CAMDEN -Adrian Graham
positioned himself behind the lectern. It didn't take him long to realize
his voice couldn't be heard and he needed to adjust the microphone.
He could have left the microphone alone, though, because the smile on
his face said it all.
The 18-year-old Camden Promise Charter School senior was one of the
speakers who helped dedicate the school's new Academy Center on Friday.
The $4 million facility, designed by Garrison Architects of Mt. Laurel,
features a gym/multipurpose room, a weight and exercise room, a library
and a technology center.
Graham, who graduates this month, was the first student to enroll at
the school. The center, promised in 1999 when Graham and his classmates
enrolled, was a graduation gift of sorts for them.
"It's been a very wonderful experience," he said about his
years at the school. "But there's been some trying times. I've
fought through them with the help of my peers, teachers and family."
Those challenges come from the perceptions people thrust on the city
from the outside, he said. But the perceptions don't register within.
Mayor Gwendolyn Faison agreed. "Don't tell me you can't make it
in Camden," she said. "We have good people. You need to work
Graham and his 90 classmates all plan to continue with their education
next fall. Graham will study business management and administration
at Rider University.
The gym fulfills a promise made by Dr. Joseph Conway, the school's chief
administrator. "We've been using the facility since March,"
Conway said. "We wanted to open it to the kids immediately."
Band member Phemaysza Riley said the band used to practice outside.
"Now we practice inside and have a lot more fun," she said.
"We have more room, and it's more organized."
On Friday, Conway announced more good news: The school has received
a $50,000 federal grant that will further enable it to reach out to
the community. The grant will provide computer classes and Spanish-to-English
classes at the center, which will be open for Saturday and summer programs.
Parents of students also will be able to enroll in GED classes.
The center is something the community will benefit from, said Rep. Rob
Andrews, D-Haddon Heights. "The key to the future of Camden is
in the youth," Andrews said. "The more the education improves,
the more the city improves." Andrews challenged the school to continue
emphasizing the importance of community. "You have achieved because
you have rooted yourselves in self-esteem," he said. "This
will be a great school if you come back. You need to honor the commitment
the school has made to you."