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A Tale of 2 Schools

There is something to be said for geography.

The close proximity of Albright College to 13th and Union Elementary School made the establishment of a Professional Development School (PDS) partnership, more than a decade ago, a no-brainer.

Albright education majors need only walk across 13th Street to the Reading elementary to fulfill their student teaching and classroom observation requirements.

But the relationship was a one-way street, say officials on both sides. And when state funding for the PDS program ended, the connection between the institutions could have done the same.

Instead, the schools embarked on a true partnership.

“It’s grown beyond my expectations,” says partnership coordinator Dorothea Miller.

This year, more than 50 Albright students from various majors volunteered at 13th and Union—tutoring, conducting service learning and research projects, and gaining real-world experience.

Meanwhile every grade level at 13th and Union has visited campus and participated in a partnership program. Students are
exposed to the types of enrichment—from art to science—that the cash-strapped urban school could not otherwise offer.

But most profoundly, Albright and 13th and Union students have forged meaningful connections.

“They’ve become friends,” says 13th and Union Principal Peggy Brown. “My colleagues (at other schools) have been trying to replicate this and they can’t. You need commitment from both sides.”

And through the partnership, Brown’s students are realizing that college is within their grasp, even if no family member has gone before. “There are people at Albright who look like them, sound like them,” she says. “We’re breaking down walls.”

The Wyomissing Foundation. The partnership’s evolution can be attributed, in large part, to the Wyomissing Foundation. The Berks County organization, which supports scientific, literary and educational endeavors, is particularly focused on enhancing economic development and preserving communities such as the ones surrounding the campus.

“One way to do that is to have a quality school,” says foundation president Karen Rightmire ’69, a former College trustee.

To that end, the Wyomissing Foundation awarded the partnership a $100,000 grant in 2011, followed by a $70,000 grant in 2013. The funding has enabled the partnership to expand programs and to hire Miller as coordinator. A former 13th and Union principal, Miller brought intimate knowledge of the school to the table.

Jasmine Clarke ’14 did the same for Albright. Last year, Clark returned to campus as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) to help facilitate programs and enhance community engagement.

“Jasmine has been a fantastic help with her inside knowledge of Albright,” says Miller. “She’s the face every day at 13th and Union.”

The partnership has also benefited from grants from Wal-Mart, the Berks County Community Foundation, and other organizations.

Partnership Programs. The financial support has opened the door to both ongoing and one-time programs.

A few years ago, the partnership started an afterschool tutoring program with Albright students working one-on-one with the 13th and Union children, as part of the United Way of Berks County’s Ready. Set. Read! effort.

Chemistry major Caroline Endy ’17 was overwhelmed when a student brought in a book of her own that they could read together.

“It made me feel like I had an influence on her,” says Endy. “I have since realized that I am not just a tutor for these children. I believe that they also see me as a friend, someone who reads with them just for the fun of it.”

At the afterschool homework center, Albright students assist children needing extra help, including English language learners.

Homework aide Jorge Orozco ’16 understands their struggle firsthand. The Mexico native spoke no English when he enrolled in a Reading middle school at age 11. But dedicated teachers helped him learn English and excel, and Orozco was inspired to give back.

“I know how hard it is to not be able to communicate with others,” says the business administration major. Orozco has even translated for 13th and Union parent-teacher conferences. “The students really look up to him because he is from Reading and can relate to their experiences,” says Miller.

Wyomissing Foundation funding has also helped place iPads with educational apps in the hands of kindergartners, and Albright faculty and students are working to enhance science instruction at the elementary school through field trips, curriculum writing and professional development.

The Attaining and Sustaining a Positive and Holistic Attitude for Learning (ASPHALT) Forest Project invites fifth-graders to explore a wooded part of campus to learn about the stream and wetland habitat and to study water samples in Albright’s laboratories. Elementary students have also toured Albright’s greenhouse and community garden, while Albright garden interns recently planted a garden at 13th and Union.

Albright is also bringing the arts to the school through staged theatrical productions, dance performances and tours of the Freedman Gallery.

“Professors are now aware that 13th and Union is open to them,” says Miller. And students have access to the school to conduct research or creative projects.

Costume design major Susie Benitez ’15 conducted an afterschool program to teach 10 second-graders about fashion, design and storytelling.

Benitez assigned each student a children’s book and asked them to draw pictures and create paper doll clothes inspired by the stories. Their work in turn inspired Benitez to create costumes, which the youngsters modeled on the runway during Albright’s fashion showcase in May.

“How many second-graders can say they’ve walked in a fashion show?” asks Brown. “These girls were telling everyone. They walked the hallways, their chins a little higher and their smiles bigger.”

Benitez also walked away smiling:

“I learned from them,” says Benitez, a costume apprentice at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre. “They mixed patterns I normally wouldn’t have put together. But it worked.”

One of the most visible manifestations of the partnership’s success is found in the main entrance of 13th and Union. Visitors
are greeted by a vibrant mural painted by Albright art students and 13th and Union students, under the direction of local muralist Jean Esther. Completed this spring, the mural depicts the young students’ present world and future aspirations.

Albright’s athletes have also crossed the street to mentor kids and help boost their self-esteem. Players on the Lions football team have spent time in the 13th and Union cafeteria, talking to children during lunch, while women’s lacrosse players teamed-up with students for Girls on the Run, a national initiative encouraging positive emotional and physical development.

Brown relates the story of one 13th and Union girl who had difficulties running. The lacrosse players and her classmates slowed to let her cross the finish line first. “The look on her face—I was almost in tears,” recalls Brown. “The self-esteem that was built up…. They were cheering and hugging. You can’t replace that.”

The Future of the Partnership. This fall, members of the Class of 2018 will begin mentoring fourth- and fifth-graders, under the direction of associate professor of psychology Brenda Ingram-Wallace, Ph.D., who directs Albright’s Counseling Center.

“The Albright students, they’re inspired. They love to help the community and the children,” says Clarke.

Officials on both sides of 13th Street are eager to not only sustain this relationship, but to see it grow.

“The door is open,” says Brown. “This has been a win-win for everyone.”

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