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"Having people help us is very important"

Donegan Elementary School principal Sonia Vasquez (right) introduces her students to Lehigh President Alice P. Gast.

Lehigh has launched a second community school partnership in South Bethlehem, this time with Donegan Elementary School.

The partnership, led by Lehigh’s Center for Developing Urban Educational Leaders (CDUEL), is an effort to expand opportunities for students in urban schools by removing barriers to learning and creating “one stop shopping” for students and families. CDUEL is directed by George White, Iacocca Professor of Educational Leadership.

“Having people help our school is very important. Just look at me,” William Torres, a Donegan Elementary student, said during a recent celebration at the school.

Torres said he was struggling in math and reading, but is doing better—a credit to community school programs like Reading Rocks, in which Lehigh student-athletes tutor students in reading.

Donegan Elementary, located a few blocks east of campus and part of the Bethlehem Area School District, is the second of Lehigh’s community schools. Two years ago, Lehigh launched a partnership with Broughal Middle School.

The university has hired community school coordinators at both Donegan and Broughal, and it offers various academic programs and mental health counseling services.

An investment in the future

“There is really nothing more important to our future and to our success, than our children,” said Lehigh President Alice P. Gast. “Lehigh University is committed to serving our community and our nation through effective collaborations in support of our neighborhood schools.

“We believe that the community school model, first at Broughal and now Donegan, provides tangible improvement in the educational opportunities for the children and families of our community.”

Lehigh’s programs recently received national attention in a feature article published in The Atlantic about the success of community schools.

The magazine said Lehigh undergraduates had helped demonstrate that air pollution could be contributing to high rates of asthma among Broughal students. Following the Lehigh students’ study, the article said, “the city joined forces with community partners to repurpose an old railroad line into a safer path to school. It’s lined with trees, ends half a block away from Broughal’s front doors and, if those hand-held monitors are to be believed, contains significantly cleaner air.”

Donegan Elementary is the tenth area school to form a Community School Partnership with the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. United Way’s Community Partners for Student Success (COMPASS) partnership links schools with their communities to provide resources and support to public education in the Lehigh Valley.

Another partner is FamilyWize Community Service Partnership Inc., which helps reduce the cost of medicine for people who live and work in the Lehigh Valley.

Jack Silva ’10G, assistant superintendent and chief academic officer for the Bethlehem Area School District, said the district is “proud to have a strong tradition of family support and community engagement. Working together with FamilyWize, Lehigh’s CDUEL, and United Way’s COMPASS Community School, I’m confident that Donegan students will make great strides in academics and in life.”


Photos by Christa Neu

Story by Sally Gilotti

Posted on Wednesday, October 24, 2012

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