Integrating Schooling from Pre-K to Higher Education: An Update on Penn-West Philadelphia Schools Partnerships

Susan Fuhrman, Dean, Graduate School of Education; George & Diane Weiss Professor of Education

Ira Harkavy, Director, Center for Community Partnerships; Associate Vice President

A university's involvement in its local K-12 schooling system is of paramount importance. We are proud to report that Penn is a national leader in university-local school partnerships.

Why is this important? Education and society are dynamically interactive and interdependent. Thinkers as "opposite" as Dewey and Plato argued that for people to develop and maintain a particular type of society or social order, they must develop and maintain the particular type of education system conducive to it.

Universities, particularly elite research universities, significantly shape the overall schooling system. In 1899, William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago, said: "Through the schooling system, the character of which, in spite of itself, the University determines and in large measure controls through the school system every family in this entire land is brought in touch with the university, for from it proceeds the teacher or the teachers' teachers." Moreover, the schooling system functions as the core--the strategic--subsystem of modern information societies.

Engagement in the schools not only benefits the schools, but also benefits the University and its students. Active, intensive, sustained collaboration between "higher eds" and their neighboring public schools is an effective strategy for advancing student learning and development through all levels of schooling. Furthermore, active, intensive, sustained collaboration between higher eds and their neighboring public schools is an effective strategy for advancing the missions of research universities, namely to preserve, advance, and transmit knowledge as well as help produce well-educated, cultured, moral citizens necessary to develop and maintain an optimally democratic society.

About two years ago, President Rodin advanced Penn's school partnerships in a new direction, accepting the School District of Philadelphia's invitation for Penn to be the senior partner for two Cluster Resource Boards (CRBs). In its role as the senior partner for the West Philadelphia and University City Cluster Resource Boards, Penn contributes significant resources and brings key public and private institutions together to support local schools. President Rodin asked the two of us to co-chair both boards.

The CRBs are an initiative developed by the School District, which is divided into 22 "Clusters," each consisting of one neighborhood high school and 10-12 "feeder" elementary and middle schools. The CRBs are a collaboration between a senior partner, local businesses, government officials, community and civic associations, and cluster/school staff. The mission of these resource boards is to coordinate, leverage, and advocate for the needed services and supports that will help children achieve in school and after graduation.

The West Philadelphia and University City CRBs decided to focus on four areas:

  1. Professional Development of Teachers
  2. Curriculum Development
  3. School-to-Career Opportunities
  4. Expanded Services for Children and Their Families

Our CRBs have initiated a number of activities in each area. Here is one example from each.

Professional Development of Teachers

The Graduate School of Education (GSE) recently launched a new office of executive education and professional development, under the direction of Dr. Christopher Hopey (GSE '98) for K-16 educators. To kick off this new office, over 50 seminars and workshops are being offered this summer on areas such as leading complex change, implementing standards-based reform, and building a comprehensive assessment and accountability system. This program is open to all educators in the region, but will particularly focus here in West Philadelphia on the CRB schools. Urban education is the heart and soul of GSE.

Curriculum Development that supports K-12 teachers and Penn students

Penn continues to be a national leader in programs that provide direct support to schools in the form of academically-based community service (ABCS) courses. Penn has approximately 100 ABCS courses taught by nearly 50 faculty from across the University. ABCS courses significantly benefit our own students, are linked to many faculty research projects, reduce class size by involving Penn faculty and students in the classroom, and enhance the teaching curricula and skills of our K-12 partners.

Sometimes we have been able to organize multiple courses around specific projects in the school and community. For example, a school-within-a-school at UCHS is working to teach all subjects through community planning. They are assisted by a number of Penn courses where Penn and UCHS students learn together through collaborative problem solving. In John Keene's Brownfields course, Penn and UCHS students investigate local brownfield (abandoned industrial) sites and possible remedies. Ralph Rosen's Teaching Plato's Republic students struggle with the UCHS students about the nature of good government and participation in government. Genie Birch's City Planning interns work with teachers to develop lesson plans on Philadelphia and West Philadelphia studies. And John Keenan's Computer-Aided Design (CAD) students learn CAD by teaching CAD. GSE has placed nine student teachers full time in this school-within-a-school who play an instrumental role in integrating these resources by working with the teachers to build the curriculum. As a result, the UCHS students and teachers are learning by making plans for their own community that they will share with local leaders.

School-to-Career Opportunities

School-to-career creates linkages for teachers and students between the school day and the world of work, preparing students for both college and entry level jobs. It also helps connect employers to prospective employees. We expect that more than 150 11th and 12th graders from University City and West Philadelphia High Schools will be student interns on campus and at area businesses, beginning this summer. For example, Penn's Information Systems and Computing Office will continue its longstanding tradition of employing UCHS students to support Penn's computer networks. As members of the CRB, Aramark Corporation has agreed to take students from UCHS, and Mellon Bank will take interns from West Philadelphia High School.

Expanded Services for Children and Their Families

In January 2000, the School of Dental Medicine, through Dr. Herman Segal, associate dean for Community Relations, responded to the need for dental care for area children with a pilot program at the Wilson Elementary School. The program provides an educational session, along with a dental screening, for students in the first, third and fifth grades at Wilson. Dr. Segal and his students outline the goals of the program for students' parents and give them information about the importance of proper dental care for their children, what the children could expect, and where to take the children for follow-up care. At the end of their screening, the children receive a toothbrush and a referral form for follow-up care at either the Dental School Clinic or the Dental Clinic at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Over 100 students have been screened this semester. Dr. Segal is committed to the success and expansion of the program for next year.

Cluster Resource Board members have contributed in many ways to the schools; this article focused largely on Penn's initiatives. As we continue to develop the CRBs, we will increasingly engage the Penn community and other CRB members in building an integrated schooling system that involves community partners throughout West Philadelphia and Philadelphia.

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 32, May 9, 2000