How can schools engage young people in work that not only advances their education but also the quality of life in their communities?
The answer in West Philadelphia is the "university-assisted community school," an effort to link area public schools with the University of Pennsylvania's (Penn) resources and technical expertise. The linkage is provided by the West Philadelphia Improvement Corps (WEPIC), which helps schools provide year-round daycare, health care, social services, and educational and recreational activities for neighborhood residents of all ages.
At Turner Middle School, where WEPIC has been active the longest, the university provides a much-needed commodity: the energy and expertise of trained adults.
University students and teachers from more than forty WEPIC community-action classes at Penn work with Turner's teachers. Their focus is on health, a priority identified in a neighborhood survey. In one project, seventh graders are trained to teach elementary school students how to improve their diets. Work like this "is fun," says seventh grader Mikail Aswald, "but I also learned that it feels good to help my neighborhood."