Need in Deed Teachers and West Chester University Students Bring Student Voice to Life
Back in the winter of 2011, a very energetic West Chester University professor named Hannah Ashley approached some members of the Need in Deed staff about a new minor she was bringing to the school. The program would be called “Youth Empowerment and Urban Studies” (YES), and it would offer West Chester students an opportunity to study the role youth can play in creating social change. Dr. Ashley approached Need in Deed because she knew of our work and its emphasis on student voice. She wanted the second required course in the minor to partner West Chester students with organizations that encourage young people to make change in their community, and she thought Need in Deed would be a perfect fit.
Need in Deed had been looking for a way to formally partner with a higher education institution that would be meaningful for Need in Deed teachers and students. The YES program at West Chester would allow university students to see what authentic student voice looks like in the context of a Need in Deed service-learning project. In turn, Need in Deed teachers would receive additional support as they implement the My Voice process in their classrooms. We enthusiastically said “Yes!” to Dr. Ashley’s offer.
Two years into the partnership, Need in Deed and West Chester University’s relationship is a thriving one. For the 2013-2014 school year, ten YES students have been placed with five Need in Deed classes. In pairs, they work with their assigned teachers and students on various aspects of the service-learning project. They have been instrumental in helping break down the causes and effects of project issues, finding community partners, and even teaching lessons they created themselves.
Need in Deed teachers find the West Chester students’ impact to be profound. One of our most experienced teachers said: “The [West Chester] students have brought such positive energy into the classroom. Having them work with me before, during, and after the lesson has been fun and rewarding. I am thoroughly impressed by the preparation and maturity they bring to the classroom.”
West Chester University students are equally enthusiastic. YES student Kimberly Rohrer says, “Need in Deed not only empowers youth, but also empowers teachers in Philadelphia who are passionate about youth-led change. The goal of the youth work we are engaging in ultimately seeks to have youth continue to let their voices be heard.”
It is our hope that the partnership between Need in Deed and West Chester University will continue to grow. Our partnership serves as a reminder that by working together, we can honor student’s voices and work towards meaningful change in our schools.