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Rockefeller Foundation Offers Support For Teaching of Humanities in 6 Cities

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By Vernon Loeb
Special to Education Week

Philadelphia--The chairman of the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities and officials from the Rockefeller Foundation announced here last month plans to support the development of new privately financed programs in six urban school districts to promote the teaching of the humanities.

The programs--to be loosely patterned after the Philadelphia Alliance for Teaching Humanities in the Schools (paths)--will be located in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and St. Paul.

Andrew Heiskell, chairman of the President's Committee and a chief architect of the Philadelphia Alliance, said at a University of Pennsylvania press conference that the paths program had, in less than two years, "not only made a major im-pact on the curriculum in the Philadelphia school system, but also set a standard for school systems across the country."

The university was the site of a three-day conference sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation to acquaint officials from the six districts with the project.

Centrality of Arts, Humanities

Steven D. Lavine, assistant director for arts and humanities with the Rockefeller Foundation, said the foundation will contribute between $200,000 and $500,000 per district for the programs over three years.

But in every city, Mr. Lavine said, the foundation's commitment is "to support work that recognizes the centrality of the arts and humanities in the education of kids."

"The concern is the teachers," Mr. Lavine said, "but it is also to support school systems in working with teachers."

Philadelphia's paths program, created in 1984 by a private-sector committee of local corporations, universities, and foundations, also places primary emphasis on working with teachers.

A nonprofit corporation with a paid staff of five, paths puts public-school teachers in contact with professors and professionals from area universities, museums, and cultural institutions during summer training sessions, monthly colloquia, and after-school workshops.

Last summer, for example, a Temple University professor taught 20 public-school teachers during an intensive month-long institute on social history at the city's Atwater Kent Museum.

In addition, paths has awarded about $165,000 in mini-grants di-rectly to more than 100 teachers over the past two years.

At the city's Edison High School, for example, where black and Hispanic students come from the poorest sections of north Philadelphia, Joseph Phillips, chairman of the English department, received a grant last year to bring eight poets into the school for a project called "Exploring the Poetic Domain."

But according to many, the program's most ambitious effort to date has been a writing project involving teams of teachers, principals, and district officials, each led by consultants from area universities.

The project now involves faculty members from about half of the city's 260 schools and paths officials would like to see it operate systemwide before they turn their attention to a planned three-year fine-tuning of the district's social-studies curriculum.

Writing, Reading More

"There's a bottom line on all this," said Judith F. Hodgson, who left New York University to become paths' executive director last year. "The kids are writing more and the kids are reading more."

paths has a three-year budget of $2.25 million, with the greatest share of the funding--$1.75 million--given by the Philadelphia-based Pew Memorial Trust. The city's corporate community contributes an additional $350,000, and $350,000 comes from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Corporate Involvement Cited

At the University of Pennsylvania conference, Ms. Hodgson stressed to officials embarking on similar projects the importance of keeping corporate sponsors and university collaborators involved in every step of program building.

"Corporate people have a quarterly-report attention span," she said. "Educational changes take a long time. You've got to keep the corporate people happy and give them a sense that there is accomplishment going on."

"University people," she added, "are slow to move sometimes, and you've got to keep pushing and pushing and pushing to keep them involved."

But the teachers, she said, "are easy--they're so starved for intellectual stimulation."

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