The Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush students had a wonderful time during a recent school-sponsored trip to Poland.
The teenagers learned about Poland’s culture, history, architecture, landscape, language, government, cuisine and more.
The trip was organized by assistant principal Dana Rapoport.
“She did a wonderful job. We’re so thankful to her. It was such a good experience,” said junior Megan Paraschak.
Megan and the other students would love for the Polish friends they met to be able to visit their school next year. They also hope younger Rush students get to experience a trip to Poland or some other nation.
However, all of that could be in jeopardy. The financially strapped School District of Philadelphia plans to lay off assistant principals, counselors, secretaries and support staff, unless the city and state can supply the money to close a $300 million deficit.
Rush, located at 11081 Knights Road, already operates on a relatively shoestring budget. The secretary, for instance, does a lot more than answer phones. A depleted 2013-14 staff likely wouldn’t have the time to plan an international trip.
“If we don’t have somebody organize it, it’s not going to happen,” said junior Sydney Dombrowski.
As the Rush community hopes for an infusion of money to avoid layoffs, the students feel fortunate to have been able to spend 10 days in Poland.
The group consisted of seniors Kiani Lozada and Frank Fortino, juniors Megan Paraschak, Sydney Dombrowski, Dylan Brown, Kelly Wooding, Kaitlin Dyson and Joy Parker and sophomores Naomi Torres and Ashley Sonntag.
They were joined by Rapoport, her husband and baby; teacher Susan Ebner and her husband Tim; and Frank Fortino’s mom, Rudy.
In March 2012, a group of Polish students visited Rush, and it was an outstanding experience for both sides.
The trip ran from March 19-29. The teens didn’t arrive empty handed; they delivered Rush hooded sweatshirts, Phillies clothing, a Philadelphia history book, Tastykakes and Peanut Chews to their comrades.
They spent most of their time in Torun, with side trips to Krakow and Warsaw.
“We got to experience two really big cities,” Megan Paraschak said.
High School No. 9, an arts school, is located in Torun, and the Americans stayed with host families. A group of Hungarian students also visited the school at the same time.
“It was a good two-in-one deal. We made Hungarian and Polish friends,” Megan said.
During their stay, they toured the Czestochowa holy shrine, a former concentration camp, the Warsaw Uprising Museum, a salt mine and a gingerbread museum. They ate everywhere from a pierogi restaurant to a Pizza Hut.
A Polish Catholic television network captured footage of their experiences.
“I’ll never forget all the places we went to. I have over a thousand pictures and a bunch of videos,” Kiani Lozada said.
“I feel the most impactful spot was Auschwitz. It was emotional for all of us,” Dylan Brown said of the concentration camp.
A good time was had by all, despite the cold weather and lots of walking.
“On the last day, nobody wanted to leave,” Kelly Wooding said.
Principal Jessica Brown appreciates all that Rapoport did to organize the trip. She had to handle issues related to fundraising, transportation, lodging, sightseeing, money and insurance, not to mention being in constant contact with Rush students and their parents and officials at the school in Poland.
“It takes a lot of pre-planning,” Brown said.
Rapoport, who remains hopeful that she can stay at Rush, said the trip had a special impact on the students.
“It was incredible to see their growth and development over just a couple of days,” she said. “The kids learned a lot. It was an opportunity they’ve never had before.” ••