GSE Class Gets Hands-On In Philadelphia Schools

April 23, 2014 – GSE professor Rand Quinn is working with teams of graduate and undergraduate students from across Penn to improve community engagement in Philadelphia’s schools. The students are working with city schools on projects such as identifying ways to increase parent involvement, determining what students do after school, and investigating sustainability practices. The class, Reforming Philadelphia Schools: A Research Practicum on Community Engagement in Education (EDUC 545), created project goals in collaboration with the communities and schools they chose to work with.

Professor Quinn devised the class because “students gain a much deeper and more powerful understanding of community engagement in education by experiencing it on the ground rather than discussing and reading about it in the abstract.”

Student research teams were paired with schools like Southwark, an ethnically and linguistically diverse pre-K-8 school in South Philadelphia, and Carver High School of Engineering and Science, a special admissions magnet in North Philadelphia. Research practices included hundreds of student surveys, classroom observations, and focus groups. At Southwark, students conducted this work in six languages.

To showcase the research that students produced, Quinn hosted a community engagement study tour in Carver High School in early April. Students and researchers from across Philadelphia, including attendees of the American Education Research Association’s annual meeting, learned about the students’ work and the potential benefits of university-community-school partnerships.

After an introduction to Carver by Ted Domers, a GSE alumnus and doctoral candidate in the Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Division, participants saw presentations on the student research being conducted at both Carver and Southwark schools, and toured Carver classrooms. They also heard about the many challenges of forging and maintaining partnerships from a panel of experts from GSE, the School District of Philadelphia, Villanova’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Temple’s Office of School and Community Partnerships.

“Professor Quinn’s work exemplifies the type of local engagement that President Amy Gutmann called for in the Penn Compact 2020,” says Andy Porter, GSE dean. “Rand and his students are ‘bringing Penn to the world and the world to Penn’ and are thereby enriching the lives of everyone involved.”

In the coming weeks, the student teams will wrap up their experiences by hosting a series of school or community presentations about their efforts and results, with the goal of ensuring that the impact of their engagement continues long after their class ends.