On a crisp late summer morning, more than a hundred of WePAC volunteers gathered in a church gym in West Philadelphia for the organization’s annual Volunteer Kick-Off event.
It was an opportunity to re-connect with past colleagues while being introduced to new ones. All 12 of our WePAC schools were represented: Anderson, Blankenburg, Cassidy, Cook-Wissahickon, Gompers, Heston, Lea, McMichael, Longstreth, Powel and Rhoads…and it was announced that the group is making plans to open its 13th library in January.
In addition to new plans and new people, new faces and responsibilities within WePAC were introduced.
The morning started with the new Executive Director, David Brown (David@Wepac.org), greeting all of the volunteers in the parking lot as they arrived (some lost but all energized for the morning). Then the program got underway with a familiar face, Mica Navarro Lopez (Mica@Wepac.org), – who had previously directed the Library Program but is now WePAC’s Deputy Executive Director. Mica, in turn, introduced Keith Richardson as the new Board President of WePAC. Keith — who grew up in West Philadelphia and spends his days as a Managing Director for the Philadelphia Housing Authority — offered his welcome and vision for a WePAC that continues to serve our school children in deeper and more enriching ways.
David then returned and formally introduced the staff which included Morgan Rogers Burns (Morgan@Wepac.org, who previously served as WePAC’s Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator and is now the organization’s External Relations Manager); Kyla Jones (Kyla@Wepac.org), who is new to the organization and will be serving as Literacy Program Coordinator for WePAC’s “Library Buddies” program; and Sarah Joseph (Sarah@Wepac.org), who was previously the Literacy Coordinator and will now be leading the library program as the Library Program Manager.
The highlight of the kickoff was the keynote presentation by Dr. Gerald Campano — Associate Professor and Chair of the Reading/Writing/Literacy Division at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Dr. Campano (Gerry) has previously worked as a full-time classroom teacher in Texas, Puerto Rico, and California, and with adult English Language Learners in Philadelphia. He has been committed to creating opportunities for students to mobilize their identities and rich cultural resources in the literacy curriculum. His current project is a now five-year research partnership with a multiethnic, multilingual Catholic parish in South Philadelphia and its school and community center.
Gerry shared his insights with the volunteers and staff around honoring the cultural contexts from which our school children are formed. He share his tips for “challenging deficit ideologies” and viewing all students as “cosmopolitan intellectuals” – whether they come from around the corner or around the world. Here are his tips:
- Create a cosmopolitan curriculum
- Allow students to make canonical literature their own (relating the classics to their own experiences)
- Learn from and provide space for students’ story-telling traditions
- Share one’s own stories
- Be mindful that stories are told in social and political contexts
- Resist the normal curve and foster empathy
The morning concluded with each team planning their year and sharing their ideas.
Here’s to a great year!