Music, talent and cheers filled the small basement room of Andrew Jackson School, 1213 S. 12th St., where 11 smiling, but serious, students sat around in a circle, each one playing an instrument. Principal Lisa Ciaranca-Kaplan enthusiastically welcomed the Wawa Foundation, who donated $2,500 to the school’s music program on June 17.
The students of “Home,” which is the name of the music program’s band, performed twice, sharing with everyone their amazing talent and love for music. First District Councilman Mark Squilla and Councilman-at-Large Jim Kenney joined Wawa personnel, Jackson students/teachers and Kaplan at the celebration. Even Wally Goose, Wawa’s official mascot, was there to partake in the ceremony.
“It’s great to be here with Wawa,” Squilla said as he addressed the students and teachers at the Passyunk Square site. “This is to you guys, what an impression you must have made to be able to get this prize. We will keep the funding coming.”
He also credited Wawa for its help around the city.
“Wawa not only works with the community, they give back to the community,” the Front-Street-and-Snyder-Avenue resident said.
Chris Agerakis, better known as “Mr. A” to the students, is Jackson’s music director. He has been with these pupils for four years and has never stopped teaching them music, despite having an almost nonexistent budget for supplies. Prior to this gracious donation from Wawa, the music program was operating on a three-figure budget.
“We only get $100 a year for the music program, so this donation is amazing,” Agerakis, who is getting reimbursed by the School District for the money he laid out, said.
Receiving this donation, which will be used to cover program expenses, certainly brightened the students’ and teachers’ spirits after recently dealing with the death of two children, the most recent being 7-year-old Sebastian Gerena, who died of a congenital heart defect in May.
“We had the most insane year, with many ups and downs,” Agerakis said. “It’s been a crazy ride, and [it is] very emotional today because it is our last rehearsal. We would not have this music program without these kids.”
Some of the students of the group will be graduating, so it is a bittersweet moment they are getting to share.
The group name “Home” was the kids’ idea, Agerakis explains.
“The kids thought the [first] name was dry, so at the beginning of last year, one of the kids came up to me and asked if we could call the band ‘Home,’ because it feels like home to us, [and] we are always here rehearsing. [And] that is how it feels to all of us.”
Agerakis also noted how dedicated his students are when it comes to practice and rehearsing. Staying after school to practice or coming in on weekends were things that he pointed to about his students.
“They want to work. It’s a huge commitment to them,” he said.
Kaplan was overwhelmed with the donation, and she expressed her joy through kind words about the children.
“They are true professionals. They’re very influential in what kind of music they like and what they want to play,” she said.
Kaplan also shared her thoughts about how helpful the donation will be.
“Running a high quality program that benefits all students [kindergarten] through [eighth grade] is very expensive,” she said. “We are thrilled that Wawa chose Jackson and hope to continue our partnership with them.”
Lori Bruce, Wawa public relations manager, also attended the event, and noted she was impressed with what Jackson school’s music program had to offer.
“It’s really about the kids. It’s absolutely remarkable. We’re proud to be able to contribute to this,” she said.
“Teachers are heroes in many respects,” Bruce added when speaking about Agerakis and other teachers at Jackson.
The band ended the ceremony by playing one of their favorite songs, “Crazy on You,” by the Hall-of-Fame-enshrined band Heart. It was also announced that the school’s band will be playing at Wawa Welcomes America’s Liberty Block Party on Saturday (see page 18 for more details).
Kaplan was excited that her students will be performing at such a prestigious event.
“We know Home will make Jackson, Philly and Wawa proud,” she said.
Contact the South Philly Review at firstname.lastname@example.org.