Abington education majors explore diverse literature for future classrooms

Abington diversity grant

Penn State Abington education major Eman Metwaly browses through books at Harriett's Bookshop in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Credit: Regina Broscius

ABINGTON, Pa. — A $5,000 grant supported visits by Penn State Abington elementary and early childhood education (EECE) majors to three independent bookstores in Philadelphia that center their collections around traditionally marginalized populations. The experience reinforced understanding why literature representing diverse identities and viewpoints is important to the communities they serve and addressing social issues when planning lessons and activities. 

The seniors who participated in the experience are enrolled in a required course with a social justice component.  

“Kids are figuring out who they are already, so having these books in the classroom is important. The books reflect where the stores are located, and the neighborhoods are reflective of children who come into the stores,” student Tiffani Loughrey said. 

Students received gift cards for each store totaling $165 to purchase books for their future classrooms. The gift cards are a boon for these aspiring teachers, since 39% of the Abington student population receives federal Pell Grants awarded to those with exceptional need and 72% receive financial aid. The gift cards ease the burden of financing classroom libraries.  

“I want to be there to help and support students, and these books will help me do that. The books I bought are celebrating differences and that’s a good thing,” student Molly Carney said. 

Teri Dodaro, assistant teaching professor in the EECE program, reminded students of the value of choosing good material for their classrooms.  

“You will then be able to find places in your curriculum where you can fit the books you purchased,” she said.  

The group toured two well-known Black-owned shops, Harriett’s and Uncle Bobbie’s, and Giovanni’s Room, which focuses on LGBTQ+ and feminist literature. These retailers reflect the diversity of Philadelphia, home to many Abington students, and of the Abington student body, which is the most diverse among the Penn State campuses.  

In addition, Abington EECE majors complete their student teaching assignments in the School District of Philadelphia. 

The choice to visit these specific retailers was especially significant since books addressing race, racism, gender identity and sexual orientation have been banned or challenged at especially high rates in the past year. 

“We are preparing our students to become advocates for the freedom to seek and read books that represent diverse perspectives,” Katie Odhner, reference and instruction librarian at Abington, said.

The experience, which Abington library and EECE faculty plan to embed into future courses, was funded by a Seeding Change grant from the Penn State Center Philadelphia.  

“Promoting the use of diverse books among future educators is a model that exposes students to Philadelphia assets and experiences that allow them to consider systemic problems deeply and the required work to shift them. These unique bookstores are vital community institutions that offer sanctuary and inspiration to mobilize knowledge for change,” said Shivaani A. Selvaraj, director of the Penn State Center Philadelphia. 

Faculty including Christina Riehman-Murphy, open and affordable educational resources librarian, and Rachael Brown, who chairs the EECE program, encouraged students in a post-visit debrief to think deeply about the experience. 

“You are planting the seeds for your career today. Always remember to use your critical lens when selecting literature,” Brown said.

This experience ties directly into the campus strategic plan’s goals of advancing diversity, equity and inclusion; enhancing global engagement and Philadelphia-area connections; and creating and expanding experiential learning opportunities for students that amplify their academic experience and career outcomes. 

About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 24 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.