Student bringing adult education opportunities to West Philly
Mark Harding is developing classes for adults at Lea Elementary School
October 16, 2013, 5:47 pm · Updated October 16, 2013, 8:33 pm·
For Engineering junior Mark Harding, receiving financial aid is not just about what it does for him, but what it allows him to do for others.
Harding has a passion for extending educational opportunities to the people of West Philadelphia and has been involved with the local community since he arrived at Penn.
One way he does this is through the Community School Student Partnerships (CSSP), where he has a work-study job as a school day coordinator at Comegys Elementary School. This summer, he was a Penn Program for Public Service intern, which required that he take an urban studies class with Ira Harkavy, director of the Netter Center. He also taught a fourth grade summer camp at Comegys as part of the course.
Throughout the course, he and a classmate, College sophomore Gina Dukes, worked on a project that focused on the lack of adult education in school communities served by Penn. The two students wrote a proposal to bring after-hours adult education to Lea Elementary School. Their proposal won the Civic Development Internship award and the Netter Center is currently paying for them to fulfill and carry out the project.
Harding was chosen to travel to Washington, D.C. this summer to share the impact of financial aid on his community service opportunities and career goals with congressional staffers.
“We chose to highlight community service, Federal Work Study and Penn’s use of aid for students in the spirit and vision of the Penn Compact,” Michelle Brown-Nevers, associate vice president of the Office of Student Registration and Financial Services, said.
According to Brown-Nevers, Penn’s community service engagement through work-study exceeds the federal requirement of 7 percent. Harding estimated that 22 percent of work-study funds goes to community service jobs.
Brown-Nevers noted that using work funds for community service jobs was “productive” for both Penn and the community.
“If I didn’t take this job, I probably wouldn’t be doing any of what I’ve explained. I’m able to get financial support and help out the community,” Harding said. “I’m getting more bang for the government’s buck: They’re paying for my school and helping the community with one dollar.”
In D.C., Harding talked with staffers about his background. He explained to them how his work-study job in community service completely changed his views on what he wanted to with his life.
“After we told our stories,” Harding said, “you could see the reaction of not only the staffers, but the people who took us … it was exactly what the representatives needed to hear.”
Harding is currently working on implementing his summer proposal to promote adult education. Inspired by educational reformer John Dewey, he and partner Dukes are working on making the school a “social hub of learning” — not just for students, but for their parents as well.
But the project faces setbacks with the troubled Philadelphia school system. Lea Elementary, the previously proposed site for the project is undergoing several changes as it merges with Wilson elementary. Several projects at Lea — including Harding’s — have been put on hold.
Harding, however, is determined to provide West Philadelphia residents with education that they deserve and has re-strategized his proposal.
Harding is currently reaching out and talking with faculty to bring the Clemente Course in the Humanities, an educational institution that teaches humanities at the college level to people living in economic distress, to Philadelphia for the first time.
“We ultimately want to make it an academically based community service class so that students and people of the community can learn together,” Harding said.