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Second Annual Philadelphia Urban Seminar Draws Large Contingent of Penn State Education Majors

Article about the 2008 Philadelphia Urban Seminar

by Dan Thompson (July 2008)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Education majors from Penn State were among more than 450 future teachers from colleges and universities across Pennsylvania who gathered in mid-May for a two-week urban classroom field experience

For the second year, Penn State participated in the Philadelphia Urban Seminar, sending elementary and secondary education undergraduates into Philadelphia public schools to get a close-up look at the issues that make urban teaching challenging and rewarding. 

Word-of-mouth advertising from last summer’s contingent of nineteen Penn State students reflected the popularity of the event, resulting in an enrollment spike this year—thirty-nine Penn State students attended the summer 2008 event.

Under the direction of Larry Vold, faculty member at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the program has grown to include teacher education programs outside the State System of Higher Education It now includes West Liberty State College in West Virginia, as well as numerous private colleges in Pennsylvania.

Penn State faculty member Dan Thompson, along with College of Education graduate students David Fuentes, Curt Porter, and Corey Simmons, served as discussion leaders, counselors, tour guides, and drivers. Seminar students are housed in La Salle University dormitories and driven to schools throughout much of the School District of Philadelphia. Late afternoons and evenings on campus provided opportunities to debrief students on what they were seeing in classrooms. Side trips to places such as the National Constitution Center and the Philadelphia Museum of Art rounded out the experience of not just teaching, but living in the city.

A critical part of the experience was a Saturday community service day. The seminar students cleaned up the Beacons Hill Park and neighborhood, painted murals, and planted flowers. In the afternoon they planned games and activities for local kids at the park. The service day exposed the seminar students to neighborhood life that is far different from most of their personal experiences.

The powerful impact of the seminar on both the future teachers and the Philadelphia students was evident, as described by seminar student Lauren Lubas. “Coming into this experience, I was under the naive impression that students in an urban setting did not hold the desire to learn or to be part of a school community,” said Lubas. “But after a few short days, I got to know many of the children in a way I did not think I would. The children did want to learn, and they looked up to me because I was a student at the college level. Once I sat down and took a little time to work one-on-one with them, the children swarmed me, begging me to read their paper or help them with their math problems.

“I thought that I would leave this experience with no interest in working in a Philadelphia school,” continued Lubas. “Instead, I left with a desire to help these children even more. The stereotype that inner-city school children do not want to learn is a ridiculous one, and I am ashamed that I believed it. But over those short two weeks, the amazing children in my room changed my outlook on all inner-city children, and I will never forget what they have shown me.”