What does it mean for a university to be engaged in public education?
A positive movement is happening in public education in Philadelphia. Graduation rates are up, test scores at many schools are improving, more than 6,700 students are taking Advanced Placement and other courses that count toward college credit, and new construction projects are underway to provide excellent facilities for learning for public school students.
The groundbreaking of the new Powel Elementary-Science Leadership Academy Middle School building at 36th and Filbert Streets near Drexel University – a wonderful collaboration with the School District of Philadelphia and Drexel’s partner Wexford Science + Technology – is an exciting milestone in public education for families in that portion of West Philadelphia.
A new facility is greatly needed because Powel, with its long track record of outstanding academic performance, outgrew its space long ago, and the SLA Middle School has not had a permanent home to call its own since it opened three years ago.
Drexel is proud to play a role in the construction of this school and is gratified to know that future generations of Philadelphia children will thrive in this new learning environment. The state-of-the-art school building will provide students and teachers with a bright new space for learning, but a university’s commitment to education extends well beyond bricks and mortar.
Learning starts at birth and lasts a lifetime.
Philadelphia has seen universities engage with local schools before, often with mixed results. At Drexel, our approach to engagement in public education builds on lessons learned from the past and keeps a keen eye on the future, with its School of Education leading the way.
Our approach focuses on enhancing learning by partnering with school leaders and the District to embed knowledgeable people and resources in our partner schools. The School of Education runs one of our teacher-education classes inside a public school so that the university students can learn what it is like to work in a typical urban classroom.
Co-op students, teacher residents, and students in our DragonsTeach STEM teacher-preparation programs spend thousands of hours each year in schools leading lessons, tutoring children, and operating supplemental education programs to help improve academic outcomes. Co-op gives Drexel a particularly special opportunity: Our students can spend a full six months working full time in a school, learning both the challenges and the extraordinary opportunities of urban education.
In addition, the new Powel-SLA Middle School will have a liaison hired by the School of Education to oversee the university’s efforts and ensure we are providing the types of resources and programs that the two schools need.
Besides providing educational support, our School of Education is a principal partner in the West Philadelphia Promise Neighborhood. This U.S. Department of Education grant supports a coalition of the School District of Philadelphia, neighborhood civic associations, city government agencies including the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity and Office of Education, and various departments at Drexel University, all working together to improve educational outcomes, health and economic opportunity for families in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone, including Powel and SLA Middle School.
This type of partnership is unprecedented in Philadelphia. It brings community members and key stakeholders to the table to plan programs that will help communities thrive.
Philadelphia is blessed with a wealth of universities that employ leading scholars in a wide range of fields. It is our duty as institutions of higher learning to bring our resources together with the wisdom of the communities we serve so children can grow, achieve success, and raise families of their own in the city.
Penny Hammrich, Ph.D., is dean and a distinguished university professor at Drexel University’s School of Education.