Offering an experience that expands students’ interest in music, challenge them in academics and prepare them for their future is what students find most appealing about the Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP).

“GAMP not only has a great music program, but we also have an excellent academic program,” junior Veralyn Bingham said. “I’m a musician and this is something I will continue to do in the future.”

Located at 21356 W. Ritner St., GAMP is a college preparatory school for nearly 620 students in grades 5 through 12 that provides a unique educational environment, focusing on college and career readiness, while allowing all students to pursue music as a major subject.

“One of our many goals going into this school year was to develop a strong system of organizations because GAMP is a place that has a million things going on at once and for one person it can be a lot,” said second-year principal Jovan Moore. “This year, we were able to get an assistant principal in Dr. Martin Woodside and the staff and teachers also do a great job to make sure everything is running smoothly at GAMP.

“It’s truly a collaborative effort. We just want to make sure everything is organized and everyone is on the same page because we never want any student or adult to feel they’re being missed.

“We want to make sure that everyone that is a part of the GAMP family is recognized and feel like they are a part of this,” she added. “We also want to make sure that we continue to help every student see their goals and see their success. We want everyone to work hard, play smart, and dream big.”

Moore said another goal for GAMP has been to engage the students more socially by having them be more vocal in the school and in their classrooms.

“While the students do have a voice here, we felt like it wasn’t as robust as it could be because their ideas can sometimes be missed,” Moore said. “We wanted to give students a vehicle where they could speak more freely without a teacher coming in or without them feeling like they can’t say anything.

“We have a student exec board who sits down with Dr. Woodside and I and talk to us about different things they want to see in the school or they want done differently. They run the entire meeting and they also ask questions near the end. We have town halls led by students where they talk about everything from their homework and classes to their aspirations and the things they like doing in the building.

“We also wanted to make sure we hear students voices in the classroom,” she added. “One of the things I found valuable in learning is student led discussions in classrooms. Starting last year, we really pushed for teachers to facilitate discussions in the classroom, so students can voice their thoughts more. It’s a great way to hear what students are really thinking and they’re also more willing to talk to each other.”

One student who likes being in classes where her voice is heard is junior Maria Doyle.

“I think having our voices be heard in our classes is empowering and fortunate for us we have people in the school who will listen to us,” Maria said. “It also helps that our classes are small, so it also makes it easier for our voices to be heard. I appreciate our teachers working with us to make sure that happens.”

Among the classes that are popular at GAMP are the history and civics classes led by Maggie Hennessy. In order to bring the most accurate lessons to her classroom, Hennessy looks beyond traditional textbooks.

“Both of the classes I teach require engagement,” Hennessy said. “I never want kids to memorize what they’re learning because then they think that’s the way to learn. “You learn by doing, thinking, or making an argument so student voice is absolutely essential to that. I have a huge hand in deciding my curriculum. I don’t use textbooks. I create or find my own materials.

“I know where I’m supposed to start and where I’m supposed to end, but within that I have a lot of freedom and creativity to decide what I teach. In civics, I try to broaden our definition of what civic engagement means. I do a lot of work with the Constitution because the students need to know their rights, freedoms, limitations and imperfections.

“We spend a lot of time on the Bill of Rights and I supplement that with a lot of current events,” she added. “For instance in my civics class, we just looked into criminal injustice. We looked at the Equal Justice Initiative and I showed them parts of the movie “Just Mercy” to coincide with what they were learning.”

Junior Joe McFarland said history has never been one of his favorite subjects, but this year it is because of Hennessy.

“I never been a big fan of history personally, but it’s been my favorite subject this year,” Joe said. “Ms. Hennessy has changed my thoughts on how I look at history. She makes the classes so interesting and she doesn’t sugarcoat what we’re learning.

“She’s truthful and honest,” he added. “She makes sure that every point is touched on in our classes. We also have a lot of discussions in her class. Now, I’m really into American History and how democracy works.”

Contact staff writer Chanel Hill at (215) 893-5716 or at chill@phillytrib.com.

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