In Camden, a timeless time capsule celebrates new charter school

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The new Mastery Cramer Hill Elementary School in Camden cost $34 million to build. It stretches 80,000 square feet, features a green roof, and has a gym that’s earned rave reviews from the school’s fourth-graders.

But when officials dedicated the building Tuesday, the star of the show was a small chrome cylinder.

School leaders called it a time capsule, but it was more of a timeless capsule.

Instead of filling the vessel with cultural ephemera, students stuffed it with notes about what they wanted for their school and their lives.

Sixth-grader Julitza Martinez wants to be a police officer so she can “help the community be a safer place.” Journey Wynn, an eighth-grader, plans to be a lawyer. Seventh-grader Naheem Saulters hopes to be a computer engineer or video game designer.

Jayden Gonzalez stressed all day yesterday over what to write. The fifth-grader finally settled on paleontologist.

“When I was little I was obsessed with dinosaurs,” he said. “And I asked my mom: What’s a person who studies dinosaurs? And she said, paleontologist.”

The notes could’ve been written by any group of kids from any city in just about any time over the last few decades. Some laid out grand ambitions for musical careers. Others had less romantic — if equally noble — goals.

“When I grow up I will have a normal family,” stated one postcard.

 

These small whispers to the universe will lie underground until the spring of 2034. That’s when this year’s group of kindergartners is scheduled to graduate from college.

Whether they reach that goal will depend a lot on the staff at Mastery Cramer Hill, a K-8 school serving about 750 kids.

Mastery oversees five schools in Camden and another 14 in Philly. Unlike most charter networks, Mastery’s schools operate in much the same way as traditional public schools. They have neighborhood catchment zones and do not require applications, instead taking all students from the surrounding area who want to attend. Using this “renaissance” approach, Mastery has become one of the region’s most influential and successful charter-management organizations.

Cramer Hill is the network’s latest crown jewel. But for all the building’s gleaming glory, students seemed most delighted by the nonmaterial aspects of their school.

“My teachers are the best thing about the new school,” said fourth-grader Arianna Clark.

Eager to add his own take, classmate Adrian DeJesus chimed in: “What I like about the school is how I have different friends.”

When tomorrow’s fourth-graders dust off the time capsule 17 years from now, they will probably feel the same way — even if their building has aged. After all, the schools of the future will likely still have beloved teachers, good friends, and kids with big dreams.

One only hopes that by then, today’s big dreams no longer seem so distant.

“My hope for my future is to become a military technician,” wrote one student. “I hope that becoming a military technician will prove the people wrong who ever said I would never be something in my life.”

Students at Mastery Cramer Hill Elementary in Camden wave flags at their school dedication. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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