Penn State Abington students help Philadelphia's disadvantaged youth

In north Philadelphia, Penn State Abington students are participating in a program in which they work one-on-one with high school dropouts who have basic literacy issues.

“It isn’t easy,” said Lisa Morris, Penn State Abington senior instructor in administration of justice, who coordinates the program. “The Abington students are dealing with a challenging population--mostly from poor neighborhoods, broken families and weak school systems. They have responsibility and maturity issues, too.”

Part of the Pennsylvania Literacy Corps (PALC)--a partnership between higher education institutions and adult basic literacy agencies statewide--the program is designed to train college students to help young adults earn their GEDs so that they can go on to get jobs, and possibly even a college education. The Literacy Corps has been in existence for about a decade and is managed at Penn State by Sheila Sherow at the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy.

Morris has been coordinating the program with Penn State Abington students for about four years--training her students to be tutors, who then work with the clients for more than 40 total hours during the semester. The tutors also take the clients on a tour of Penn State Abington’s campus.

Morris, who examines the status of education among young adults and how education helps them succeed in the future, estimates that if the national high school dropout rate was reduced by 50 percent, it would save the economy $45 billion annually. She said that high school dropouts are more than three times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested in their lifetime. Nearly half of all Philadelphia public school students drop out of high school and do not graduate.

Maria Thuy, director of the Philadelphia E3 Center (stands for Empowerment, Education and Employment), where Penn State Abington students go to work with the clients, said that one-on-one tutoring is very important. “Many of these young adults are very low-level. They do not do well in a classroom setting because they are self-conscious.” Thuy added that the tour of the campus is “eye-opening." "These young adults are not familiar with a college environment.”

Morris says that in the end everyone benefits. “The clients go on to get their GED, and student tutors gain real-world, transferable, life skills. It’s a positive outcome all around.”

This article is from the fall issue of Penn State Outreach magazine. To view this and other stories, go to online.