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SU Faculty Develop Academic Support Program for Area Students

SALISBURY, MD---“We will draw wisdom and knowledge from our ancestors; be respectful, honest and confident; show pride in ourselves and in the things we do; and work hard to achieve our goals.”

This pledge was created by area middle school students who, twice a week, travel to Salisbury University where they spend more than two hours improving their reading and writing skills.  The afterschool program uses culturally-relevant literature to spark the interest of the predominantly African-American students.

“Students are more inclined to adopt positive attitudes and behaviors, and to engage in learning when they can relate to the material,” said Dr. James King of SU’s English Department, who started developing the Academic Support through Active Partnerships with Schools (ASAPS) program in 2007 with Dr. Althea Pennerman of SU’s Teacher Education Department.

They initially researched local data and national reports, which showed that low-income and minority students, especially those of African-American ancestry, consistently score well below state and national averages on assessments.

“We realized students are struggling and we wanted to do something to help our local schools address these significant literacy challenges, especially with reading comprehension and writing,” Pennerman said.
They decided to target sixth to ninth graders from Salisbury Middle School and Parkside High School who are failing the Maryland State Assessment in Reading.  Some 30 children have benefitted from their efforts, thus far.

“Students do a lot of reading and writing, and we try to teach them how to self-edit,” Pennerman said.  “They also use the interactive, web-based Glogster EDU program to practice, share and discuss their work.”

Another important element of the program is that it’s held on campus to allow students to see themselves as part of a university community.  They have worked with other SU faculty including Drs. Adam Wood of the English Department and Diallo Sessoms of the Teacher Education Department.

This fall, Pennerman used literature about Harriet Tubman, an Underground Railroad conductor who was born in Dorchester County, to engage a group of 15 students.  They helped SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach unveil a 7-foot bronze sculpture of Tubman on campus, and later reflected and wrote about Tubman’s life.  In the spring, the students are planning community projects to help area residents, hoping to emulate the way Tubman helped others during her life. 

“Improving literacy through cultural competence is our main goal, but we also want to plant the idea of ‘college’ in the students minds,” Pennerman said.

Pennerman and King are planning future research about the outcomes of the program.  Coordinators are SU alumna Karen Carroll (’94), a reading specialist at Salisbury Middle School, and Jeffrey Dumpson, dean of students at Parkside High School.

For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at