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Penn State Beaver helps low-income youth DARE2XL|
By Celena E. Kusch
| Among Pennsylvania school districts, the City of Aliquippa ranks second highest in the percentage of school-age children living in poverty. According to the latest Pennsylvania State Data Center statistics, this Beaver County district has a 43.2 percent child poverty rate in K12 schools, nearly three times the statewide total of 15.7 percent.|
With such high levels of poverty, many Aliquippa children face greater risks of depression, drug and alcohol use and low scholastic achievement, but an award-winning partnership between Penn State Beaver, the Housing Authority of Beaver County and TAME Inc. helps students overcome those risks and go on to develop excellent academic performance.
The program, called DARE2XL, was designed by TAME Inc., and Penn State implemented and coordinates the after-school program in the community. DARE2XL provides comprehensive prevention, intervention and treatment activities designed to have a positive impact on the public housing communities of Linmar Terrace, Griffith Heights and Linmar Terrace Extension of the City of Aliquippa. Dr. Donald E. Sheffield, director of Diversity Outreach Programs, assistant to the associate vice president for Outreach and Cooperative Extension and affiliate professor of education at Penn State Beaver, developed and directs the program.
Carl DeChellis, executive director of the Housing Authority of Beaver County, praised the impact of the program on the Aliquippa community.
The DARE2XL after-school program is the keystone of our drug prevention and intervention activities with the youth of our development, DeChellis said. The DARE2XL program provides a positive learning environment where students can complete homework assignments, study, learn and interact with teachers and college students each day after school. Dr. Sheffield has effectively put Penn State in the backyard of our residents.
DARE2XL, which stands for Dream, Aspire, Reach and Excel, provides first- through eighth-grade children in low-income housing with a motivational environment for learning study skills, preventing problem behaviors and developing self-esteem. The program is based on an excellence-conditioning model, where students learn how to perform well and consistently, not simply to achieve a one-time goal. The focus is on academic excellence, replacing high-risk behaviors outside of the schools with high performance in them.
There is a culture associated with excellence, Sheffield explained. By that I mean that excellence is something people can be socialized to do, something that people can learn. My outreach efforts are focused in trying to get everyone parents, teachers and students to practice high performance and to show children what can happen when they do their best.
Sheffield drew the distinction between performance and achievement, comparing students to automobiles in which performance is miles per gallon and achievement is simply miles traveled, no matter how much fuel it takes. For example, a common achievement-based lesson asks students to read some pages and answer questions. That assignment can quickly turn to a low-performance activity if students skip the reading and only do enough to answer the questions satisfactorily. The result, he said, is that many students are still bad readers when they graduate.
The data on entering freshmen show that students arent ending up with the best practices to continue to learn and excel, Sheffield noted. I study what makes some schools high-performance schools and others low-performance schools. My research aims to identify which practices in schools lead to low performance.
In the DARE2XL program, local youth interact with teachers, professionals and Penn State Beaver education and sociology undergraduates trained in good study practices and high-performance techniques. According to Sheffield, this supervision of their study encourages them to do their best and helps them to learn in effective ways.
The involvement of education majors through Sheffields Early Field Experience course (C&I 295) has benefited both the children and their Penn State tutors. The children enjoy a small ratio of staff to students, allowing for individualized academic help, as well as a supportive, mentoring relationship between the students and future teachers. At the same time, Penn State students who are learning to be teachers gain a multicultural field experience with school children and their families in preparation for the diverse classrooms they will enter when they graduate. Nearly one-third of the districts students are African American.
With the undergraduates, I am most pleased that they gain valuable field experience with diversity, Sheffield commented. They work with students who are often very different from themselves and learn how to get the most from young people who dont have many resources of their own. As the students go on to become teachers, this experience will go a long way to address the wider problems of differences in class, race and culture and to help schools to do a better job with issues of diversity. The education majors in DARE2XL have a chance to see what they will have to master and how much of a task it is to handle just a few students. After the program, most affirm that teaching is what they need to be doing with their lives.
Penn State graduate Nicole Francalancla credits her experiences as a DARE2XL learning assistant for her current success as a teacher in the Aliquippa School District. She said the program helped her to become more interested in how children learn and in how to learn with them. I have brought many aspects of the DARE2XL program into my program and my classroom at school.
In the future, the project plans to expand to other schools in the Pittsburgh area through collaborations with other colleges and universities. California State University has shown particular interest in attracting its education undergraduates to serve in an after-school program for the Phillip Murray School.
I hope to help many more schools become high-performance schools and to see more universities getting involved in outreach initiatives that can help with issues of diversity in the schools, Sheffield added.
The positive outcomes for students in the program have attracted attention nationwide. Last year, DARE2XL won a Best Practices Award from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition, Penn State Continuing Education honored Sheffield with a Creativity and Innovation Award.
Funding agencies have also recognized the value of this program through their continued support of the project. External sponsors have included the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Community Development Block Grant Program for Beaver County, Heinz Endowment Grant, Heinz Endowment Trust and the Beaver County Educational Trust.