Cherry Hill elementary school honored for longevity
Celebrating 60 years of service to Cherry Hill, Woodcrest Elementary School didn’t opt for the usual gym-located gathering, where dozens of alumni sit at tables broken down by graduation year and conversation between all but close friends begins haltingly, if at all.
Instead, one of the oldest educational institutions in the district decided to take its celebration outdoors on Sept. 28, in a space where everyone involved with the school in past or present could freely mingle in the warm early autumn air and reminisce.
Woodcrest Principal Jon Cohen, who has been with the school for the past four years, had something different in mind almost from the start.
“One thing I noticed during my first year here, was the cornerstone, and that the building had been constructed in 1958. I just made a mental note … we just wanted to make a celebration to connect the present with our storied past, and have an event where we could bring alumni, retired staff and current staff and family together,” Cohen said.
Cohen was expecting a turnout of more than 100 people, but was pleased to find attendance almost quadrupled the original estimate. Having a bounce house, food trucks, ice cream, using the grass field behind the rear parking lot and opening up the school after hours to let folks walk around and see how much the school had changed all contributed to the good feeling.
Cherry Hill Councilwoman Carole Roskoph read a proclamation honoring Woodcrest’s 60th year in operation during a brief presentation to kick off the evening.
Woodcrest counselor Kara LaGamba, who has been with the school since 1995, offered her thoughts on why she has been a proud staff member for nearly a quarter century.
“I think it’s a place where people stay, because it’s a nice community school. I started out in high school, then I was transferred into elementary school, but I loved it here. The families are really supportive, we have a very active PTA, the kids are wonderful as is the faculty. It’s a warm, caring environment.”
Underscoring that warmth were friends Patti Filippone (Class of ’66) and Rae Fierro (Class of ‘69), who eagerly welcomed all who stopped by the picnic table where numerous yearbooks and class portrait albums were laid out. Even the school mascot, a shark, greeted kids and adults alike with a wide grin, friendly gestures and a quick embrace.
Back to history for a moment. As planning the anniversary began, Cohen wanted to look into whether the school had included a time capsule when the cornerstone was laid 60 years ago, as many places did in the wave of construction that swept the era. However, he found more examples of schools whose capsules’ contents were brittle or waterlogged, or the stone itself was damaged in the process.
LaGamba was quick to point out that, while there is likely no memorial from that era, there might be a memento left behind when the new wing was built in 2000 — the last of two additions to the school, with the first occurring in 1982.
Cohen proudly added though Woodcrest was the sixth built in the township, its founding pre-dates the current name of the area. In 1958, the school was located in what was known as Delaware Township. Three years after Woodcrest was completed, the township council decided to change the name after Cherry Hill Farm, owned by Abraham Browning.
With a strong physical, spiritual and educational presence, all involved with Woodcrest shared the same sentiment, that it should be around for another 60 years.