A Matter of Trust

Cultivating good relationships: Harkavy with (from top) Lakiesha Alexander, Brian Washington, Liz Willettes, and David Thompson at University City High School.


By Susan Frith

West Philadelphia, 1985.

It was the summer of her discontent when Marie Bogle was called into the principal’s office to meet with two strangers. One of them was Dr. Ira Harkavy C’70 Gr’79, an administrator from Penn who would later become the first director of its Center for Community Partnerships.

Bogle was already steamed about being transferred from the classroom where she had taught for a dozen years to Bryant Elementary School. “I was one of those burnt-out teachers,” she says. “All I wanted to do was teach and go home, because I felt like the system was kicking me around.”

Harkavy, who was then vice dean of the School of Arts and Sciences as well as the director of the Office of Community-Oriented Policy Studies, proposed that she team up with Penn on a school beautification project. It would involve children affected by the city’s bombing of the MOVE headquarters and the burning of an entire block of homes that resulted from it.

“I expressed my thoughts very clearly,” Bogle recalls. “I was not interested in getting involved in another project where people came into the community when the money was there, and as soon as it was gone, they left.

“Traditionally, Penn had always taken from the community,” she adds. But this time was going to be different, Harkavy told her. In fact, he promised that Penn would stay involved. “Give us a try,” he asked.

Bogle did. And one thing led to another.

Out of that experiment and others like it came Penn’s Center for Community Partnerships (CCP), which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Today the University has partnerships with West Philadelphia’s schools and throughout surrounding neighborhoods to stem problems like poor nutrition, lead poisoning, and drug abuse while working on community development.

“This is not missionary work,” Harkavy emphasizes in an interview this spring. “This helps us to be a better university.” CCP’s collaboration with the community strives to be “democratic, mutually respectful, and mutually beneficial,” he says. “And [we] are partners in improving public schools, the community, and the University.”

Harkavy weaves his fingers together to emphasize the word partners. At times he bangs on the table in his office, where he sits and talks. It is largely because of his passion and persistence, many say, that Penn has become a model for other universities in the growing service-learning movement. And the center’s outreach has played a significant role in Penn’s improved relations with West Philadelphia.

“There’s no longer a sense of being in an armed camp, but there’s a sense of being part of a much larger community—not only that, but a community that’s actually happy to see and deal with you,” says Mitch Berger C’76 G’76, a Washington attorney who serves on CCP’s board of advisors.

In April the center hosted an international conference on “Universities, Schools and Communities: Partners for Effective Education, Community Building, and Democracy.” And this spring the University-Assisted Community School Program—developed by CCP in conjunction with the West Philadelphia Partnership and the Philadelphia School District, and with the help of teachers like Marie Bogle—received the W.T. Grant Foundation Youth Development Prize, awarded in collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Children, Youth and Families.

“There are great things happening around him,” Bogle—now retired from teaching—says of Harkavy. “And he’s still that humble guy who says, ‘Wow, there’s so much more to do.’”

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2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 02/28/03







Photography by
Bill Cramer