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Despite the nasty ads and palpable tension in this year’s presidential campaign, across the political spectrum there is one thing almost everyone in America agrees upon: the importance of a quality education.

At the Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama urged “in the United States of America, no child should have her dreams deferred because of a crowded classroom or a crumbling school.”

At the Republican convention, Mitt Romney imagined “An America where every … child will get an education that leads to a good job and a bright horizon.”

As student leaders of tutoring and mentoring service groups, we believe in that America and we believe the fight for educational equity begins right here in West Philadelphia. We have witnessed the challenges our students face and we stand in solidarity with them. We believe their dreams must not be allowed to “dry up “like a raisin in the sun.”“:

Unfortunately, all too often, those dreams are deferred. Only 8 percent of low-income students graduate from college. In Philadelphia, Latino and black students have scored 20 percentage points lower than their white counterparts on Pennsylvania’s standardized tests for the past 10 years.

While students struggle and lose hope all over Philadelphia, we, Penn students, attend classes at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, just a few blocks from their schools. If you want to know what educational inequality looks like, look around — you are living in it.

As Penn students, you will graduate in a few years’ time with a world of opportunities available to you. You have worked hard for the chance to obtain a degree at an institution like Penn, but you also were given opportunities.

We believe it is our responsibility to help contribute to creating those opportunities for others. In the words of Michelle Obama, “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity … you do not slam it shut behind you. … You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

This is why we tutor. This is why we mentor. Penn President Amy Gutmann calls our university the Civic Ivy and civically engaged student groups like Community School Student Partnerships, West Philadelphia Tutoring Project and PennPals rely on the critical thinking, brilliance and leadership of Penn students to fight this fight for social justice.

Like both political parties, we understand that improving the lives of children here will benefit the entire country in the future. We invite you to join our fight, our movement. For a little time every week or a lot, with kindergartners or adolescents.

Every Penn student is capable of contributing no matter what your background, major or schedule; there are options that will work for you.

As Penn students who work with disadvantaged schools and communities in West Philadelphia, we believe in our students, all of whom never cease to amaze us. With you, we believe that one day, they can win equal access to a quality education.

Lee Marcus
College senior, CSSP Director

James Sadler
College senior, PennPals Director

Isabella Rolla
Wharton junior, PennPals Director

Allyson Even
College senior, WPTP Chair

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