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Service learning community teams up with high school

By Erin Weaver
On May 2, 2012

  • Villanova Men's basketball Head Coach Jay Wright swings to knock out cancer at the 12th annual American Cancer Society Coaches vs. Cancer Jim Maloney Golf Classic. Philadelphia area coaches raised over $100,000 at the event. Courtesy of American Cancer Society


This year, University students and members of the Service Learning Community participated in a program that paired students with Germantown High School seniors. The seniors were in need of extra help on Saturdays to complete their senior projects, which are necessary for graduation. University students went from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Saturday morning as part of Germantown's Saturday School program. 

For their final project, Germantown seniors had to research a potential future career, write a paper and explore one problem in their chosen career field. Seniors also had to do community service relevant to the career they chose. The senior projects are intended to get students thinking about their futures beyond high school.

Siobhan Cooney, a sophomore member of SLC, was one of the students, along with other graduate and undergraduate students, spent her Saturday mornings with the Germantown high school seniors. Between four and five students made the weekly trip to the high school. 

Cooney worked with a student named Lawrence, who was researching a career as a lawyer and the issue of recusal

Every week, Cooney and Lawrence worked together to research the topic and write the paper. Cooney reports that both she and Lawrence benefitted from the experience. 

"Lawrence wants to attend college in the fall and to do that he needed to finish his project," Cooney says. "I feel I was able to help steer him to the correct path with his project, and I also helped him learn some work ethic skills that will be helpful in college." 

As for Cooney, she says she learned more about the problems of the public school system, especially in Philadelphia. 

There is a serious lack of funding and support for most public schools, resulting in poor education for the students. 

"Not to say that what I learned is applicable to every public school, but there are many schools which are not receiving enough funding and support," Cooney says. "The level of education was much lower than what I would have expected from high school students." 

Initially, Cooney's interest in helping with Germantown was largely due to her availability. 

"I originally chose this because it is what fit in my schedule," she says. "But I continued it because I grew to enjoy working with Lawrence on Saturdays, and I started to look forward to it."

After consistently attending Germantown on Saturdays, Cooney wanted to volunteer again. 

The opportunity to help students plan their future and face the daunting tasks ahead of them-such as law school for Lawrence-quickly became its own reward for Cooney. 

"My favorite part of the experience was getting to know someone new and being able to help them reach their goals," Cooney says. 

But beyond helping a student reach their goals, Cooney also appreciated the interaction that was formed on a personal level. 

"We created new relationships and you learn something from every relationship," she says. 

While helping Lawrence throughout the semester, Cooney formed a friendship with the senior, adding another dimension to her service experience. 

The relationship made her more invested in Lawrence's project and his success. 

The Saturday school program at Germantown runs entirely on a volunteer basis. 

Cooney noted that not a lot of teachers would volunteer their time to help the students, despite the need for extra support. 

"We were there to help out those students who needed it the most," Cooney says.

The extra three hours of attention and support for the students helped them improve their papers and conduct research in an effective manner. 

Cooney also acknowledged that receiving help from a college student gave the Germantown seniors a chance to learn from someone closer to their own age. 

"This was a great opportunity for the high school students to get some help from people they can more easily relate to, rather than their teachers," Cooney says. 

Peer tutoring allowed the students to relax and not feel as much pressure as they would if they were working one-on-one with a teacher for three hours every Saturday. 

 "I hope that Germantown can restart Saturday school and that University students will still participate in it," Cooney says.

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