College of Arts and Sciences senior Dana Twyman established a program that helps local teenagers find jobs with SU Food Services.
Preparing to Reform Urban Education
Growing up in southwest Philadelphia, Dana Twyman ’01 knew her schools lacked resources. But it wasn’t until she began attending SU that she discovered just how much she had missed. “Coming to college, I didn’t feel prepared,” she says. “I didn’t have the writing or analytical skills I felt I needed.”|
Twyman, a policy studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences with a minor in education studies, was disheartened because her high school was a charter school for college preparation. “We were supposed to be the best writers,” she says. “The teachers were great, but we had limited resources. During my junior and senior years many of the schools were in danger of being closed down because there wasn’t enough money to keep them open. We didn’t have a lot of things we needed.”
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs professor William Coplin, director of the public affairs program in the College of Arts and Sciences, says Twyman didn’t take her work seriously when she first arrived on the Hill. “She’s very intelligent,” he says. “But her high school was not very strong, and she didn’t have many challenges there. She didn’t know how much work would be needed here.”
With Coplin’s guidance and with mentoring by Michelle Walker, director of community service programs in the public affairs program, Twyman became a serious, goal-oriented student. “I plan on going into urban education reform once I graduate,” she says. “There’s always some reform effort going on in different school districts. I think it’s going to take people who understand urban communities, and who are committed to educating the cities’ youth, to make positive changes. That’s my motivation. Education is essential to being successful. I want to see more people from the inner cities have an opportunity to get a quality education.”
Twyman plans to spend time teaching before pursuing a master’s degree in public administration. “If I want to be an effective policy maker for the educational system, I have to understand the issues,” she says. “I need to know what’s going on in the classroom.”
To that end, she spent last spring teaching at the SU-affiliated High School for Leadership and Public Service in New York City (see “Partners in Learning). She and other student teachers taught public policy to 12th-graders. “We also worked with ninth-graders who were reading and writing below grade level,” she says. “We had a series of courses designed to help improve their skills.” After graduation, she plans to join Teach For America, a nationwide program that places new teachers in under-resourced inner-city and rural schools.
Her ideas for reform include redefining the meaning of a good education. “Not everybody is going to score high on the SATs and get into good colleges,” Twyman says. “Not everybody wants that. We need to teach students skills they can actually use. With technology advancing and the world changing, education is staying the same. As the world changes, education needs to change.”
Twyman took action in the local community by creating a program through Coplin’s community problem-solving class. “We looked at how to better prepare kids for jobs, regardless of whether they went to college,” Coplin says. “She came up with a brilliant idea: Why couldn’t we go down to the housing projects, find teenagers who either had dropped out or were still in high school, and get them jobs with Food Services on campus?” Twyman recruited teenagers from nearby Wilson Park, had a Food Services manager speak to the group, then helped them with the application process. “The program didn’t take much effort to start. It was a matter of finding the right people to contact,” Twyman says. “It gets students in the area involved with the University, and helps SU stay involved with the community.”
Coplin says Twyman’s problem-solving abilities and concern for the community will serve her well, no matter where her career path leads. “She’s overcome a mediocre high school education,” he says. “She has great potential, and she now realizes this. I could see her running Housing and Urban Development one day.”