Girard students join rally against proposed cuts

Bernard Oliver , Class of 1978, speaks to a group opposing Girard College cutbacks. Students, alumni, union members, and parents gathered outside the school. LUKE RAFFERTY/Staff Photographer
Bernard Oliver , Class of 1978, speaks to a group opposing Girard College cutbacks. Students, alumni, union members, and parents gathered outside the school. LUKE RAFFERTY/Staff Photographer
Posted: June 16, 2013

On Girard College's last day of classes for the year, students, alumni, union members, and parents massed outside the school's ornate gates in North Philadelphia to protest plans to end the boarding program and high school in 2014.

Shouting "Save Girard" and "2-4-6-8, we want to graduate," demonstrators lined South College Avenue at Corinthian Avenue and shook placards at riders on the Route 15 trolley and at honking motorists.

"I look at Girard College as an institution that's not just financial," said Brandon Dixon, 15, student body president, who has attended the free private boarding school for low-income students since fifth grade.

"Girard College is our home," Dixon said. "Girard College is our life."

The rally was the first time the 405 students who spend weekdays in dorms behind the 10-foot stone walls had an opportunity to react publicly to recently proposed changes.

On June 3, the Board of Directors of City Trusts, which oversees Girard, announced it would ask Orphans' Court for permission to temporarily end Girard's residential and high school programs to cut costs and replenish shrinking reserves.

Girard officials said such drastic measures were necessary to ensure the survival of the boarding school for poor orphans that Stephen Girard, the 19th-century merchant banker, outlined in his will.

Without such temporary cuts, they warned, funds from the Girard Estate could be gone in 25 years and the school would be forced to close.

Organizers of Friday's rally said they began planning the event the day of the board's announcement because they have questions about the board's rationale and oppose the plans.

"We just felt it was important for those of us who lived the Girard experience to come out and support those who are currently going through it and the future students who should have the same experience we had," said Jay West, a 1995 Girard graduate from Mount Holly.

West and other alumni said they were talking to lawyers about a forensic audit of Girard's finances, seeking an injunction, and challenging the board's petition in Orphans' Court.

The protesters' primary focus was on the effect the proposed changes would have on students, especially the 154 who completed seventh through 10th grades Friday and will not be able to graduate from Girard, and other students who live too far away to commute.

"They are not looking at the transition that the kids are going to have to go through from being in this small community to going out to other schools," said Nyisha Chapman, whose 13-year-old daughter, Siniyah, has attended Girard since second grade.

"I think they should at least let the high schoolers graduate," said Christine Staten, whose son Aquil, 7, just finished first grade. "I understand that they don't have enough money, but it's unfair to the kids who will not get an equal opportunity to go to a good high school."

If the moves are approved by Orphans' Court, Dixon will complete his junior year, but won't be able to graduate.

He's trying to help raise Girard's profile and encouraging students to send letters and e-mails to Orphans' Court.

Dixon said: "If people can recognize the importance of the school and what it has not only done for the students and the alumni but the neighborhood around it, we may be able to change the situation."


Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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