Abington education majors explore diverse literature for future classrooms

ABINGTON, Pennsylvania – A $5,000 grant supported visits from Penn Abington State Majors in Elementary and Early Childhood Education (EECE) to three independent bookstores in Philadelphia that focus their collections on traditionally marginalized populations. The experience reinforced understanding of the importance of literature representing diverse identities and viewpoints to the communities they serve and the consideration of social issues when planning lessons and activities.

Elders who participated in the experiment are enrolled in a mandatory course with a social justice component.

“Kids are already finding out who they are, so it’s important to have these books in the classroom. Books reflect where stores are located, and neighborhoods reflect children walking into stores,” said student Tiffani Loughrey.

Students received gift cards for each store totaling $165 to purchase books for their future classrooms. Gift cards are a boon for these aspiring teachers, as 39% of Abington’s student population receives Federal Pell Grants awarded to those with exceptional needs and 72% receives financial aid. Gift cards ease the burden of funding classroom libraries.

“I want to be there to help and support students, and these books will help me do that. The books I bought celebrate differences and that’s a good thing,” student Molly Carney said.

Teri Dodaroassistant teacher in the EEEC program, reminded the students of the importance of choosing the right materials for their classrooms.

“You can then find places in your program where you can adapt the books you have purchased,” she said.

The group visited two well-known black-owned shops, Harriett’s and Uncle Bobbie’s, and Giovanni’s Room, which focuses on LGBTQ+ and feminist literature. These retailers reflect the diversity of Philadelphia, home to many Abington students, and Abington’s student body, which is the most diverse among Penn State campuses.

Also, Abington EECE majors complete their teaching assignments in the Philadelphia School District.

The choice to visit these specific retailers was particularly important since books dealing with race, racism, gender identity and sexual orientation have been banned or challenged at particularly high rates over the past year.

“We prepare our students to become advocates for the freedom to seek out and read books that represent diverse perspectives,” Katie Odhnerreference and instruction librarian at Abington, said.

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