A Look at Education, Advocacy and Service in Philadelphia with Patience Lehrman

Posted by PHENND on August 24, 2014

Interview conducted by Tanae Lockman and Liz Shriver

Ms. Lehrman is the Special Assistant to the Dean for Strategic Partnerships and Community Affairs at the Temple University College of Education. She works with faculty to identify professional development and community engagement opportunities, secure new internship sites with community-based organizations, strengthen the College’s institutional reputation and provide support to neighborhood schools and families through education and resources. Formerly the National Director at Project SHINE at Temple University, Ms. Lehrman also holds a U.S. Presidential Civilian Medal of Honor from the Obama Administration.

Tanae Lockman, our summer Philadelphia Youth Network Intern, and I spoke with Ms. Lehrman about her vision for service and education in the United States. We were both extremely moved by her ideas, goals, inspiration and passion for her work. Ms. Lehrman recently joined the K-16 Partnerships Advisory Board.

You can follow Ms. Lehrman on Twitter: @PatienceLehrman

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQmqSJriWdpnI_rV71TYegA

Q: What inspires you in your position in the Temple College of Education?

A: Throughout my career I have been a believer in the transformative power of service! I have had many experiences that have led to this particular position but I have been most inspired by my work with Philadelphia schools, students and community members.

I believe that as humans, we are innately endowed with a service mentality (Service IQ) and we need to activate this intelligence as we engage in everyday life. A service IQ is a paradigm that leads one to believe in people, affirm their worth and potential, and think in terms of our interconnectedness.

Having a high Service IQ determines how you interact with others, approach issues in your community and in the world. If you have a high service IQ, you do not see service as simply something to do in your free time, or when you retire; but rather as a way of life. For example, when I go to work every morning, it is not just for the salary, I go for the love of changing someone’s life. To me that is service. Service can be used as a strategy to solve the social challenges we encounter in this world. When you serve, you connect with a person in need and more fundamentally, you connect with your true nature. Every human being you serve is another opportunity for growth and connection. I have served many populations from youth to the elderly through mentoring and providing support and guidance. It is much harder to hate someone when you genuinely serve them as an extension of yourself. We all have a choice, to spend our lives pursuing what Vanity Fair has to offer i.e. chasing power and ostensible pleasures OR embrace servant hood, service and contribution to others and society.

Q: Do you have a particular experience that inspired you to work in education and specifically in creating collaborative community partnerships?

A: Over two years ago, I reached out to Bartram High School after learning about the tension between African immigrants and African Americans in that school and in the surrounding community. As an African immigrant working in public education in Philadelphia, I felt an obligation to do something to help in this situation.

At that time, the police department was holding community hearings to discuss violence and other issues happening at Bartram and in the surrounding neighborhood. However, at these hearing, very few African immigrants were attending. After going to the hearings myself, I decided to reach out to the African community leaders and help the organizers of the hearings create a space that was more welcoming to African immigrants.

I went to churches and spoke with local leaders and I was able to bring information back to the police organizing these community hearings about how to best approach these communities. After listening and assessing the issues facing the community and the school, I reached out to two elected officials from that district: Hon. Ronald Waters and Council Woman Jannie Blackwell who encouraged me to reach out to the School Principal and Guidance Counselors.

With the permission of the principal and in partnership with the guidance counselors, we set up open meetings for any student to attend that would allow them to speak about their perspective on the conflicts happening in the school and the neighborhood.  We titled these sessions “Peace Circles.”  We created a structure, time and location for the meetings each week and as word got out, the meetings grew. Our goal was to change the climate in Bartram starting with the students and I wanted to ensure that the students at Bartram High School were heard!

We wanted to understand students’ outlook on “the other,” whether they identified as African or African American. What we noticed the most is that when students were able to change their attitudes about their peers, they also changed their behaviors. While those meetings were happening there was a drop in violence at Bartram.

My ultimate goal was to show students that they can grow and learn new ways of interacting with each other and that they have a lot of academic potential. We helped students focus on what they could do well and look forward to (grades, classes, and graduation) that would give them a better outcome in life. Through this experience I learned how important service really was. When I engage in service, I experience the many levels of impact it can have: at a personal level, at a community level and at a global level. If we can consciously activate our Service IQ, we can truly transform the world.

