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Two Penn professors have started collaborating for an interdisciplinary study that will examine the educational well-being of impoverished children.

Social policy professor Dennis Culhane and human relations professor John Fantuzzo will be researching the educational welfare of children in assisted-housing programs, housing subsidies given to low-income families.

The study will look at three factors in children: academic achievement, education attainment and behavioral adjustment.

The professors will then compare their findings to a group of children who are not participating in assisted housing. The pair has received a $1.275 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation and will conduct their study in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Michigan and Washington.

Fantuzzo has studied child maltreatment and family violence, while Culhane has focused on homelessness and assisted-housing policies. The two are co-directors of Intelligence for Social Policy, an initiative whose objective is to generate dialogue across federal departments — such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Education — to consider the value of interdepartmental research across states.

“We started a dialogue between HUD and DED and MacArthur got excited and wanted to fund it,” Fantuzzo said. “We are generating other interdepartmental collaborations.”

The two professors will study the supportive environmental and social contexts to children’s development, while taking into account stability and quality of their homes, neighborhoods and schools.

Individual student educational outcomes will be based on state Adequate Yearly Progress measures that are required by the No Child Left Behind Act, which would include state standardized test results, dropout rates, attendance rates and disciplinary measures.

Another aim of the project is to design the study so that it may be replicated in every state and municipality by using publicly monitored data.

Penn students, who are unaffiliated with the study and but participate in community service programs for impoverished youth in West Philadelphia, have encountered the academic and behavioral trends outlined in the study.

Lee Marcus, College junior and a site coordinator of Community School Student Partnerships at Penn, said the most important factors contributing to student achievement are strong relationships between student and teacher.

According to Marcus, violence, misbehavior and a high drop-out rate among students is caused by an “unjust opportunity structure, underfunded social institutions … a low-resource district, dilapidated school buildings [and] scripted curricula.”

Sarah Rubin, College senior and president of the student board for Big Brothers Big Sisters, believes that students benefit from having someone who is “focused on them and interested in all the little details like favorite bands, sports teams and school subjects. College student mentors also serve as a real-life example of what you can do when you work hard in school and value learning.”

Rubin feels that the average Penn student can help out in a small way.

“You might not be able to solve every problem for every child, but you can easily make a huge difference in the life of a few children by serving as a mentor and volunteering in local schools,” she said.

College junior and CSSP Site Coordinator Allyson Even agreed.

“A lot of the students I work with have internalized the structural and systemic oppression they face every day,” she said. “When students are treated like criminals — with metal detectors and police in their school — they are going to become criminals.”

“Every student has the potential to succeed if given the resources and support network,” she added.

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