Guest Post: Engaging at Penn Outside of IEDP

Hello IEDP blog readers! I’m excited to share with you today about my experience being involved with programs outside of IEDP. At Penn, one of my main commitments outside of class is working with the Penn Reading Initiative (PRI). You may be wondering if and how IEDP students get involved in things outside of the IED program or outside of the Graduate School of Education; there are so many opportunities to get involved in whatever you’re interested in!

Even before arriving at Penn, I started getting emails from the IED program faculty and staff with lots of different opportunities for graduate assistantships (which are basically part-time jobs, often through university departments or centers). I saw the position to be a graduate coordinator for PRI, applied, did a Skype interview in the spring, and got started in August when I arrived on campus.

PRI is a literacy tutoring program that recruits undergraduate and graduate students at Penn and trains and supports them as one-on-one literacy tutors working with students in a nearby West Philly elementary school. We’re part of the Netter Center, Penn’s main center for community partnerships; they have lots of great programs that work in partnership with local public schools on everything from science to reading to philosophy and health. This year PRI has about 50 tutors who work with 60 students; most of our tutors are undergrads, but some of my fellow IEDPers are also tutors! We have six IEDP tutors this year, which has been really fun to have that shared experience- and have so many tutors who bring their expertise as teachers to their tutoring!

At the first tutor training in fall 2018, tutors (including several IEDPers!) worked in groups using a small set of materials to try and build the tallest tower that could hold a penny as part of a cohort-building activity.

I applied to work with PRI because I thought it would be a great opportunity to interact with students (I miss working with kids!), get a sense of the Philadelphia public school system (I’m new to Philly this year), and learn more about how Penn engages with the broader Philly community. Also, as a literacy teacher in upper elementary grades, I spent a year learning about phonics-based, systematic reading instruction in order to support students who struggled with decoding; PRI uses a research-based reading curriculum that was super exciting to me, and I wanted to see what that looked like in action.

How does this fit in with IEDP? As someone who is interested in working on educational development programs, PRI provides a lot of opportunities to think about and apply some of the monitoring and evaluation and program/project management skills we’ve talked about in our classes. I’ve used Monitoring & Evaluation ideas and topics from our IEDP Proseminar to create some materials and set some goals for PRI. Additionally, working with students and teachers is always a great reminder of how important it is to focus on what’s best for students and how things actually work for students and teachers in classrooms, not just on paper. It can be easy to get immersed in the readings and projects for classes, but I really enjoy the time I spend tutoring, at the school, and with passionate Penn student tutors.

In a course on Monitoring and Evaluation, my group used PRI to practice logic models!

I’m sure you will get a million emails about things to get involved in at Penn, so I definitely recommend that you choose something(s) you’re really excited about. There are also lots of classes with experiential and project-based learning components where you get to work in local NGOs, schools, businesses, etc. for a semester, so you can try different things. IEDP staff and faculty will send a ton of emails with positions (and volunteer opportunities) for graduate students, specifically GSE students. Our wonderful IEDP Graduate Assistants also organize many awesome volunteering opportunities for the cohort during the year! (And if you’re interested specifically in PRI or the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, feel free to check out the websites.)

Penn really has a ton of resources and ways for students to get involved outside of classes which is not something I really had thought much about before I enrolled; however, PRI has been a wonderful part of my Penn experience and I’d highly recommend to new students to get involved (work or volunteer) in, but also outside of IEDP and take advantage of the many opportunities Penn offers.

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