A new University-run community learning center aims to increase the tech savvy of families in the Bronx while helping students further their educations.
The 21st Century Community Learning Center, which is operated by the RETC—Center for Professional Development, began offering technology classes and more in September.
The center was established through a $2.4 million grant from the New York State Department of Education written by Steven D’Agustino, Ph.D., and Theresa Lupo of the RETC. It allows middle and high school students to recover school credits while training their parents and other area adults in technology skills needed in the workforce. The program for students takes place during or after school, three times a week, for nine-week cycles.
“This major multi-year grant, one of the largest the University has received this year, reaffirms Fordham’s commitment to providing relevant educational services to our neighborhood schools and our city,” said Ron Jacobson, Ph.D., associate vice president of academic affairs.
Jacobson, who works in a supervisory and cooperative role with RETC, believes the residual value of the grant is immeasurable.
“It is more than about students doing the work that will allow them to catch up and graduate on time,” he said. “It is not hyperbole to say that this program is also about a commitment to caring, hope and the future quality of life for the individual participants and the community. I am very proud of the RETC for moving in this important direction.”
The program prepares middle and high school students to retake state-mandated Regents examinations that they previously failed. It also helps them earn credits for failed math, English and social studies courses. Credits are recovered using software from PLATO Learning, an Illinois-based firm that specializes in educational learning products.
The software is aligned with New York State Standards and allows students to complete lessons, take tests and then move to the next level at their own pace.
“It’s novel. It’s different. It’s self-paced. It’s interactive,” said D’Agustino, director for the East Fordham Road-based RETC. “It’s helping kids that, in some cases, are over-aged and under-credited. If I’m 17 and my classmates are 14, then it’s very difficult for me to feel positive about my education.
“It is my hope that Fordham University, through this new project, will become recognized as a significant resource for technology access in the Bronx,” he added.
Leah Tillman, Ph.D., the interim project director for the learning center, knows a thing or two about the struggle some students face when trying to recover failed credits the traditional way. Tillman has 30 years of experience as a teacher, assistant principal and principal in the Bronx.
“If you fail a class, you just get it again in the same way. Some students will not learn that way and may be tempted to drop out of school,” Tillman said. “The schools are hungry to have some kind of success for these youngsters.”
The PLATO software and the 21st Century Learning Center is a new option that provides hope for these students, Tillman said.
“It’s a good model,” Tillman said. “It gives them support for when they get discouraged. They’ll not only be recovering credits or preparing for the Regents exams, but they’ll be learning skills that can be used in the workforce.”
As to how other community members will be helped, the center offers basic technology courses at no cost for adults.
“We’re giving first preference for the parents of our students, but other adults will also be able to participate,” Tillman said.
High school students began credit recovery and Regents exam preparation on Sept. 22. They met with teachers from the New York City Department of Education who will serve as part-time teachers at the RETC and Fordham students who will serve as tutors.
Johanna Sanchez, 19, a junior at Fordham’s College of Business Administration (CBA) is a finance and accounting major who wanted to get involved as a volunteer.
“I’m really good at math, so I figured, why not help?” Sanchez said.
“CBA has been instrumental in supplying student mentors to provide encouragement and academic support. Twenty student mentors from CBA are currently volunteering in the project” noted Lupo, professional development specialist at RETC.
Barbara Porco, Ph.D. the academic advisor for the Integrated Learning Community, and Brian Dunn, the Director of Honors Opportunities, have been working with RETC to publicize the community service opportunities offered by the new program and the response from CBA students has been enthusiastic.
“We are proud of the large number of students from the Integrated Learning Community who have volunteered to serve in this important project.” Porco said.