SRU’s Humanities Ladder Program records first-year successes


Tim Oldakowski assisting high school student

(From left) A student from Aliquippa High School works with Tim Oldakowski,
SRU associate professor of English, as part of the Humanities Ladder program.

March 1, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University's Humanities Ladder Program, implemented in fall 2015 to introduce students at Aliquippa High School to topics not normally covered at the high school level, has recorded several first year successes. According to the program administrator, "the impact was immediate."

As a result of these successes, Aaron Cowan, associate professor of history, said the Stone House Center for Public Humanities, which operates the program, is applying for a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant in order to expand the program to Union High School in New Castle next fall. Local funding support from foundations and donors is being pursued as well.

SRU launched the Humanities Ladder Program with 25 sophomores at Aliquippa High School in fall 2015. During the 10-week program, which is taught by SRU faculty, students studied the arts and the philosopher Plato's "Allegory of the Cave." Currently, students are being introduced to university-level topics in art history, gender studies and anthropology.

"Through solid outcome measurements, the Humanities Ladder Program is seeing results in the students' motivation to attend college, ability to express their thoughts in writing and confidence in their ability to undertake college-level work," Cowan said.

Common core standards were reinforced through active engagement with the humanities, he said.

"Students dissected layers of meaning and discovered challenging ideas. They wrestled with the humanities connecting to their lives through Socratic dialogues and debates. Students broadened their abilities, utilizing new concepts and vocabulary," Cowan said.

Activities of this nature develop college-level skills such as independent reasoning and effective communication, he said.

"Interaction with college professors demystifies the college experience and students increasingly believe that attending college and succeeding there is possible," Cowan said. "These students will continue to grow and challenge themselves as the program stays with them through graduation."

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