Impact Philly Projects

Provide empathy driven authentic learning experiences for at risk teens.

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My colleague, Mary Ruskey, and I have posed a challenge to our students at Mercy Vocational High School( North Philadelphia, PA). They were given the question, "How might we impact our Philadelphia comunity in a positive way?"

Using the guidance of Michael Glatts, who co-facilitated our Design Thinking workshop, we helped our students create their Impact Projects. In these projects we decided to use the elements of design thinking meshed with a traditional project based learning approach.

Our students chose to impact the homeless population, Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, and FairTrade initiative as their causes. They have connected with community resources/organizations, including representatives from homeless shelters, CHOP, FairTrade USA, higher education service coordinator/ work study students, and professors/local experts in the field.

A vital component of the Impact Projects has been our connection to Philadelphia University's work study program. The Philly U students have helped our MVHS students to ideate, create prototypes, and evaluate their solutions. They have also acted as role models and have provided information/ advice regarding the college experience.

The Impact Projects have given our students experience in technology integration, critical thinking skills, collaboration, and empathy. We have seen our students who are 93% at risk, improve in many facets including writing skills, basic and logical math skills, and communication skills. We have also seen an increase in assignment completion and accountability. 

These skills will not only prepare them for the next step in their educational ladder, but prepare them for careers in which innovation and the ability to connect and collaborate will be necessary.

When asked about the project, several students agreed that they are not doing work to get good grades. They are doing the work because they know they are making a difference.

This incredible exerience makes me wonder if more schools were able to connect the community to the classroom and the classroom to the cause, what the effects would be on both secondary and higher education.

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

Empathy driven projects make students more accountable. #connect to the cause


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Photo of Lori Corcoran

Dan Ryder We are trying to sort that out. Philly University has an incredible Service Coordinator, Louise McShane. She has been generous enough to share her network of community partners. Mary and I are trying to connect with other higher education institutions. Our Philly U work ready students are incredible spokespersons for the school.  For some of our students, this interaction and the visits to and from Philly U, may be the only exposure to college that they will have.

Photo of Dan Ryder

I imagine it's quite a challenging task.  And at least your students are having a high quality experience as it is.  

What are some of the key barriers you're facing in that effort to find colleges/universities that emphasize service and learning over GPAs?

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