For the next five weeks, St. Anthony Hall, an undergraduate fraternity at the University of Pennsylvania, is collecting book donations to benefit Chester Charter School for the Arts, a K-7 public charter school in Chester, and The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts (TCF), which raises funds to support literacy and arts instruction at CCSA.
The fraternity is organizing a book drive and accepting books at 3637 Locust Walk, Philadelphia.
Daniel Rodriguez, a Penn junior from Quincy, MA and the fraternity’s newly elected president, describes the fraternity’s partnership as practical and purposeful, “Partnering with CCSA and TCF made a lot of sense to our members. Chester is the oldest city in Pennsylvania, and we are one of the oldest undergraduate literary societies in the country. (We) and CCSA and TCF profoundly care about, and appreciate, great art and literature, and academic excellence, as well as promoting an intellectual and reading culture.”
The fraternity hopes to donate 500 new and gently used books for CCSA’s specialized reading and arts program. Within this program, 137 students receive daily, small-group, research-based instruction that develops fluency and comprehension. TCF also raises private funding for specialized visual arts, dance, drama, music and instrumental instruction at CCSA.
Rodriguez said, “We hope to come out and visit the school soon, meet the students, and share our favorite books with them.”
Dr. John Alston, TCF and CCSA’s founder, said, “I am amazed and moved by the (fraternity’s) compassion. In addition to state funding, TCF raises $1 million each year to support comprehensive literacy and arts instruction. It costs $2,000 per year to offer specialized programming to each of our 374 students. It is encouraging to see talented and bright young men invested in advancing literacy, and using their abilities to improve their community and the world.”
Freshman Miles Marden, of Boston, MA, says, “When we began researching a service project for the fraternity to pursue, I was really dismayed and upset by the statistics confronting the children of Chester. It’s no shock that the Chester Upland School District is one of the poorest performing school districts in the state. I had always heard of Philadelphia’s troubles, but Chester, being off the beaten path, seemed to really need our attention and support.”
Dawit Heck, another freshman, from Yonkers, NY, explains, “I have great hope and optimism for the children of Chester because of schools like CCSA and the leadership and advocacy work of The Chester Fund which is clearly invested in creating a Kindergarten to college pipeline and, as a lifelong reader, I was excited at the opportunity to combat illiteracy, build a reading culture and contribute to the creation of a diverse and multicultural school library for children, especially coming from a mixed race family myself. My mom is Ethiopian and my dad is white.”
CCSA principal Akosua Watts said, “CCSA’s core values are a commitment to fostering literacy and a love of learning. One way to purposefully build joyous readers is to provide them with books they can relate to, where they see themselves as heroes, leaders, artists and scholars. I am thrilled to partner with young people who have the will to galvanize their community to invest in our students.”
So far, the fraternity has organized the donation of over 200 books, but hoping to reach their 500 book goal by May 1st.
Rodriguez suggests that Penn students interested in this effort should also enlist their families’ help, asking them to send books directly to their dorms on campus or to purchase books at Penn’s bookstore. He emphasizes, “If this is too difficult to coordinate, just make a donation to The Chester Fund, as they are the experts on literacy and what books most inspire children to read. Many of us can donate $25.00. What’s more important than encouraging students to read? It’s a worthy investment.”
William Sorin, a senior and the outgoing fraternity president, said, “This past year, we have completed 600 hours of community service; setting an organizational record. I am excited that this is part of (our) legacy and I hope that we can partner with (TCF) and (CCSA) for years to come.”
The fraternity is a national college literary society located at a number of Ivy League universities, including Columbia, Brown, and Princeton. Penn’s chapter opened in 1854 with a commitment to foster the social and intellectual development of its undergraduate members by promoting the exchange of ideas and providing a forum to grow and learn together.
The Penn chapter currently has 40 members from all over the country and the world.