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Philly magnet school wins 'GRAMMY' award for music excellence

Girard Academic Music Program is one of 13 schools in the nation chosen for the award. Girard will receive $5,500.

FYODOR BADKHEN, 17, has been part of Girard Academic Music Program for four years, but he didn't realize he would help the school win a Grammy - sort of.

The South Philadelphia magnet school, known as GAMP, was one of 13 schools in the nation chosen by the GRAMMY Foundation for its Signature Schools Award and will receive $5,500. The annual award recognizes the best public high schools in music education. Eight of the 13 schools, including GAMP, received the Enterprise Award grant for schools that are economically underserved.

Badkhen, a senior who sings bass in the school's choir and concert choir, said the award demonstrates that the hard work of students and teachers is paying off.

"Both the students and the faculty have been working very hard despite the changes and the situation and the lessening of what's available to us, and we've been working hard to overcome it," he said. "We've sort of still been able to show that we're still capable of what we've always been capable of."

Districtwide budget cuts have left the performing-arts school, on Ritner Street near 22nd, without resources to replace key personnel, including a music teacher, according to music director Diane Dannenfelser.

Although the one-time grant won't make up for personnel reductions, Dannenfelser said, it will pay for a new tuba, a bass amplifier, headsets for the piano lab and repairs - things that have been considered luxuries lately at the school of 520 students in grades five through 12.

"It's a help, and we are allowed to apply next year," Dannenfelser said. She added that she's looking forward to better days if Gov. Wolf's proposed funding increase for education is supported by the Legislature.

"We're hoping for more money from the state next year; thank you, Tom Wolf," she said as she knocked on her wooden desk.

The 13 award recipients will receive a total of $61,000. More than 20,000 schools were eligible, although the foundation would not reveal how many had applied.

Dannenfelser said she was surprised to learn the school had won the honor, considering the competition. She credited all the students with playing a part in the award.

"Anything that is a reward for excellence is always a boost to a teacher and the students," she said. "The kids are walking around saying, 'We won a GRAMMY,' and I guess we did."