Hills donate $350K to Camden’s LEAP Academy in effort to boost interest in STEM

Renamed ‘Fab Lab’ includes 3D printers, robotics tools and other high-tech equipment

LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden will rename its fabrication lab the Vernon and Shirley Hill Fab Lab at LEAP Academy in recognition of the couple’s $350,000 gift to the school.

A formal announcement will be made Monday morning at the school, the oldest charter school in the state — and one of the largest.

The gift will help the lab continue to serve as a place where students learn by doing.

The Fab Lab, as students refer to it, provides students from low-income backgrounds with an entry point into solid, rewarding technology careers. The Fab Lab is an in-school makerspace that includes 3D printers, robotics tools and other high-tech equipment.

Experiential learning is the Fab Lab’s focus. LEAP students learn through trial and error. Rather than provide specific direction, instructors encourage the student to forge their own solution, key in a field where no one specific path is the only correct one.

Vernon Hill is one of South Jersey’s prominent business leaders.

He currently is the chair of Republic First Bancorp, the parent company of Republic Bank, recently distinguished by Forbes as America’s No. 1 Bank for Service. Republic Bank continues to expand its footprint throughout Philadelphia, southern New Jersey and New York City as part of its “The Power of Red is Back” growth plan.

Hill is the former chair and president of Commerce Bank, which he founded in 1973.

LEAP, which opened in 1997, is a national urban education success story. The LEAP model is an integrated, comprehensive approach to teaching and learning where the child is at the center of focus and family is the focus of teaching and learning. The school has a 16-year streak of 100% graduation and college placement.

The school has six distinct campuses on Cooper Street: LEAP Lower Elementary School (kindergarten-3rd grade), LEAP Upper Elementary School (4th-6th grade), LEAP Intermediate School (7th-8th grade) and LEAP High School (9th-12th grade).

College access remains a point of pride at LEAP, as LEAP students have been admitted to many prestigious universities, including Ivy League schools.

Its current enrollment is more than 2,000 students, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.