Camelot Students Making an Impact in Vineland
Homecoming is always an exciting event for any high school. But for Camelot Education’s Cunningham Academy in Vineland, New Jersey it was especially important.
This year, the theme was Red and Gray Saves the Day and marked the first year that the Vineland School District fully acknowledged Cunningham as a part of its network. Cunningham Academy, a transitional school program engages students that have experienced disciplinary violations and were removed from their home campus. Students from the academy campus return to their home schools with improved behavior, attendance, and academics.
“It was our third year participating in the Homecoming but this year showcased our commitment to the local partnership,” said Geoff Lundy, Program Manager of Cunningham Academy. “As an alternative school we were a hidden partner but now we see that Vineland Board of Education has embraced the turnaround culture. One young man, Naim Anderson came to us with great difficulties and turmoil in his life. He really connected with his coach, excelled here and got returned to his local high school.”
Lundy said Anderson, like all the students, was welcome at Cunningham and over time began to see that many of his problems sprang from a lack of maturity. Over time, he began to flourish academically and emotionally. He graduated early and is looking to signing with the University of Maryland.
Lundy said a lot of clubs at the school enthusiastically participated in Homecoming events, designing banners and displays and T-shirts. It was a great collaborative effort.
One aspect of particular attention to the students and faculty was the suffering of the people of Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
“The students started a drive to collect canned goods and other supplies to send to the island nation,” said Cunningham Operations Manager, Geraldo Serrano. Serrano has family living in Puerto Rico, as do many students at Cunningham. Vineland, New Jersey’s population is 68 percent Hispanic. “The drive started as a dress-down Friday and we decided to continue it with T-shirts that said ‘Camelot Supports Puerto Rico. Twenty-five percent of the money raised from selling the T-shirts is being sent to Puerto Rico, however we want certainty that the money and supplies are going to the people who need it, not just sitting on a dockyard. We’re in the process of identifying a church or local land-based organization we can send the relief efforts to.”
Alizah Jones, 16 and Xavier Bogan, 17, said their experience at Camelot and the Homecoming event made them feel as though they were part of the community and the larger Camelot family.
“It was the first time I ever participated in something like this,” Jones said. “It was an opportunity for me to take pride in something and I really enjoyed that. We have a great support system here.”
“I liked it a lot,” said Bogan, who added that he had never been in a parade before. “I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it at first but the more we prepared for it, the more I liked it. The program here is like a family. We work and collaborate together. We depend on each other. I actually like the academy better than my home campus.”
Lundy said that, like many students entering Cunningham Academy, Xavier was ‘standoffish.’ That didn’t last long.
“At first, you could tell he didn’t want to be here,” Lundy said. “He struggled for about, oh, a day. Then he and Mr. Serrano started building a great relationship and later that week he was leading his peers. He made a real turnaround and it was inspiring to see that. That’s why we do the work we do. Our job here is never done but we love it.”