Hundreds of city students gathered Tuesday outside Philadelphia School District headquarters to protest budget cuts that threaten to strip their schools of counselors and support staff, swell class sizes, and chop all extracurricular activities.
Musicians sang and played instruments. Teenagers toted handmade signs, waving them at cars beeping their approval. Others lined up to give brief speeches shouted into a bullhorn.
"No ifs, no buts, no education cuts," they chanted. Students from around the city - including Central, Bodine, Girls High, Franklin Learning Center, Academy at Palumbo, Masterman, Furness, Frankford, Shawmont, and other schools - were represented in the crowd, which spilled onto North Broad Street.
The student-led rally came together quickly, said three of the organizers, High School for the Creative and Performing Arts pupils Teyin Tseng, Maureen Smith, and Gregory Coleman. They had heard Friday about what the cuts would mean, they said, and quickly settled on the idea of a "peaceful protest" on National Teacher Appreciation Day.
"We had to act fast. There's only so much time before something drastic happens," Smith said of the $304 million budget deficit.
Most students assembled at district headquarters after school, but 350 students from Constitution High walked out of class at 1:30.
Frankford High junior Hector Gonzalez was clear.
"There are a lot of dropouts now," he said. "Imagine what will happen if things are cut more."
Mohammed Ben Abdallah came to Philadelphia from Tunisia 11 months ago, convinced he would get a better education in the United States. It turns out it's not much different here, Abdallah said.
"In Tunisia, schools do not have enough money," said Abdallah, 16, a sophomore at Furness High. "I want the same opportunities available to students in the suburbs."
CAPA freshman Ciani Ross said she couldn't fathom school without "all the stuff that keeps us out of trouble" - sports, performances, and more.
Christina Leader, a junior at CAPA, wondered how she would get to college without a counselor to help guide her.
Spokesman Fernando Gallard said that district officials "appreciate the students' energy" and that a group of representatives met Tuesday with Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.
"We very much understand their concerns," Gallard said. "The revenue we have is not sufficient to make the investment we would like in students."
Hite encouraged students to join the district in its call for additional city and state revenue, but only after school hours, he said.
Whether the Constitution High students would be subject to disciplinary action was up to the school's administration, Gallard said.
City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. stood in the crowd, listening, nodding, speaking to students.
"I couldn't be prouder of them," Jones said. Now, he said, his job was to "try to convince nine others on Council that what they're saying is important."
District officials have asked the state for $120 million in additional funding and the city for $60 million in new money. Neither contribution is assured.
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