For more than 20 years, the Netter Center for Community Partnerships has worked with local public schools to provide Philadelphia’s youth with resources and services ranging from after-school activities to college coaching. Now, its renowned university-assisted community school model is on the move — to Tulsa, Okla., and beyond.
Netter Center staff have worked with Tulsa’s Higher Education Forum, which consists of nine colleges and universities in the area, over the last three years to structure their high school partnerships and access programs. Additionally, Netter Center Director Ira Harkavy and Associate Director Joann Weeks have helped organize conferences in Tulsa to provide training on Penn’s approach to community partnerships and to develop a sharing and learning community between Penn and the Tulsa schools.
Through a gift from Barbara and Edward Netter — who provided the Netter Center’s endowment specifically for the purpose of expanding its work nationwide — Penn provided the University of Oklahoma at Tulsa with a $50,000 grant each year to implement the programming. “It was the Netters’ idea from the start,” Harkavy said. “They wanted to illustrate the cost effectiveness and positive impacts of the Center’s work on children, families and communities … and felt that now is the time to adapt and replicate.”
Harkavy, who is also a Penn professor and chairman of the Coalition for Community Schools, has written and spoken extensively about university-community partnerships, bringing the Netter Center to the forefront of the national trend toward the integration of civic service with higher education.
The success of the training conferences prompted the Tulsa School District to adopt the university-assisted community school model as its major strategy for high school reform, Weeks said.
“We could not have anticipated that kind of support and recognition for the model,” she added. In November, Weeks will assist with a regional training conference in Indiana to help Indiana University and Purdue University at Indianapolis — chosen through a competitive selection process — to connect with high schools in the area.
Although the Netter Center’s projects have expanded to the national and global level, its focus remains on strengthening Penn’s ties to Philadelphia schools. “It all starts here — you can’t have a program adapted unless you get results where you’re starting it,” Harkavy said.
One of the Netter Center’s partners is the Philadelphia Youth Network, an intermediary organization that facilitates collaboration and fund distribution among urban education and workforce development initiatives. Together, the organizations connect young people in Philadelphia to various opportunities for career and college preparedness.
According to Darren Spielman, vice president of Workforce Development for the Philadelphia Youth Network, the Netter Center’s affiliation with the University “helps [Philadelphia youth] access the talent of Penn kids without spending a lot of money on staff.”
The Netter Center also integrates service into course curriculum through Academically Based Community Service courses and provides Penn students with volunteering opportunities throughout West Philadelphia.
“Our faculty’s work is focused on the problems the community cares about,” Harkavy said. “Penn undergraduates work to simultaneously make a difference in the community and develop their citizenship skills — and the students in the public schools are working on the same thing.”
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