Penn’s Local Commitment

Public Education

Several schools and centers at Penn engage with the School District of Philadelphia to improve public education for the children of West Philadelphia. The Netter Center for Community Partnerships, the Graduate School of Education and the Provost’s Center have taken leading roles in this endeavor.

The Netter Center

Established in 1992, the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships has helped make Penn a national model for university-community partnerships. Nine of Penn’s schools have worked collaboratively with the Netter Center over the last decade to design a curriculum known as Academically Based Community Service (ABCS). In 2008-2009, more than 1,500 Penn students chose from 59 ABCS courses developed specifically to provide help to local elementary, middle and high schools as well as to community organizations. These courses take students from campus into neighborhood classrooms.

Netter Center for Community Partnerships

14 West Philadelphia Public Schools
59 ABCS courses
2,000 Students from 8 Penn Schools
4,000 Public School students
50,000 Hours of service

The hallmark of the Netter Center model of community service has been the development of university-assisted community schools, where Penn students and faculty provide instruction, support and partnership to local schools by educating, empowering, and serving all members of the community in which the school is located. At the same time, by working with community members to create and sustain university-assisted community schools, Penn advances its teaching, research, and service missions and the civic development of its students. Last year alone, the Netter Center involved more than 230 student volunteers and 175 work-study students in service to more than 4,000 youth and their families. Nearly 2,000 Penn students and faculty performed more than 50,000 hours of service, and the Center was credited with visible improvements in academic performance, attendance and student and parental involvement at the community schools.

Penn Alexander

bookIn 1998, Penn, the School District of Philadelphia, and the Federation of Teachers agreed to create a state-of-the art university-assisted neighborhood primary school in West Philadelphia. The result became the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School (Penn Alexander). Located on the edge of Penn’s West Philadelphia campus, the school boasts a culturally diverse student body, academic excellence in literacy, math and science as well as a unique system that blends the best educational methods with programs that meet neighborhood needs.

Since opening its doors in 2001, the school’s population has grown to 550 students from West Philadelphia, enrolled in grades Pre-K through 8. All the students benefit from the direct involvement of Penn faculty and students in curriculum development, classroom instruction and the creation of professional development courses and workshops for staff. Students and faculty from Penn’s Graduate School of Education are integrally involved in the life of the Penn Alexander School, as are students from the general Penn community who serve as student teachers, interns, tutors, leaders of after-school clubs and pen pals. Additionally, Penn provides the school with an annual contribution per student and is responsible for ongoing development efforts to support the school’s success. The investment has been fruitful, with Penn Alexander being commended as a “gold standard” by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities for using the most effective, research-proven educational practices in its classrooms.

Because of the remarkable achievements made at Penn Alexander, the University has been selected as one of several outside management partners to assist the city’s School Reform Commission in reviving struggling and low-performing public schools in Philadelphia. By providing professional development and managerial assistance, the Graduate School of Education also has been instrumental in making improvements in student achievement at Lea Elementary School and Wilson Elementary School, both now identified as Penn Partnership schools. The School District of Philadelphia recently announced that the test scores of the students at Penn Alexander have made it the #1 elementary school in the District for academic excellence.

School of Engineering and Applied Science

tutorIncreasing access to technology through local and global outreach initiatives has been one of the ways that the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) has fulfilled its mission to foster greater interest among students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Through collaborations with neighboring communities, students, faculty and staff bring engineering and technology concepts to life, both inside and outside of the classroom. The Penn Engineering Outreach Project for Livelihood and Education (PEOPLE) strives to raise awareness of engineering as a possible career path for students in greater Philadelphia. SEAS students work directly with Penn engineering faculty and staff to create interactive presentations about engineering for students in elementary, middle and high schools.

Provost’s Summer Mentorship Program

The Provost’s Summer Mentorship Program, a partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, immerses local high school students in a true, on-campus college experience. A four-week summer program follows specialized, school-based curricula and hands-on activities, developed and led by faculty, administrators, and staff across Penn’s schools. The summer program introduces students to higher education, potential fields of study, and new career opportunities. Throughout the following academic year, Penn staff provide additional follow-up opportunities for students to apply and extend the summer learning experience, including SAT preparation courses, college essay practice, and other academic and interpersonal activities. The Provost’s Summer Mentorship Program seeks to enhance students’ high school experiences and position them for admission to the colleges and universities of their choice.

Vice Provost for University Life’s Equity and Access Programs

laptopThrough a series of integrated programs and partnerships, the Vice Provost for University Life’s (VPUL) Equity and Access Programs nurture the academic aspirations of hundreds of local community members each year, from middle school through graduate study. Youth-based programs such as Talent Search, Upward Bound, and Upward Bound Math Science help to guide promising local middle and high school students toward college. Adult-based programs, including the Educational Opportunity Center and Veterans Upward Bound, assist adult community members seeking to return to education or extend their current educational experiences. With support services that help students enhance learning in core academic subjects, manage time, find financial aid, meet mentors, and feel more confident about their abilities, Equity and Access Programs provide community members a pipeline of opportunities for educational success.


Because quality public education is a key factor in where families choose to live, Penn’s partnerships with the West Philadelphia community have long focused on improving the neighborhood’s public schools. Over the past decade, more than 1,700 Penn faculty, students and staff have joined together with local educators and community members in more than 130 programs at 33 different West Philadelphia public schools.