A new initiative in Duquesne University's School of Education will advocate for equity
and justice in education for homeless youth and young adults.
"Project Hope" focuses on developing learning environments in which underrepresented, under-resourced students can have access to equitable education.
The project was co-founded by Dr. Darius Prier, associate dean for teacher education in the School of Education, and Joe Lagana, chair of Dean Dr. Cindy Walker Ringel's Community Advisory Board for the School of Education. Lagana founded the Homeless Children's Education Fund (HCEF) and has dedicated his life to serving the homeless youth population in Pittsburgh.
"There are really two sides to this initiative. The first focuses on preparing our School of Education students and educational leaders to be sensitized to unaccompanied youth and the foster care system," Prier said. "Our students will soon be going out into the world as educators and need to be aware of the barriers these students face and how to support them."
Prier, referencing the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said more than 3,500 children in all 43 districts in Allegheny County are homeless. According to the National Center for Homeless Education, children experiencing homelessness are two times more likely to have learning disabilities and are four times more likely to experience delayed development in comparison to their non-homeless peers.
As a leader in teacher education, Duquesne's School of Education will adapt its curriculum to create an interdisciplinary learning hub where faculty and educational practitioners in local schools can identify and address educational inequities. Undergraduate students will have opportunities for community-based field placements, including in homeless shelters.
"Project Hope will be an ongoing collaboration between the School of Education, homeless shelters and local school teachers," Prier explained. "The shelters provide a lot of great insight-they know these kids best."
The second side to the initiative will support Gov. Tom Wolf's Fostering Independence Through Education Act, which enacts a tuition and fee waiver for postsecondary education opportunities at colleges and universities in Pennsylvania for foster care youth who are 16 or older, including those who have "aged out" of the foster care system. The tuition waiver will be available beginning fall 2020.
"Fall 2020 is quickly approaching, so we need to raise awareness of the Act to attract applicants and help prepare Duquesne's student support services to eventually welcome these students to campus," Prier said.
On Saturday, Feb. 8, the School of Education will host an event to launch Project Hope. Faculty, staff and students will learn about the vision for the project and how they can collaborate.
"This project gets to the heart of who Duquesne is," Prier said. "We have a spiritual mandate to serve who the Bible describes as the 'least of these.' Duquesne started as a school for poor, immigrant families. Our mission is rooted in serving the underserved."