A group of students in South Philadelphia are learning to read critically and analyze issues important to them—one book at a time.
With a grant from Microgiving @ Penn GSE, a community focused crowd-funding initiative from the Graduate School of Education, Gerald Campano, an associate professor and chair of the Reading/Writing/Literacy Program at GSE, was able to purchase a series of nonfiction books for students he regularly works with at the Aquinas Center, a Catholic organization serving South Philly’s culturally and linguistically diverse populations.
Working closely with the Aquinas community, Campano and his GSE students co-designed a year-round youth participatory action research project to help fifth through ninth grade students from Indonesian and Latino immigrant families become involved in their communities.
“In education, there’s a big emphasis on the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Part of that reform is an emphasis on nonfiction books, preparing children for higher ed and beyond,” Campano says. “The idea behind the Microgiving grant was to purchase a lot of award-winning, high-quality nonfiction and informational texts. Rather than students reading them and being passive receivers of information, we want to teach them research and data collection skills on issues relevant to them.”
Campano says many of the books purchased through the grant, such as “When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson: The Voice of a Century” and “The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano,” share themes of social justice and honoring the histories and experiences of diverse communities.
Using their newfound understanding of research concepts like evidence, data, and primary sources, the Aquinas students will create research projects around topics significant to their lives. Each student will eventually create their own books to share what they’ve learned over the course of the project. At the end of the year, Campano and his team will hold a celebration for the students to share their books and findings with the community.
Campano says the project would not be possible without the help of Aquinas Center Director Bethany Welch, St. Thomas Aquinas priest Monsignor Hugh Shields, and the funds raised through Microgiving @ Penn GSE.
“Microgiving @ Penn GSE supports projects in which small gifts can make a huge impact on education. By helping South Philly students from immigrant families to research their communities, Dr. Campano and his GSE students are empowering young people through education,” says Alison Palmer Dixon, assistant director for Annual Fund and Alumni Relations at GSE. “This is a perfect example of the impact Penn GSE seeks to have locally and globally.”
Campano says the nature of the Microgiving grant made an impact on the community before the funds ever reached South Philly.
“It helps us foster good will with community members,” he says. “It gives them the sense that there are many people at Penn who really care for them and are supportive of the work they’re doing.”