Student Profiles

Alex Epstein '14

Mentor:
Eva Monheim
Title of Project:
Engaging the Disengaged: A Journey through Critical Learning, and Re-Imagination of Our Education System

For my Honors Scholar Project, I worked with three staff mentors to conduct an interdisciplinary study on alternative, project-based education. The goals of the project were three fold:

  • To craft a literary critique of our modern day public educational system, focusing on the disparities between low income, inner-city public schools and their more affluent and well resourced specialized and/or suburban counterparts
  • To conduct a series of case studies to examine various models of effective, project-based, alternative education (particularly those who utilize agriculture as a tool for engagement and empowerment for students in an urban setting)
  • To create an interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum of my own

Throughout my years at Temple I have visited many local public schools. And over this past semester I drew from a variety of literary sources to craft a critique of the public school system. What I found was astonishing. Half of all public high school students in the United State's fifty largest cities fail to graduate. Only 53 percent of public high school students in these cities graduate after four years, while the national average is 78 percent. In addition, there remains a large racial achievement gap between black and Latino students who graduate at rates of only 62.7% and 68.1% respectfully, compared to 79.6% and 81.1% for their white and Asian counterparts (EPE Research Center 2013). Recent data also shows that over 8,300 students drop out of High School every day, that 60% of the black students that drop out end up in prison at some point in their lives, and that 75% of US crimes are committed by high school drop outs (Education Week, Children Trends Database).

I then conducted case studies of 7 models of alternative education across the US including: Community Schools, Youth Build, Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, the Eatable School Yard, Growing Power Inc, Urban Tilth, and  Our School At Blair Grocery. These programs have each developed a unique, and alternative methodology to educate the populations that they serve that engage them in critical analysis, real world initiatives, and project based learning.

Lastly, I adapted and applied elements of these case studies to craft my own interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum. Over the course of the semester, I worked closely with the Philadelphia Urban Creators (PUC), a local non-profit organization that I was a part of founding in 2010, to facilitate this curriculum for groups of students from 2 local schools, 2 adjucated youth programs, and a re-entry program for ex-offenders.  None of these programs ran as long as the curriculum is designed for, but I was able to adjust and utilize core elements of the curriculum to engage participants from these programs in at least the fundamental trainings.

So far I have received great feedback from these programs, and am excited to continue building this curriculum over the next several years and work with PUC to implement it with programs and schools throughout Philadelphia.