By Christie L. Chicoine

CS&T Staff Writer

CHESTER – “Cut that ribbon.”

That was the chant of the happy children of Drexel Neumann Academy as they not-so-patiently waited for the unveiling of their new, $100,000 playground and basketball court.

And when the ribbon was finally cut, the youngsters quickly abandoned the balloons they were holding and raced toward their new slides, monkey bars, bridge and basketball court.

As their ballons sailed into the sky, the students shrieked in delight as they checked out their playground behind the school at 1901 Potter St.

“It’s nice, it’s fun, it’s actually pretty colorful,” said fifth-grader Gabrielle Byrd. She likes the big slides the best. In fact, when Gabrielle is in class, she can’t help but think, “I can’t wait to go out in the playground and play on the slides and stuff.”

She and her peers will have a soft landing from those slides, as the surface is covered with mulch.

The monkey bars are what Sinyah Patrick, a third-grader, finds the most fun.

Amahd Lopes, a kindergartener, likes climbing the steps and sliding down the pole. He also likes the monkey bars because they’re helping him learn how to swing. “I’m getting faster,” he added.

The basketball court is a popular hangout for student council president Raymond Harris, an eighth-grader. “I like the basketball court because it gives older kids something better to do instead of just running around and talking,” he said. “We actually can be active at recess.”

It also helps Harris, who plays on the school’s basketball team, hone his skills outside of official practice.

Harris got a kick out of the underclassmen who practically plowed him over when their plea to “cut that ribbon” was granted. “All the little kids ran straight to the playground – I had to get out of the way,” he said. For a safe haven, Harris headed to the basketball court, where he had a shoot around with Franciscan Sister Maggie Gannon, the school president.

The playground and ball court were donated by Keystone Mercy Health Plan (KMHP) of Philadelphia, Sister Maggie said.

Daniel Hilferty, an executive with KMHP, serves on the school’s board of directors. His wife, Joan, is a member of the school’s education committee and a volunteer. Anne Morrisey, president of KMPH, spearheaded the project.

Ground was broken Oct. 6, and three days later, nearly 75 employees of KMPH volunteered their time to put the playground together. They were assisted by students from Mercy Vocational High School in Philadelphia, maintenance workers from Neumann College in Aston and various friends and volunteers of the school.

The school’s principal, St. Joseph Sister Cathy McGowan, says the playground and basketball court boost the students’ social and physical development. She was amused by the little girl who, the day the ribbon was cut, announced, “This was the best day of the whole school year.”

Both the president and principal point to the teaching moment the new equipment provides. “We’ve been telling them about the generosity of so many people, but that day they saw it,” Sister Cathy added. “They observed people working together … giving their time, talents and efforts … for the common good of the students.”

Drexel Neumann Academy is an independent Catholic school for students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grades.

Housed in the former St. Katharine Drexel School, the school opened in September 2007 and is sponsored by the Philadelphia Archdiocese, St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Chester, Neumann College in Aston and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.

The school is named for Philadelphia’s two saints: St. John Neumann, a native of Bohemia who served as the diocese’s fourth bishop from 1852 to 1860 and Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who used her share of the Drexel family wealth to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, as it was then known, in 1891 in the Cornwells Heights section of Bensalem.

For more information about Drexel Neumann Academy, visit the web site, or call (610) 872-7358.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or