shutterstock_120712231Students and alumni rally to save an afterschool aerospace program from budget cuts

A high school friend broke the news to me on Facebook.  A popular afterschool science program in our old school was being discontinued due to budget cuts in Philadelphia.  The article from the Philadelphia Inquirer said that program was a victim of the Philadelphia School Districts budget cuts.

The Space Research Center, located at Northeast High School in Philadelphia, began in the early 1960s—when physics teacher Robert A.G. Montgomery capitalized on the high interest of space exploration and created the program.  The program became very popular and NASA invested some funding.

Burt Dicht, a 1977 graduate of Northeast, did not take the matter lying down.  Using gofundme, Dicht led a grassroots effort to raise more than $13,250 for the program.  After gofundme costs, the total is closer to $12,100.  According to Dicht, the money is in a separate Northeast Alumni Association account that is designated for SPARC activities.

Dicht, a former engineer in the aerospace industry, is also leading efforts to create a sustainable funding structure for the program

We did confirm that the school district is not going to be able to fund SPARC over the next several years. So it is imperative that we come up with an effective plan. We all agreed to move forward with the development of an advisory board that would oversee and manage the fundraising effort. This board would work under the alumni association’s 501c3 not-for-profit status. And again, the alumni association would manage the funds, ensuring they are dedicated only to SPARC.

In an earlier email to donors, Dicht said that original objective was to keep the program running for the rest of the year, but it soon became clear that technology upgrades were also needed as well.

I was never a part of the Space Research Center directly.  The success of SPARC enabled Northeast to create a Medical, Engineering, and Aerospace magnet program—we would probably call it STEM today.  This magnet program allowed students from across the city to attend Northeast, which at the time was one of the best high schools in the city.  It’s why I took a 45-minute bus ride everyday.  It allowed kids from some rough spots of the city to get an education that was steeped in STEM.  To me, Northeast looked like it was in the suburbs.

I was glad to contribute a few dollars to help sustain this program and I hope it can serve as a lesson to other programs suffering a similar fate.

A story appeared on the local Fox station:  http://www.myfoxphilly.com/story/24451457/students-save-after-school-program

Northeast Times:  http://www.northeasttimes.com/2014/jan/9/failure-launch/#.UtlG1GRdWi1

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