By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The LEAP Academy University Charter School is cutting the ribbon today on the historic Wilson Building on Cooper Street in Camden. It’s been transformed it into a state of the art facility.
At 12 stories high, The Dr. Gloria Bonilla Santiago STEAM Campus features a fabrication lab with 3-D printers, college style cafeteria, Health and Wellness Center, fitness center and a 6,000 square foot conference and events space on the top floor.
“This building is a school, but it is also a resource for the Camden community,” says Dr. Gloria Bonilla Santiago, founder of LEAP Academy. She says she help designed the $10-million facility, choosing the furniture, the floor and carving out its use. Now that this, the fifth building on the LEAP Academy Campus is complete, the school will be able to add more than 200 students next year, as well as new programs.
“We want to ensure that this community has opportunities and equal access to a quality education, just like any rich powerful kid from suburbia,” says Santiago.
The new programs include innovation like a student project that yielded a water filter that recently received a provisional patent.
“A place like this is magic, it’s magic for these kids,” says Santiago, who notes most of her students are African-American and Latino. LEAP boasts a 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate, stats Santiago is proud of.
“I believe in Camden and I believe in her children,” she says.
Santiago’s commitment is so strong that the school’s Board of Directors named the new school after her.
“I told them– if you’re going to name that building after me– you must meet my standards,” she joked, “that building better be spotless!”
In return, Santiago launched a one million dollar Innovation Fundraising campaign to keep the progress going. So far, she’s already secured a $360,000 donation from Aireko Construction Corporation.
“We want to take things to the next level,” says Santiago.