College of Education > News and Publications > 2016: 07-09 news > SCOPE helps alumna overcome poverty, achieve dreams

SCOPE helps alumna overcome poverty, achieve dreams

After participating in the College's SCOPE program in 2007, Loretta Lowman knew she could achieve anything, including her dreams of becoming a special education teacher.

SCOPE 2016
College of Education and SCOPE alumna Loretta Lowman, left, returned to her alma mater this summer to help high school students enrolled in this year's SCOPE program. She is seen here helping Danaya Dixon, a rising high school junior from Philadelphia, with her SCOPE homework from LL ED 297A - Language and Composition.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Loretta Lowman was 9 years old when she learned she had a learning disability. She struggled with reading, writing and math, and cried every night at the dinner table as she tried to complete her homework.

“My mother was a stickler for education,” the 2015 Penn State College of Education alumna said. “She would tell my sisters and me, ‘I don’t want you growing up like me, living paycheck to paycheck. You ladies have to want more for yourselves.’”

Lowman did want more, but regardless of her mother’s rules, she hated going to school. Every day was a new struggle. She felt like she was stupid, she said, because she wasn’t able to do the same things other kids were doing. Each day, her frustrations grew.

After being identified as having a learning disability, she spent the next four years in a non-inclusive, special education classroom where she received individualized instruction from a teacher who became her inspiration.

“Mrs. Cooper was one of the most beautiful, caring, soft-spoken and inspirational individuals I have ever met,” Lowman said. “It is because of her and others teachers like her that I chose to become a special education teacher.”

With the help of Mrs. Cooper, Lowman learned what her strengths as a student were and how to “succeed at this thing called school.” She also learned that her calling was to be like Mrs. Cooper — to inspire and educate students who also felt frustrated with school because of their learning disabilities.

By the time Lowman entered high school, her mom had moved the family from East Orange, New Jersey, to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The move opened up more academic opportunities for Lowman and it wasn’t long before she shared her dream of becoming a special education teacher with her guidance counselor.

“She told me about a program called SCOPE and I was overjoyed to know there were individuals out there working to help people become teachers,” Lowman said.

SCOPE, or Summer College Opportunity Program in Education, is a four-week academic program offered by the College of Education for high school sophomores who are interested in careers in education. The intensive program hosts students from multicultural backgrounds as they live on Penn State’s University Park campus, take college courses, prepare for the SATs and learn lessons in time management and study skills. The program aims to build stronger academic skills and promote social skills while introducing participants to education-based careers.

Although the demands are rigorous, the program has proven successful in its mission to diversify the field of education and create a pathway to college for underrepresented and at-risk high school students. Since its inception in 2002, SCOPE has hosted 200 high school students, with approximately 80 percent going on to enroll in college. Many of those students choose to attend Penn State.

Never one to spend time away from home, Lowman was intimidated by SCOPE. She was shy and worried about making friends; she wasn’t sure if SCOPE was right for her.  

“My mother told me that God blessed me with a chance that not many people like me get,” she said. “No one in my family had gone to college and going to Penn State meant more than spending a summer away from home. Going to Penn State meant breaking down a wall that my family thought was impossible to do.”

“No one in my family had gone to college and going to Penn State meant more than spending a summer away from home. Going to Penn State meant breaking down a wall that my family thought was impossible to do.”

— Loretta Lowman, 2015 alumna

Growing up, Lowman learned early that family was an important part of her life.

“I grew up with my [extended] family,” she said. “We all lived in the same household until I was in middle school. Each adult and their children shared a room.”

Her family consisted of four adults and eight children, and they all shared a three-bedroom duplex. Many times, the family had little to no food, water or electricity.

“We faced a lot of hardships,” Lowman said. “But we stuck together. We took care of each other.”

So when her mother told her that God brought the SCOPE program into her life for a reason and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Lowman knew what she needed to do.

“My mother’s words were all I needed to know that SCOPE was perfect for me and for my family,” she said.

In the summer of 2007, Lowman joined 20 of her peers for a four-week journey of self-discovery and affirmation.

“My summer in SCOPE is something I will never forget,” she said. “It is where I became a new person.”

Lowman said she was initially overwhelmed by the academic rigor and challenges of the program. The college-level homework was even more difficult because she had to overcome her learning disability by decoding the words and then try to understand what was required for the assignment. But soon, those feelings changed.

“We did a ropes course and it changed my life,” Lowman said. “There were different team-building activities as part of the course and throughout each activity, we learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we utilized what we learned to face new tasks together.”

The group was like a second family to Lowman. The support she received from her SCOPE peers, former multicultural coordinator Charleon Jeffries, and Maria Schmidt, assistant dean for multicultural programs for the College of Education, was sincere and genuine, she said.

“I had never felt so much love and support from people I didn’t know that well in my life,” she said. “Once I was able to be vulnerable with my SCOPE family, I knew I would be able to spend the rest of the summer trying my hardest to overcome any academic challenges and still be supported by this group of people, and that’s exactly what I did.”

SCOPE 2016
SCOPE counselors including Loretta Lowman, second from right, help SCOPE students with their homework from LL ED 297A - Language and Composition as well as SAT preparation, college and career preparation, and research proposals.

After she completed SCOPE, Lowman finished high school and enrolled in Penn State’s College of Education special education and curriculum and instruction integrated undergraduate-graduate (IUG) program. During her time as a student, she received the John Gilmartin Trustee Scholarship and the University Student Way Pavers Award. In 2015 she graduated with a bachelor and master’s degree, becoming the first person in her family to receive a college degree.

Now, nearly 10 years after her SCOPE experience, Lowman has completed her first year as a special education teacher with Charles County Public Schools in Maryland and has returned to SCOPE as a counselor to give back to others like her.

“SCOPE gives access where access is not normally given,” she said. “This program gives hope and inspiration where little of it can be found for some. It is a door that leads individuals to a hallway full of other doors, doors just waiting to be opened and leading to education, jobs and ways out of poverty.”

The 2016 SCOPE program, which runs until July 22, has Lowman working with 18 high schoolers from diverse and underserved backgrounds. She understands their struggles, regardless if they are academic, financial, social or emotional. But she also understands that SCOPE can change their lives.

“Being a counselor means helping and aiding others to break down walls,” she said. “It means providing support and encouragement much like I was given. My sole purpose as a counselor is to give back.”

“When someone paves the way for you and opens doors, you don’t close those doors behind you,” Lowman said. “Instead, you continue their work, paving the way, knocking down walls, building escalators and elevators so that others have access to what you once did not.”

By Jessica Buterbaugh (July 2016)