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Student involvement at Cherry Hill drops

9 February 2014 By Sam Shelton, Staff Writer No Comments

Student involvement in the Cherry Hill Learning Zone has dropped from 16 to 10 participants this semester, something the advisors and overseers of the program are looking to rectify.

The Learning Zone, which is the product of a partnership between Towson University, the AmeriCorps VISTA for Cherry Hill Projects and the southern Baltimore community of Cherry Hill and works in conjunction with local nonprofits like Reading Partners and Higher Achievement Baltimore, aims to help improve the literacy of elementary school students in the area.

Senior psychology major Bryanna Fatigate, an Outreach Assistant for Cherry Hill Projects from the Office of Civic Engagement & Leadership and works with AmeriCorps VISTA Ruth Farfel on the project. The pair say that the goal of the project is to improve the quality of life of such struggling communities as Cherry Hill, in accordance with the purpose of VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), which formed in 1965.

“Towson University students are recruited by the AmeriCorps VISTA to provide reading assistance to struggling young readers at Friendship Academy in Cherry Hill,” Fatigate and Farfel said in an email. “They engage in one-on-one tutoring with K-fifth grade students who are reading six months to two and a half years below grade level.  The goal is to provide one-on-one reading tutoring to students who need additional support because they are falling behind in school.”

The partnership also works together with the Cherry Hill Urban Garden.

“The Cherry Hill Urban Garden is a community garden that provides fresh, affordable produce to Cherry Hill,” Farfel and Fatigate said. “Cherry Hill is considered a “food desert” since residents lack access to fresh food and there is no grocery store nearby with fresh nutritious food.”

Farfel and Fatigate also say that the involvement of students is beneficial to both parties.

“Projects and programs fostered by TU students address community-identified needs including student academic performance, health and nutrition. It has been mutually beneficial for Towson students who gain skills and experience outside of class, adopt a sense of cultural competency and maintain a commitment to serve the communities that surround them,” Farfel and Fatigate said in an email.

But unfortunately for both the communities affected and the volunteers involved, AmeriCorps grants span only three years so the future of these related projects are uncertain. According to Farfel, this year will be last that Towson works in conjunction with AmeriCorps VISTA and Cherry Hill, so student participation and interest are vital toward helping such programs stay afloat.

“We are looking to find student organizations as well as faculty that have an interest in service and community development to help sustain some of the projects and programs that have stemmed from the partnership,” Farfel and Fatigate said.

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