Urban Initiative: GSEP Builds Relationships with Its Neighbors

Boy in ClassFaculty and Administration from the Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP) have begun meeting to formulate an exciting new program initiative. Over the course of the next year, these meetings will result in a series of projects designed to enhance established relationships between GSEP and its urban neighbors.

Urban schools need help from graduate programs now more than ever. High dropout rates, higher expectations for student achievement, and shrinking budgets make this a difficult time for urban education. In addition, the large influx of immigrants, reminiscent of the early part of the 20th century, is a challenge for schools now, as it was then. As urban America faces increasingly greater challenges, education and mental health services are desperately needed.

Prospective teachers, who are often Caucasian, middle-class, monolingual, and culturally mainstream students, have little experience with life in diverse urban communities. In addition, they can bring negative cultural assumptions about urban families. New research tells us that preparing teachers for urban schools must involve engaging them in the school’s local community. Training urban teachers requires moving out of the typical “student teacher/master teacher/university supervisor” clinical triad into a broader “community of practice” concept that includes preparation to work in a whole school and its larger community. In so doing, teachers are introduced to urban neighborhoods, enabling them to engage in authentic ways with students, parents, and community leaders.

Similarly, mental health workers in urban areas must answer the needs of a growing number of homeless, the challenges associated with single-family homes, the stress of urban living, gang violence, and displacement issues of large numbers of immigrants. Additionally, the AIDS pandemic creates a new set of mental health challenges for communities hardest hit.

Ironically, as urban areas present greater challenges, they become harder for graduate schools to reach. As a result, graduate programs in education often look to their suburban neighbors as calmer sites for training new teachers and administrators, and for partnership projects.

To counter this trend, GSEP is building an urban initiative, designed to energize the commitment of its graduate programs toward meeting the needs of its urban neighbors. Pepperdine has a long tradition of this kind of engagement. Since its early days in the 1930s, Pepperdine has been preparing teachers, administrators, and mental health workers for service in the Greater Los Angeles area. Now, in the early 21st century, on the edge of one of the most challenged urban areas in the country, GSEP is accepting responsibility as a training school for teachers and mental health workers who want to contribute to the urban community.

There is a moral imperative that drives our engagement with urban issues. As a graduate school within a Christian university, GSEP endeavors to educate and motivate students to assume leadership roles in professions that improve and enrich the lives of individuals, families, and communities. It is no coincidence that poverty is mentioned 2,100 times in the Bible. As they say in Hollywood, that is a lot of “air time” and a powerful message that outreach is important. GSEP is answering that call with its urban initiative as we direct our focus to those most challenged in our urban neighborhoods.

Kids in the Classroom

Consider the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second largest school district, which surrounds our West Los Angeles Graduate Campus. The education issues facing LAUSD are enormous, especially for students of color. LAUSD is the state’s largest school district, with an overall enrollment of approximately 740,000. Only 39 percent of Latinos and 47 percent of African American students in the district who should have graduated in 2002 managed to do so, compared to 67 percent of Caucasians and 77 percent of Asians. LAUSD loses the bulk of its students between their freshman and sophomore years, and approximately 17,000 Latino students never return to school for 10th grade. In California, African American and Latino students are three times more likely than Caucasian students to attend a high school with a below average graduation rate. Overall, 32 percent of African American and 31 percent of Latino students in California attend one of these high schools, compared to only 8 percent of Caucasian students.

Pepperdine is seeking to bridge the world of the University and that of our urban neighbors through its new urban initiative. This initiative links GSEP programs, faculty, and students to urban problems in new and exciting ways, including working closely with our alumni base and building on existing GSEP urban projects. As the initiative gets underway, the master of arts in education and teaching credential program (MAETC) has already begun work in preparation of urban teachers. The Psychology Division will continue its work with the homeless at the Union Rescue Mission Mental Health Clinic, as well as identify additional projects.

Pepperdine’s urban initiative will be designed to give prospective educators and mental health workers the skills and dispositions necessary to work effectively in urban communities, and it can provide a model for graduate programs in education and psychology to meet the needs of 21st-century urban communities. It will bring together the many committed GSEP faculty who have been building programs and preparing professionals to meet urban needs for years. It will provide opportunities to take this work to a new level of engagement in urban communities. We invite your support as we begin this important work.

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