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February 19, 2014 - Students at the Aquinas Center, a Catholic organization serving South Philadelphia’s culturally and linguistically diverse populations, are learning how to ask critical questions about issues important to them thanks to Microgiving @ Penn GSE, a community-focused crowdfunding initiative. Last year, Dr. Gerald Campano and Reading/Writing/Literacy students Lan Ngo, David Low, Grace Player, and Christine Ong raised money to purchase several award-winning nonfiction books for the Center through a Microgiving @ Penn GSE campaign. Campano and his team are using the books to demonstrate the power of asking – and answering – questions.
Dr. Campano and his students have been working with the Thomas Aquinas Catholic Community for four years. “This project is about inviting youth in the community to research issues that are relevant and important to them,” he said. “We’re using these books purchased through Microgiving @ Penn GSE as models.”
Working closely with the Aquinas community, Campano and his students co-designed a year-round youth participatory action research project to help fifth through ninth grade students from Indonesian and Latino immigrant families get involved and build knowledge about their communities.
“We believe the impact of this project is a sense of empowerment, that children and young people feel like they can make a difference through researching their communities,” Campano said. “It’s about democratizing knowledge. It’s not just us in the universities that have knowledge and transmit it to the community – communities have important knowledge and perspectives as well.”
RWL students visit the Aquinas Center every other Sunday – a time chosen by the community because it coincides with church services – to work with the books and develop research projects. The award-winning informational books help students understand research concepts like evidence, data, and primary sources. Using their new understanding of these concepts, the students choose topics relevant to their lives and design research projects around them, ultimately creating their own books or texts to share their work. At the end of the year, Campano and his team will hold a celebration for the students to share their books – and their findings – with the community that inspired them.
Through the Microgiving @ Penn GSE campaign, Campano and his RWL students were able to purchase two sets of books, one to donate to the Aquinas Center, and one to save for future projects in other communities. They plan to use the remaining funds to purchase additional books that relate specifically to students’ research topics as they are developed. According to Campano, the money “went a long way.”
Penn GSE recently launched a new Microgiving campaign to support three exciting community projects: Classroom libraries at the Lea School, Penn GSE’s public school partner in West Philadelphia; support for Dr. Marybeth Gasman’s new Center for Minority-Serving Institutions; and Project Write, a two week-long summer camp co-sponsored the Philadelphia Writing Project and the National Park Service. For more information and to donate, click here.