Cabrini opens Norristown student learning center

By Sarah Duffy
October 14, 2004

Cabrini College is developing a new approach to Service Learning with the opening of the Cabrini Classroom at Norristown; located on Church street in Norristown the center hopes to be a hub for current service projects and projects to come by Nov. 1.

Coordinator of Service Learning Resources, David Chiles, hopes this concentrated focus on the Norristown area will strengthen the relationships between the college and this struggling community. Community service work, which was previously spread across areas of Philadelphia and Chester, will now be centralized within this one community for a more efficient use of Cabrini’s energies.

This office, which has come to be known as Cabrini Classroom at Norristown, hopes to obtain funding to further community outreach and research capabilities. This site provides opportunities for students to learn through professional means in a real-world environment, and provides an opportunity to go beyond basic skills learned in the classroom setting.

Following the colleges core values, in terms of an “Education of the Heart,” this new indicatives hopes to teach a better understanding of what those concepts initial, by providing students with the opportunities to make a difference and showcase their skills.

Seminar 300 is doing community outreach in six of the Norristown area service locations. ACLAMO ESL, is a program that works with immigrant children who are trying to integrate into the public school system. Hancock Elementary School, 21st Century Learning and the Literacy Council of Norristown are other programs students are working with in the Norristown community.

Project-Based Learning is being worked into the curriculum for Communications Majors taking Convergence. The media project is working with the Norristown Hospitality Center, a daytime shelter for the homeless, to create a multi-media package consisting of video, audio and literary documentary, providing students with professional skills in a client-based setting, according to the classes professor, Hal Halbert.

Social Work Majors are working with family services, mental health and children’s aid of Norristown, while science education majors are developing an after school curriculum for 21st Century Learning, to prepare students for 2006 state standards testing. All of these projects will be based at the Cabrini Classroom at Norristown.

“We’ve worked with Cabrini before, but never on a consistent basis, we are truly grateful for all the help they will bring.” Paulette Whitekettle, a volunteer for Norristown Ministries said.

This collaborative relationship with the city of Norristown is in its infancy, yet already students are putting their education to the test. As these programs develop Cabrini’s impact on the city will provide measurable results, and priceless effects on students understanding of social justice.

Norristown is located just 15 minutes away, just across the river. Once the consumer capitol of the wealthiest county in the state, Montgomery County, the city now harbors a population where 18 percent are living below the poverty level.

The city is dominated by government jobs, since the fall of its consumer economy in the early 90s. It is the home of Montgomery County Municipalities, Montgomery County Hospital, and Norristown State Hospital, the largest mental health facility in the state, which has been forced to shut down over half of it’s facilities due to funding, and is unable to sufficiently house large numbers of the states mental health patients.

An average per-capita income of $17,000 sits well below that of Radnor Townships $40,000 per-capita income. Crime rates have created strict curfew laws for Norristown youth effective this week, and the Township estimates 750 homeless live in the community. Yet, Norristown provides a tremendous amount of cultural richness. 10 percent of the population is Hispanic, showing the high density of immigrants into the community. Undocumented immigrant who resides is Norristown, Gustavo Anonymous, testified that that the Hispanic population of Norristown is way above 10 percent, showing the underground societies developing.

“I come to Norristown, to be with people like me.” Gustavo said, “You go somewhere no one is like you, you feel funny.”

The communities need in great, and provides facilities in which Cabrini students can see the results of their involvement. Norristown has amazing potential to become a fully integrated and developed community and Cabrini hopes to be an integral part of that development.

Posted to the Web by Lori Iannella

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Sarah Duffy

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