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PEPP Staff Members Making a Difference for Teens Across Pennsylvania

Staff members of PEPP, the Penn State Educational Partnership Program

by Joe Savrock (November 2007)

Hort_Workshop_MS_Day.png There is a small handful of College of Education staff members scattered among three small offices across Pennsylvania who are having a profound, life-changing effect on thousands of young people.

The staff of the Penn State Educational Partnership Program (PEPP) are successfully helping at-risk teens focus on their educational potential. Darrell Thomas, Anne Jones, Jeannetta Thomas, Guadalupe Kasper, Jackie Confalone, and Alan Brown comprise a strong web of resources that blends well, even though they work from three separate offices spread across hundreds of miles.

An outreach of the College of Education, PEPP is an early-intervention collaboration between Penn State and a growing number of Pennsylvania school districts. Since 1989, PEPP has been helping at-risk students realize their educational potential. Students in grades 5–12 take part in extracurricular activities that expose them to college life and career opportunities. The PEPP Academy and PEPP Institute are among the signature after-school tutoring/mentoring programs.

Darrell Thomas, director of the overall PEPP operation, helped establish the program 18 years ago. “I believed in 1989, as I do now, that if we provide assistance to the students, then we have chance at reaching the teachers, administrators, and parents,” he said. “Hence, PEPP Academy was established and implemented in McKeesport middle schools in January of 1990. We decided that the continuum at the high school level was the next logical step, so we established PEPP Institute at the McKeesport Area High School in the Fall of 1990 and PEPP Academy at one middle school in Reading. Then we opened PEPP Academy at schools around Philadelphia in 1991.”

“Many of the children we serve have the potential to extend their education beyond high school, but they may not be focused on the academic pathway,” said Darrell. “We help students acquire skills and positive attitudes that enable them to eventually go on to college.”

Thomas, DarrellBW.png Darrell oversees the three PEPP offices—in McKeesport, Reading, and Philadelphia—from his home base at the Penn State–Greater Allegheny campus, located in McKeesport. PEPP–McKeesport works closely with four schools in McKeesport Area School District. He notes that a fourth PEPP unit, located at Penn State–Behrend, operates autonomously from the broader PEPP program.

Working from three separate offices, the partnership’s administrative and managerial staff provide direction, commitment, and guidance to those involved with the statewide PEPP effort. They help supervise teachers who serve as site supervisors in the schools as well as Penn State students who are serving as PEPP learning assistants (PLAs).

“You get attached to your students and you love to hear about what’s new in their lives and the good grades they received in their classes,” said Katherine McFarland , a Penn State–Greater Allegheny student who works as a PLA. “There are times when you can come to PEPP very down in the dumps, and just seeing their shining faces with the desire to learn can bring a smile to your face.”

PEPP–McKeesport

 

Jeannetta Thomas is PEPP’s educational diversity specialist. She is quite familiar with Darrell’s office style as well as his personality: the two are married and have five children.

The Thomas children all have participated in PEPP activities while growing up. “Actually, when they were younger, our children served as test subjects for many of the program activities that the Partnership operates today,” quipped Darrell. “Jeannetta and I thought that if it works at home, it is likely to work at PEPP.” Many of those ideas and practices are still in place today.

Jones_sml.jpgAnne Jones is Darrell’s program assistant, both for the McKeesport program and for the statewide PEPP operation. Anne and her husband have three grown children, two of whom are graduates of Penn State.

Anne has been with PEPP since the program’s inception, after starting her work with Penn State in 1980. She helps with the operational and budgetary phases of the partnership program. She also manages, implements and organizes the PEPP budgets for all PEPP locations for the PEPP director.

Anne also is the Pennsylvania Student Education Association (PSEA) advisor for Penn State–Greater Allegheny campus students and serves on the campus’ Safety Committee, the Woman's Commission, the Campus Planning Committee, and the McKeesport Campus Staff Association.

“I’m frequently asked why the program here is still called PEPP–McKeesport, and not PEPP–Greater Allegheny,” said Anne. “The answer is that the three PEPP areas are named after the school districts where the after-school programming takes place. Since at this campus we are involved with McKeesport Area School District, we are PEPP–McKeesport. This keeps the old die-hard McKeesporters happy, too.”

A complicating factor in the PEPP naming system, she says, is that “The old Penn State–McKeesport campus is now Penn State–Greater Allegheny, not Greater Valley as almost everyone was calling it at first. Of course, Greater Valley is at the other end of the state.”

