Democratic Partnerships to Improve Universities and Communities

Posted by Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities on April 26, 2022

An Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania, teamed up with an inner city school in its neighborhood. Together, they’re transforming kids’ lives.

Every morning, as students enter the doors at Robeson High School in Philadelphia, Principal Richard Gordon is there to greet them with a hug, a handshake or a dap. Sometimes it’s a handshake and a one-handed bro hug for the male students at the school. And when addressing the school over the PA, he refers to the students and faculty as “family.”

This humanistic, compassionate approach to education is how Robeson was able to transform itself from one of the worst-performing schools in the city to one of the best — and this approach may be the key to closing the education gap more broadly.

“We actually have to listen to the kids, give them a voice in the building, let them know we care about them, let them know how much we love them, and let them know we’re developing activities that align with their interests,” Gordon says.

Community schools close the education gap

Robeson’s education philosophy, known as community schooling, treats a school not just a place for students to take classes but as a hub for the entire community.

The hope is that by tending to the mental, physical, intellectual and emotional development of everyone in the community, a school can improve public health and create more connected, resilient, better educated humans — students and adults alike.

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