CPS students.

Team CPS Profile: Janis Estrella

2014-10-14 16.24.54Janis Estrella began teaching 1st grade at Community Partnership School in the fall of 2011. Before that, she worked at a charter school where she was frustrated by a lack of collaboration and the desire for a sense of community between students and adults at the school. She made a commitment to herself that her next school would be much more compassionate and humanistic place, and she found that at CPS.


Why I’m Running for Team CPS

I’m doing this because I know that the money is going to a good cause: The money raised by Team CPS will fund full scholarships for two students to receive a quality private school education at CPS.

Many public schools and charter schools focus so much on tests that they’re not able to focus on the child. Our focus is on preparing them for the real world, and giving them the tools they need to navigate the world beyond the communities they come from. It teaches them resilience.

At CPS, education is more than just a test score.

CPS is a different kind of school because here, we educate the whole child. Other schools say this, but CPS really focuses on the student’s social, emotional, academic, and physical development. We truly engage with family members and community members, and I feel like I’m making an impact on students and families who would not have otherwise had the opportunities they receive here.

I love working here, and I’m glad to help by running for Team CPS.

Janis is preparing for the Rothman Institute 8K by running 3-4 times per week. She does a combination of intramural training and distance training, and her personal time goal is 9:30 per mile.
To support Janis in running for Team CPS, please go to


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This year, Community Partnership School began year three of a partnership with the Vetri Foundation for Children to bring fresh, nutritious lunches to our students.  The CPS community looks forward to dining family-style each week, tasting new and exciting foods, and sharing about their favorite Vetri meals.

Meet our new cook:

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Mr. David Davis comes to us from Pittsburgh with extensive restaurant experience and a passion for healthy cooking and nutrition education. So far, he has dished up lasagna, jerk chicken, and basil risotto to rave reviews from the community. Of the new position, Mr. Davis says he’s “happy to be here, and to share a dining experience with all the students, teachers and staff.”

Meet our new volunteers:

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Mike, a current professor at Temple University with an interest in food politics and urban education, prepares to bring the entree to the dining room.

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Adia, a former director of science and math education with extensive volunteer experience with children, youth, and homeless populations, washing and drying lettuce for the day’s mixed green salad.

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Dailahn, a retired teacher who also volunteers at nearby Smith Playground, presents the main dish to the day’s Table Captains.

Amanda, a recent graduate of Dickinson College with a passion for food justice and environmentalism, assists with dish cleanup after lunch.

Amanda, a recent graduate of Dickinson College with a passion for food justice and environmentalism, assists with dish cleanup after lunch.

With such able hands in the kitchen and brand new recipes on the menu, the CPS community is looking forward to another fantastic year of the Vetri Eatiquette Program. After full bellies for the first three weeks, we can only imagine the great things to come!
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Jerk chicken with cilantro-lime rice is a brand new Eatiquette recipe this year, and was a huge hit!

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Chef David explains today’s menu: salad with tomato-basil vinaigrette, lasagna with whole wheat rolls, and fresh mango slices.

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CPS was visited by a group of volunteers from investment firm Hamilton Lane, who enthusiastically pitched in to help with food prep, dining room setup, and cleanup.

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CPS Grads Prepare to “Put In Work”

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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.”

Our Community of Volunteers

Carolyn Jacobs, long time CPS classroom volunteer and Board Member, with last year's PreK students.
Carolyn Jacobs, CPS classroom volunteer & Board Member, with PreK students.

Did you know that in an average year Community Partnership School enlists the help of over 66 volunteers to help us fulfill our mission of providing a top-notch education to students from under-resourced backgrounds in North Central Philadelphia?  Our community of volunteers include members of our Board of Trustees, classroom volunteers, unique event volunteers and Vetri lunch volunteers. Here is an overview of what our volunteers accomplish annually:

  • 27 members of our Board of Trustees meet throughout the year to make decisions on the governance and future growth of the school.
  • 20 unique event volunteers help with our annual fundraising events in the Fall and Spring as well as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, Career Day and Field Day.
  • 15 classroom volunteers come into our classrooms on a weekly or biweekly basis to assist our teachers with curriculum and one-on-one tutoring.
  • And 4 Vetri volunteers come in to help us prepare and serve healthy, family-style meals to our students and faculty at the end of each week. (For a closer look at one of our dedicated Vetri volunteers, read this blog post: “Meet Steve, our dedicated Vetri Eatiquette Volunteer!

Margie Rooke, CPS classroom volunteer & Board Member, with 1st graders.

We are most grateful to these committed volunteers who give so freely of their time and talents to serve our students and staff. Reflecting upon the invaluable time these volunteers so willingly give to CPS, the following Harvey MacKay quote seems to sum it up best.

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” ― Harvey MacKay

Thank you for spending your priceless time at CPS. Without your help and endless dedication, all of our accomplishments would not be possible. We would not be Community Partnership School without such a supportive partnership and community of volunteers.