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Learning in Community: Researching Literacy with Kids in Camden

Project: 8
Name: Elizabeth Kimball, PhD |
Department: English and Philosophy


This project involves working in partnership with the Neighborhood Center in Camden, New Jersey, to research the ways that children are learning in their summer camp program. Many funders of community programs now demand that programs provide measurable learning outcomes, similar to what K-12 schools have had to do for decades. But learning in a community enrichment setting is very different from a classroom setting. Familiar options like tests, grades and reading levels are inappropriate and inaccurate measures. Kids need to grow in less structured, more exploratory experiences when they are not in the classroom. And there is little time or money for center staff to develop assessment programs that work.

The student research assistant will work with Drexel faculty member Liz Kimball to explore how similar programs across the country are assessing the quality of their kids' experiences. This work will be through online research and one-on-one meetings. In addition, the student will spend at least 5 hours each week at the Neighborhood Center as an embedded research observer, working with kids and staff and observing learning in process. The final outcome of the project will be a formal assessment plan that can be implemented for an ongoing program, and presented to funders. There are related writing and publishing opportunities as well.

The project is ideal for students who are interested in social justice work, community engagement, education, writing or nonprofit administration. The Neighborhood Center is a 104-year-old organization on the south side of Camden, serving primarily African American and Latino kids and families. It is a friendly and safe place in a neighborhood troubled by the drug trade and blight. We will discuss transportation as a factor in the student's decision to participate.

Gained Experience

  • Knowledge and skill in nonprofit management, educational assessment, working with kids, the intersection of social justice and professional life, public speaking and communication experience, and research and problem-solving
  • Shared authorship on the assessment report
  • Credit for potential presenting at a meeting or conference on the subject, or publication credit
  • Professional network in community literacy and local nonprofit landscape


  • A formal assessment plan for the Center
  • An article written for a public-facing journal in nonprofit administration, philanthropy or social justice
  • An article written for a scholarly journal
  • Presentations at local and national meetings
  • A first pass at developing a longer, sustaining partnership between Drexel and the Neighborhood Center


  • Creating a bibliography of published articles on the topic
  • Creating a resource list of programs with successful track records in this area
  • Visiting the activities at the Neighborhood Center in Camden; working with kids on literacy and other summer camp activities
  • Conducting assessment interviews, focus groups or other data-gathering work


Some of this project involves library and online research, and the student can work anywhere with a laptop and wifi. We will also schedule regular meetings between faculty member and student assistant to discuss the work and how it's going. The remainder of the work, about 50% of the time, will take place at the Center, serving with other staff to help kids grow, meeting with staff to develop plans, and potentially conducting formal assessment activities.

Possibility to Work Post Fellowship

Yes. Future involvement may include a collaborative writing project or conference presentation, as well as continued work with the Drexel-Neighborhood Center partnership as it evolves.