From left, Allison Jaekle, Sarah SanGiovanni, Santino DeAngelo and Maura McDevitt
The four Harpur Fellows — changing lives in their backyard and across the world
When Allison Jaekle lived in a small Costa Rican village for a Binghamton University summer-abroad program, she saw for the first time deep poverty and felt helpless to make a difference even though the program contained a community outreach and aid component. The history major knew her imprint on the community would disappear as soon as she left. But the Harpur Fellows Program is enabling Jaekle to return and have a lasting impact.
Supported by donor funds, the Harpur Fellows Program annually awards four students up to $4,000 each to follow their passion by working on summer projects that better a community.
With her grant, Jaekle is connecting Tres Piedras, Costa Rica, with the world by giving the community a rugged laptop and installing a satellite receiver. She hopes the Internet connection will open youth to life’s possibilities and create an incentive for them to complete their education.
“A big motivation to do this is that kids there typically don’t finish high school,” she says. They are motivated students, but they “usually drop out by sixth grade because of frustration with lack of resources and materials.”
Since receiving the grant, she’s been raising money from other sources and hopes to cover the costs of satellite service for at least a year, allowing kids to see what an education can do for them.
Santino DeAngelo’s Harpur Fellows project is a bit closer to home.
When DeAngelo was a teenager, the classics and theater major realized that kids in his own Binghamton backyard were too familiar with real-life violence and not familiar enough with the arts. Through the Harpur Fellows he hopes to flip that dynamic.
Working with Spanish majors, DeAngelo helped make a literal translation of Fredrico García Lorca’s 1933 Blood Wedding, which is about a groom who takes revenge after his bride runs away with an old flame on their wedding night. DeAngelo then worked with a playwright friend, Marty Murray, to create an entirely new production and is co-directing it with Bobby Saglio.
“We are using the production to educate youth and at-risk youth about violence and gang violence, which is a subtext of the play,” he says.
DeAngelo also sees the production as a way to connect the University and the community. He is casting a mix of Binghamton theater students and community professional actors. He’s bringing local high school students interested in theater to campus to observe and participate in the rehearsal process. But then he is moving the production into the heart of the community for the staging at the KNOW Theater in downtown Binghamton.
“One of the overlaying ideas of this entire project is the collaboration between the community and the campus,” he says.
Besides nightly shows, the company is performing free daily matinees for kids followed by “talk back” sessions to explore the issues of violence in the play. He hopes to help kids understand how art can address some of the issues they face while giving them an outlet to express themselves.
“There will be many students coming to this production that will never have seen a live performance before in their entire life,” he says. “We have a responsibility as students to educate through the arts. And I’m a really, really, really big supporter of students teaching students.”
English major Sarah SanGiovanni is also helping Binghamton students express themselves.
When she was in high school, she had a hard time finding a creative outlet to express what she was going through. She struggled with her writing, not yet realizing that the seemingly effortless elegance of accomplished writers is in fact the culmination of grueling work. To prevent teens from going through the same frustration she did, SanGiovanni is using her Harpur Fellows award to create a summer writing program for Binghamton teenagers.
Open to students ages 11 to 18, the program will meet three days a week to help students write, read and critique. She believes the writing process will help teens develop critical thinking and communication skills that will serve them in their relationships and personal growth.
“I hope they end up just having that experience of being able to express themselves, not only privately, but to other people because writing is a form of communication and to communicate you need someone to speak and someone to listen,” SanGiovanni says. “It’s so important, especially at that age, to have the chance to look into themselves and find what they think is worth talking about and then write about it and at the same time be in a setting with other people and hear what they have to say, which will help them build up pride and respect for other people simultaneously.”
At the end of the program, individual work will be included in an anthology and a copy given to each student.
Working in the neighborhood she grew up in, Maura McDevitt is helping students with their reading and writing skills at a more basic level.
When she first heard of the Harpur Fellows program, she knew immediately she wanted to help kids read (she’s a double major in English and political science and hopes to eventually work in education policy). Her first instinct was to develop a reading program for a poor neighborhood in an inner city or the rural south. But after a conversation with an advisor, she realized her Staten Island neighborhood needed help just as much as anywhere since its students test scores are well below average.
“I figured, why not?” she remembers. “It’s the place that I have the most resources. I know a lot of the people who own local businesses who could donate for different prizes. I know the entire layout. I know all the librarians and the staff. I had the logistics down.”
So this summer she’s augmenting a summer reading program at a Staten Island library, hoping to instill the importance and pleasure of reading in underprivileged elementary students. She’ll use her Harpur Fellows grant to build programs like book-making, peer pen pals, reading aloud for younger children, and scavenger hunts and trivia games with prizes.
“I think it’s really important to bridge that gap between school in those three months when a lot of people just don’t do anything,” she says. “I feel like kids forget a lot, which makes summer reading really important in keeping that connection to school and that level of reading.”
McDevitt is involving the community and local retailers by asking them to donate prizes and she is advertising in the local paper, which she hopes will do a story about the program to raise awareness about it.
To learn more about the Harpur Fellows Program, visit www.binghamton.edu/harpur/fellows.
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