Luke Schrum | staff writer
Since its founding, Duquesne has made a tradition of serving students and the community through projects designed to encourage collaboration between both. In support of this tradition, the School of Education is embarking on the Project Hope initiative. The initiative focuses on emphasizing the importance of an equitable education for all, while also broadening the experiential work students in the School of Education are offered.
On Saturday, Feb. 8, the School of Education hosted an event to launch the project where details describing the vision and opportunity for student involvement were shared. Darius Prier, associate dean for teacher education in the School of Education, explained the importance of the project and Duquesne’s involvement with it.
“This project gets to the heart of who Duquesne is. We have a spiritual mandate to serve who the Bible describes as the ‘least of these.’ Duquesne started as a school for poor, immigrant families. Our mission is rooted in serving the underserved,” Prier said.
Project Hope has a multifaceted plan to improve the learning environments of homeless children and young adults in Pittsburgh and eventually the communities current Duquesne education students will serve in after graduation.
“The first [part of the initiative] focuses on preparing our School of Education students and educational leaders to be sensitized to unaccompanied youth and the foster care system,” Prier said. “Our students will soon be going out into the world as educators and need to be aware of the barriers these students face and how to support them.”
Demonstrating the urgent need for educational resources to be devoted to homeless students, the Pennsylvania Department of Education reports that more than 3,500 children throughout Allegheny County are homeless.
Prier co-founded the Project Hope initiative with Joe Lagana, chair of Dean Cindy Walker Ringel’s Community Advisory Board for the School of Education. The two realized the need for resources in Pittsburgh to serve the population of homeless youth and young adults.
Understanding the dynamic needs of those the program is aiming to assist is important as it works to bridge the gap in quality of education that students from differing backgrounds receive. The initiative will be working closely with shelters and schools in the area to adapt to the changing needs of the community.
“Project Hope will be an ongoing collaboration between the School of Education, homeless shelters and local schoolteachers,” Prier said. “The shelters provide a lot of great insight – they know these kids best.”
Learning environments vary widely depending on the funding available to schools and the resources they are able to provide to students. In order to prepare future teachers and educational leaders, all students in the School of Education have opportunities to both observe classrooms and teach lessons in schools of varying sizes, funding and populations.
Improving educational resources available for homeless youth and young adults in Pittsburgh is the primary goal of the initiative and will be achieved with the support of current education students. Firsthand experiences aim to demonstrate the importance of adapting to situations in and out of the classroom to support students.
Sophomore secondary math education major Steven Loebig describes the importance of observations and student teaching on his experience so far.
“Observations give us a great chance to think of ideas for how we’ll approach teaching in the classroom. I think having the opportunity to be involved with Project Hope will improve my teaching style as a student-teacher and eventually once I have my own classroom,” Loebig said.
The second side to the Project Hope initiative will begin in fall of 2020. Governor Tom Wolf’s Fostering Independence Through Education Act which will put a tuition and fee waiver for postsecondary education in place for foster care youth 16 or older.
“Fall 2020 is quickly approaching, so we need to raise awareness of the act to attract applicants and help prepare Duquesne’s student support services to eventually welcome these students to campus,” Prier said.