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Students unite for their right to study

Students from High School of Creative and Performing Arts, Central High and other schools converged on district headquarters.

STUDENTS FROM Philadelphia's High School for Creative and Performing Arts took their protest of school budget cuts yesterday as seriously as an audition.

Before students headed to district headquarters, they gathered in a schoolyard behind CAPA, on Broad Street near Carpenter, to rehearse chants - "No ifs, no buts, no education cuts" - issue instructions on how to deal with the police and distribute the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome."

Students then marched up Broad Street to the district building, on Broad near Spring Garden. Their cheers and chants along the way intensified in volume and energy each time a vehicle's horn was honked in support.

Once at the district, CAPA students met up with students from Constitution High, Central High, Academy at Palumbo and other schools to protest what could be brutal cuts in the face of a $304 million deficit. The funding cuts in sight will go too far and will impair schools, the protesters said.

"My school doesn't have enough French textbooks for the students in our French class," CAPA student Maya Bjornson told the crowd, estimated to be 250 people. "My class could not do a science experiment because we didn't have enough money for beakers. Save our schools!"

The students roared and began to chant, "Save our schools."

Maureen Smith, 16, spoke on behalf of the students and said they presented Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. with a mission statement during a 10-minute meeting with students from five of the schools represented at the protest.

Hite "was very receptive," said Smith, a sophomore who did not want to disclose her school because she said she was representing all district students.

"We understand that it is bigger than the school district, that there's state funding issues, that there are federal funding issues, but the misspending and the corruption that's happening in the School District of Philadelphia building needs to end," she said.

Students, she added, want to have a say in the budget process as well. "We don't want to be silenced students anymore."

Hite likes the idea of including students in budget planning, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said. "He said absolutely that they should be part of it. . . . They want to be a part of the process and they absolutely will be."