PEPP–Reading

 

PEPP–Reading, located at Penn State–Berks, works with four middle schools and the high school in Reading School District. Activities include field trips, summer residential programming, academic competitions, and guest speakers.

kasper.jpgGuadalupe Kasper signed on as program manager of the PEPP–Reading chapter in January 2005. Many people in the College of Education will recognize her previous name, Guadalupe Rivera. She and her husband Brandon were married in August. Guadalupe teaches Anthropology at Penn State–Berks. “I enjoy being around our students in whatever capacity,” she said. “I think they are amazing people.”

In her three years with PEPP, Guadalupe has greatly expanded the program’s presence in the region. When she first arrived, there were only a handful of PLAs and several dozen high school students involved. Now PEPP–Reading consists of more than 60 PLAs and over 150 students in five schools.

Guadalupe’s strong leadership is reflected in her work with the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs (GACLA).  Last year, Gov. Ed Rendell reappointed her to a second term with GACLA. The committee makes recommendations to the governor and assists Latino communities in developing strategies and programs within the Commonwealth. “I know first-hand that there are many issues facing the Latino population in terms of education,” said Guadalupe. “I’ve always been a strong advocate for policy changes to make quality education more accessible for our underrepresented youth.”

With GACLA, Guadalupe has helped plan two Latino Educational Summits that produced education policy papers for the governor’s administration, co-founded a Latina Women’s group that now holds an annual fundraiser for Latino Higher Education Scholarships, and has advocated for the local immigrant population.

conafalone_jackie.png “This work has been extremely fulfilling,” added Guadalupe. “It offers me so many opportunities to voice the needs of all our students directly to the sources that can make a legislative difference in education.”

The new kid on the PEPP block is staff assistant Jackie Confalone, who started with the program at Penn State–Berks in August. “I have really enjoyed my first few months with PEPP–Reading and Penn State–Berks,” she said. “Everyone at PEPP, at all the locations, has treated me like family. It's great to be a part of a program that has such a positive effect on young people's lives.”

Prior to arriving at PEPP, Jackie worked for the Governor Mifflin School District in Shillington, Pa. She and her husband, Gary, have been married for 27 years. “We have lived in the same home for 24 of those years,” she noted.  Their daughter, Nicole, is 21 and is a senior at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Their son, Peter, is 18 and enrolled at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa. “After getting past the initial sadness of not having any children in our home, Gary and I are beginning to enjoy the empty nest and our time with each other more each day,” says Jackie.

 

PEPP–Philadelphia

 

In 1995, PEPP expanded into Philadelphia and collaborated with William Penn School District beginning in 1998–99. “We have operated at a number of schools from elementary to the high school level,” said Darrell. “We are presently in two high schools and two elementary schools, one at each level in both Philadelphia and William Penn.”

PEPP-Philadelphia presently operates at four school locations. Honors students from several area high schools provide academic assistance—including St. Joseph’s Prep School, Upper Darby, and Overbrook High School—as well as university students enrolled at Penn State–Abington.

When Elmore Hunter retired last year as program manager at PEPP–Philadelphia, staff member Alan Brown stepped in to run the office. He still serves as the acting program manager, and is doing a solid job.

It’s no surprise that Alan knows how to effectively manage an office. He worked primarily in the financial and public service fields for more than 30 years before joining Penn State. Over the years he has served on a wide range of private and governmental boards, helping influence social policies in the areas of housing, public spending, education and crime prevention.

Alan is a board member of Praxis Institute and St. John’s Community Services. A native Philadelphian, Alan holds a bachelors degree in philosophy from St. Pius College, New York.

The PEPP staff at all three locations represent a vast wealth of knowledge, many years of outreach experience, and an overall passion for the empowerment of Pennsylvania youth. Darrell acknowledged that, “One of my greatest benefits as PEPP director is the opportunity to work with all these members of the PEPP team, who exhibit an unswerving commitment to our PEPP youth.”

“Everyone—from Guadalupe, Anne, Jeannetta, Alan, and our newest staff member Jackie—to the site supervisors at each school building, and the many Penn State students from Greater Allegheny, Berks, Delco, and Abington Campuses—they all work in harmony to make a difference in the lives of our fellow man and future leaders,” said Darrell. “Thus, as the Partnership was recognized in the last campaign for Penn State, I am proud that these unselfish individuals and co-workers are the fabric that allows PEPP to be a part of Penn State’s Making Life Better purpose.”