When you’re 5 years old, the way to kick off summer is by donning a mortarboard, popping your head through a sunroof and claiming your hard-earned diploma.

And that’s exactly what 56 graduates of the archdiocesan Casa del Carmen Preschool Academy did at a June 24 drive-through graduation ceremony hosted by Holy Innocents Parish in the city’s Juniata Park section.

Dressed in pint-sized academic gowns, the school’s Class of 2022 members smiled and posed for pictures to the cheers of parents, teachers and staff.

And although COVID precautions kept kids masked until the last day of classes, “it went really well this year,” said director Shari Gold.

Located in North Philadelphia, the academy is one of the many programs offered through Casa del Carmen, an archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) family service center that has assisted the neighborhood’s Latino population since 1954.

The center’s director, Meghan Sidorski, said her site bolsters the school by providing crucial support for kids’ parents, caretakers and other household members.

“Our families can utilize the services at Casa – attending the parenting program, accessing the food pantry, whatever is needed,” she said. “So if there is a family need, Shari can simply walk them across the parking lot and bring them to us so we can assist.”

Gold’s report card on the past school year continues a strong trend. Enrollment has spiked at the academy, which has earned high marks with its funding and regulatory partners. The Pennsylvania Department of Education gave the school its highest rating in recognition of Casa’s responsive early education strategy and overall management.

The academy’s mission continues through the summer. Right after graduation, camp programs begin, offering kids a way to maintain their growth and learning in a safe, engaging environment.

This year’s graduates will also have another aid in keeping their reading skills sharp: each Class of 2022 member received a new Kindle Fire, courtesy of the city’s PHLpreK program, along with a bundle of school supplies for kindergarten.

Graduate Jilanie Tejara is ready to put her Kindle to work, since her favorite lesson from the past year was “learning the ABC’s.”

Mom Myrna Alvarado said she’s happy Jilanie is set for the next chapter in her education.

“I’m proud of her,” she said.

Miele Royster, a Class of 2022 graduate of Casa del Carmen Preschool Academy, and her mother are all smiles during a June 24 drive-through commencement ceremony hosted by Holy Innocents Parish, June 24. (Gina Christian)