Learning by going

— The stu­dents are rais­ing money to pay for their trip to Po­land. They’ve sold cal­en­dars, flowers and cook­ie dough. A pizza party is next.

(left to right) Ash­ley Son­ntag, 16, Naiomi Torres, 15, Kelly Wood­ing, 16, Sydney Dom­browski, 17, Joy Park­er, 16, Megan Para­s­chak, 16, Ki­ani Loz­ada, 17, Kaitlin Dys­on, 16, and Dylan Brown, 17 are Art Acadamy stu­dents at Ben­jamin Rus, who are rais­ing money to vis­it Po­land in March, Thursday, Janu­ary 17, 2013, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Megan Para­s­chak and her fam­ily en­joyed host­ing a Pol­ish ex­change stu­dent who came to Amer­ica for 10 days last March.

Para­s­chak, now a seni­or at The Arts Academy at Ben­jamin Rush, be­came close to her ex­change stu­dent, Zuz­anna Za­wadzka, and the Para­s­chak fam­ily hos­ted a party at their Bustleton home for the rest of the Pol­ish con­tin­gent.

The farewells were emo­tion­al.

“It was an awe­some ex­per­i­ence,” Para­s­chak re­called. “They be­came part of the fam­ily. We were like friends who knew each oth­er our whole lives.”

Para­s­chak re­ceived some good news in Oc­to­ber, when the ad­min­is­tra­tion at Rush — loc­ated at 11081 Knights Road — an­nounced that some stu­dents would be giv­en the op­por­tun­ity to travel to Torun, Po­land, and live with host fam­il­ies.

Para­s­chak and three fel­low hosts — Joy Park­er, Dylan Brown and Frank Fortino — im­me­di­ately signed up for the 10-day trip, which be­gins March 19.

“I was very ex­cited when I found out we were go­ing to Po­land,” Park­er said.

“I was so ready to go,” Brown said. “To have them come over was the high­light of my sopho­more year.”

Six oth­er stu­dents were chosen after a pro­cess that in­cluded a writ­ten ap­plic­a­tion, an in­ter­view and teach­er re­com­mend­a­tions.

“I wanted to jump right in­to the op­por­tun­ity,” said Kelly Wood­ing, who was se­lec­ted.

“I want to know what the world is like,” said an­oth­er win­ner, Naiomi Torres, who knows only the streets of Phil­adelphia and the small town where she was born in Pu­erto Rico.

Teach­ers Dana Ra­po­port and Susan Eb­n­er will lead the 15-per­son Rush en­tour­age, which will also in­clude their hus­bands and Ra­po­port’s baby.

The stu­dents who will make the trip are seni­ors Fortino and Ki­ani Loz­ada, ju­ni­ors Park­er, Para­s­chak, Brown, Kaitlin Dys­on, Sydney Dom­browski and Wood­ing and sopho­mores Ash­ley Son­ntag and Torres.

The Rush crew will fly from Phil­adelphia to Lon­don’s Heath­row Air­port for a lay­over be­fore ar­riv­ing at its fi­nal des­tin­a­tion in Warsaw.

“Europe is amaz­ing. We’re all go­ing to have an in­cred­ible time,” Dys­on said.

The teen­agers have been busy rais­ing money for the trip. The cost is es­tim­ated to be about $1,500 per per­son, which in­cludes air­fare, trans­port­a­tion and hotel stays in Krakow and Warsaw.

There’s a big wa­ter jug in the main of­fice. The kids en­cour­age vis­it­ors to con­trib­ute “Pock­et change for the Pol­ish Ex­change.” A stick­er on the jug says, “Dziekuje,” which is, “Thank you,” in Pol­ish.

On­line, vis­it­ors can make a dona­tion of any amount. For $10, they’ll re­ceive a per­son­al­ized post­card. Fifty dol­lars gets you a pho­to­graph of the trip, and $100 brings a poster cap­tur­ing the memor­ies. For $500, a stu­dent will call donors to tell them all about the trip. And for $1,000, the stu­dents will present a slide show and en­gage in a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion.

The on­line goal is an am­bi­tious $10,000.

Money is also be­ing raised by selling cal­en­dars, candy, flowers and pizza and cook­ie dough. The kids wrapped Christ­mas gifts at Barnes & Noble and gave a per­form­ance at Glen Fo­erd on the Delaware to earn some cash. And they’ll be hav­ing a fund-raiser at the San­tucci’s pizza par­lor at Knights and Wood­haven roads on Feb. 26.

The stu­dents ac­know­ledge nervous­ness about be­ing on their own and meet­ing new people, but they are ex­cited about the chance.

They’ll be trav­el­ing more than 4,200 miles to Torun, the birth­place of Nic­olaus Co­per­ni­cus, the famed 16th-cen­tury as­tro­nomer and math­em­atician.

There will be side trips to a his­tor­ic salt mine, the former con­cen­tra­tion camp in Aus­chwitz and the Balt­ic Sea.

The Rush stu­dents — who ma­jor in vo­cal, in­stru­ment­al, theat­er and visu­al arts — will of­fer a per­form­ance. Ra­po­port and Eb­n­er, the chap­er­ones, will teach les­sons.

“For them, it’s work­ing on their Eng­lish,” Ra­po­port said of the Poles. “For us, it’s much more of a cul­tur­al ex­change.”

The 10 stu­dents be­lieve they have the right mix of strong aca­dem­ics, so­cial skills and Rush ideals to make a good im­pres­sion on the Pol­ish people. They are look­ing for­ward to ex­per­i­en­cing what Po­land has to of­fer in terms of art, ar­chi­tec­ture and mu­sic.

“We all love the arts,” Kelly said.

After the plane lands in Warsaw, a bus will pick up the Amer­ic­ans and par­ti­cipants in a Hun­gari­an ex­change pro­gram for the trip to High School No. 9.

“It will be a multi-coun­try ex­change, which will be nice,” Ra­po­port said.

Like Rush, the Pol­ish high school fo­cuses on the arts. Folks there learned of a neigh­bor­ing Pol­ish school’s ex­change pro­gram with Phil­adelphia’s Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln and Swen­son Arts and Tech­no­logy high schools. Of­fi­cials at High School No. 9 then con­tac­ted Swen­son, which re­com­men­ded that they call Rush.

When the four Pol­ish stu­dents came to the U.S. a year ago, they met May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter; vis­ited mu­seums and the his­tor­ic­al sites in Phil­adelphia; and traveled to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., New York and At­lantic City.

Brown and his fam­ily hos­ted Ka­rol Lis­in­ski. The two had a com­mon in­terest — play­ing the pi­ano. Lis­in­ski’s class­mates also jelled with the Rush kids.

“Every­body had a lot in com­mon, even though we’re dif­fer­ent cul­tur­ally and where we come from,” Brown said.

Now, it’s time for the Amer­ic­an teens to see how they fit in on for­eign turf. They can’t wait to find out.

“It won’t settle in un­til we’re at Phil­adelphia In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port,” Loz­ada said. “We’ll be wired.” ••

To view videos, make a dona­tion or for more in­form­a­tion, vis­it www.in­diegogo.com/Rush­ArtsPo­land or call the school at 215-281-2603.

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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