Q: What vision do you have for your work at Temple University College of Education?

A: As the Special Assistant to the Dean, my role has three core pillars:

  • Expand Temple’s footprint in terms of community engagement and help shift the paradigm from training teachers to preparing community-dedicated educators
  • Strengthen the College’s Institutional reputation by promoting college access and completion through partnerships with Higher Education, Civil society and Corporate partners
  • Facilitate a  more inclusive agenda that focuses on how we are working with our neighborhood schools to improve the lives of children and families through educational resources

For example, I am creating an advisory committee of neighborhood residents, education faculty and staff to think through how we are supporting K-12 institutions surrounding Temple and what we could do to better mobilize the resources at the University. We would like to engage with this community in a mutually beneficial way. As a higher education institution we are generators of knowledge and we place our students in many schools. Therefore, it is vital to engage with the community as an equal partner. I want community members to be able to see the College of Education as a resource to them and collaborate with us as a viable entity that helps us achieve our mutual goals. Right now, many community members see Temple as a “senior partner” and the community is seen as a “junior partner I want to engage with the community leaders to co-create a plan that allows our resources to further their mission.

I think Temple University wants to have a more coordinated approach to serving our local schools and community. The question now is, faced with our own budget cuts, how do we organize ourselves to embrace that challenge? If this change starts in the College of Education and spreads to the rest of the university, that’s great. Personally, I love what I do and the people I work with and I’m grateful to have the ability to continue with my vision of service.

This fall, Temple College of Education will host a regional symposium titled: Inspire. Incite. Innovate – a signature event to promote College Access and Completion for low income and underprepared students. This gathering will bring together educational experts, policy makers, advocates, school administrators, civic leaders, parents and students to rethink college access and completion and collaborate on methods of inspiring change beyond high school into post-secondary institutions and ensuring that the right supports are in place for underprepared students in our region.

Register here: http://education.temple.edu/inspire

Quality education is not a privilege, it is a human right and this right has been denied for too long for many of our children. It is time to give them back that right and work as a society to make sure that we give the next generation the tools they deserve to lead tomorrow’s society. If America has any hope as a society to continue to be a beacon of light around the world, we need to fulfill our promises to young people.

Q:  What would you need from the K-16 community to enact your vision?

A:  I would like to work with partners who can re-vision what education means and the continuum of education past K-12. In a world where we are constantly connected via the internet, a child in a remote village like the one I grew up in West-Africa can connect to the same knowledge as a first world child. Those “remote” young people can transform the world just as fast.

We have an opportunity to re-think the role that educators can play in our increasingly interconnected world. Access to knowledge is not only for a few. This requires us to look at how we coordinate our learning environments. We need to provide professional development to teachers that will help them create an energetic and compelling learning environment. We need to allow students to see how they affect their community and the world. This access to new knowledge requires us to think about learning in regards to the outward impact it can have. Teachers who are able to help students tie knowledge to purpose and principles will be the teachers that society really needs.

We want students to ask, “What is it about my community that I am interested in and passionate about, and how can I make a difference?” As a student, I may be most passionate about something that affects me closely like cyber bullying. I may want to go out and educate the community about the impact this phenomenon has on the community, I may want to do a research project about my topic of interest, organize public hearings, publish a white paper and outreach to the community. Structuring the learning environment around core issues that interest and impact the students and society will have a lasting effect on the learning experience, the community and the skills that the problem-solving skills of the students.

We need to support a forum for learning that can have meaningful impact on the world. This changes the role of the teacher. The teacher is a facilitator of service-learning. We have to provide a reason for both teachers and students to adopt these new methods of education. The classroom design of 20-30 students and one teacher is eroding. Our schools are still fashioned after that traditional model. This is both a huge problem and a great opportunity for educators. At Temple University College of Education, under the dynamic leadership of the new Dean, Dr. Anderson, we are committed to preparing community-dedicated educators who understand and honor the role community plays in the lives of children.

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