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GAMP busing system in danger

A Girard Estate school faces potentially dangerous cuts to its transportation services.

By Joseph Myers
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Oct. 25, 2012

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Monday’s dismissal at Girard Academic Music Program included six buses whose services could vanish come June.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

“We always hear that the powers that be want to expand successful programs,” Dr. Jack Carr said Monday at Girard Academic Music Program, 2136 Ritner St. “However, if the plan to slash our bus services goes through, we will have a retrograde situation.”

The second-year principal at the lauded Girard Estate magnet facility has had his composure tested since a July School District of Philadelphia-issued letter notified him of the proposed elimination of his middle school pupils’ provided transportation. Though the original idea to suspend services this year failed, he and the school community still face losing their six vehicles and appeared at Oct. 17’s School Reform Commission meeting to voice objections.

The marching band and color guard offered melodic and visual assistance to what published reports have cited as a move that would halt rides for the youngsters and two other sites’ pupils and save the educational overseer between $800,000 and $1 million annually. The district did not return calls as of press time.

For GAMP, the 38-year-old institution that Carr helped to found, the suggested termination could prove especially burdensome.

“Our success is two-fold,” he said. “The fifth-through-12th-grade organization really helps us to mold children more thoroughly, and we use music as a catalyst for navigating through the often confusing adolescent years.”

Carr, who had served as its assistant principal for 12 years prior to his September 2011 elevation, revealed GAMP began as a location to advocate for integrated schooling, making it a result of a 1960s desegregation case brought against the district. Free busing to his venue rose out of the settlement, with published reports saying the consent decree ended in ’09, with some transportation remaining for certain sites.

“South Philadelphia was then largely Caucasian, so GAMP became a means to diversify the neighborhood and open up opportunities for children of all ethnicities,” Carr said.

As was the situation decades ago, the fifth- through eighth-graders may elect to travel by bus to learn their lessons, but the commission foresees needing to abandon the convenience to trim the district’s deficit. Its plan calls for ending full service come June, although children who had enrolled prior to this school year would be able to continue to take a bus until the start of their secondary time at GAMP. As each incoming class stands to suffer the most initially, Carr is aiming to overturn his employer’s contention that learners could use SEPTA TransPasses as backups by positing that such novelty could expose them to danger.

“Our fifth grade has 66 children and with a few other new students, we had 75 enrollees eligible for service this year, and that’s pretty much the normal amount of added children each year,” he said. “I have 173 students riding the buses, which is about two-thirds of our lower school. This would put us in a worrisome situation each year.”

Though most of the current population would retain seats, GAMP’s allotment of instruments to 90 percent of the lower grades’ members has caused Carr to ponder what could occur during their public transportation trips.

“Their safety stands out as one of my chief issues,” he said. “Though I know misfortune could happen at any time and in any place, putting them on SEPTA could put them into contact with desperate individuals who could see the instruments as ways to obtain what they want and thus hurt the children to get it.”

As GAMP draws attendees from nearly 30 zip codes, with more than half of the student body residing outside South Philly, Carr also fears its cultural diversity will decline, believing enrollment will dip and essentially cause an identity transformation into that of a neighborhood school.

“We love having South Philadelphia resident as students, absolutely,” he said. “We’re additionally strong because we appeal to families outside the area, too, and it seems a foregone conclusion we will lose many of them.”

GAMP’s collection of more than 500 students has consistently hit attendance rates in the high 90s and has scored well above the district average on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment mathematics and reading examinations. Those details and the learners’ regular attainment of adequate yearly progress on the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law have enabled the school to obtain the highest distinction on the district’s School Performance Index.

“We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and I understand the dire economic situation the nation is going through, but we really need for our bus service to continue in order to keep families from feeling they have reduced options,” Carr said.

Commission chair Pedro A. Ramos announced at the meeting that additional talks will occur, according to published reports, so Carr is striving to have his institution up its civic identity by engaging in outreach to politicians, including 185th District state Rep. Maria Donatucci and state Sen. Larry Farnese. Having had their side heard at last week’s North Philly gathering, Carr, passionate parents and stalwart students will hold a rally concert in GAMP’s theater 6:30 p.m. Nov. 8.

“Parents are very upset,” Monique Pietrzyk said Tuesday. “Their kids could become easy prey on the subway and [SEPTA] buses.”

The resident of the 2100 block of South Chadwick Street has two daughters, ninth-grader Justine and 10th-grader Carol, enrolled at GAMP. The two used the bus service for their first four years and though their mother will not need to worry about their safety, she more than sympathizes with her peers who will treat sending their offspring off to school as an anxious endeavor. Her concern has led Pietrzyk to join the Save Our Buses committee.

“We have so many working parents who rely on that bus service for peace of mind,” she said. “What will happen to that?”

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1. Anonymous said... on Oct 31, 2012 at 02:24PM

“The South Philadelphian and South West Philadelphian students always used SEPTA, in fact they get free tokens to encourage SEPTA usage, why are children from outside of South Philadelphia more at risk for being mugged than those who reside in South Philadelphia? South Philadelphia SEPTA riding isn't exactly safe either, and yet no alternative was ever given to those students.”

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2. GAMP PARENT said... on Nov 8, 2012 at 11:13PM

“In 2010, Philadelphia had a higher transit crime rate than New York or Boston. There are 2,104 registered sex offenders in Philadelphia who are not incarcerated. Who in their right mind would put a 10 year old child on SEPTA? Public transportation is not safe for young children, no matter where they live. GAMP draws academically qualified and musically gifted student from 30 zip codes throughout the City of Philadelphia, and has the highest attendance rate in the School District of Philadelphia. GAMP also has a 99% college acceptance rate.

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