The Humanities Ladder, a program in its third year that brings SRU professors into low-income high schools, has expanded to a second high school, and plans are underway to bring participating students to campus for a summer humanities camp.
The program, which is an initiative through the Stone House Center for Public Humanities, began as a way to expose students of minority groups or low-income areas to what are usually deemed more academic courses, such as art history and philosophy, according to Aaron Cowan, associate professor of history and co-director of the Stone House Center for Public Humanities.
“The Center for Public Humanities pushes back against that and says, ‘How do we make this accessible to everybody, how do we get people engaged who aren’t even going to step foot onto a college campus maybe or might be intimidated by that?’,” Cowan said.
The Humanities Ladder began in Aliquippa High School’s 10th grade class in fall 2015, which expanded into 11th grade last year and 12th grade this year. The program was also expanded into the 10th grade at Union Area High School this academic year.
Example subjects covered in weekly sessions include history, English, philosophy, and language, and sessions are developed by the professors. According to Cowan, the lessons from SRU professors and student mentors are based on discussions, not lectures, in order to encourage students to ask questions.
“They’re taught so often by standardized testing and things that success and schoolwork means ‘Get the right answer,’” Cowan said. “What we try to do is say, ‘Well, to think about things, you ask questions that you don’t even know the answers to yet.’”
Based on self-reporting data from 2015-2017 on The Humanities Ladder’s website, there was a 27 percent increase in students who felt prepared to learn on their own and a 15 percent increase in students who felt prepared to enroll in a community college course.
The Humanities Ladder also received several grants, including a $100,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2016. The program was awarded two $45,000 grants from The Grable Foundation in 2017 and PNC Bank in 2016.
There will also be a summer camp at SRU for participants from the program. This camp will take place in early June or late July 2018 and will be free to participants. Cowan also hopes to plan field trips with the students with the grant money received.
Cowan also said SRU students will be recruited in Spring 2018 to the new summer camp, and the application to became a student mentor is on The Humanities Ladder’s website.
“We’d love to have more participation because as [the program] grows, we’re going to need people to serve and contribute,” Cowan said.