Rush hopes budget cuts don’t kill exchange program

Stu­dents re­cently re­turned from a trip to Po­land or­gan­ized by an as­sist­ant prin­cip­al. 

Money talks: Kelly Wood­ing (left) and Dylan Brown hold up Pol­ish bills that they saved from a re­cent Arts Academy of Ben­jamin Rush trip to Po­land. Trips, like the one they went on, may be in jeop­ardy due to school budget cuts. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

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.” ••

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