English and secondary education double majors Ciarra Bianculli ’17 and John Goldberg ’17 talked frequently with classmates about the need to improve education for students likelier than their peers to encounter the juvenile justice system. Wanting to make a difference in education for young people facing the school-to-prison pipeline, the two are participating in the Summer Scholars program to find the most effective ways to engage and succeed with at risk learners.
“We are providing one-on-one tutoring and mentoring for at risk youth between the ages of 13 and 17,” says John. “These students typically read one or two grade-levels below what they should, so our goal this summer is to increase literacy through different methods.”
Twice a week, Ciarra and John travel to the Police Athletic League of Norristown, Pennsylvania, a community organization offering education, rehabilitation and detention services to the juvenile justice system.. The scholars also create personalized lesson plans for each of their 12 students with their mentor, Suniti Sharma, Ph.D., associate professor of education.
Dr. Sharma knew that Ciarra and John were serious about the project when she encountered their curiosity about youth prisoner education. As an activist for and researcher of the school-to-prison pipeline, Dr. Sharma is well aware of how rewarding, yet heartbreaking, work with at risk youth can be.
“Once I knew they were very interested and keen to start tutoring, I was excited,” says the first time Summer Scholars mentor. “I knew I was going to be working with two of the best scholars at SJU who were committed to advancing their teacher competencies by becoming social justice activist teachers invested in educational change.”
To ready themselves for the intensity of the project, Ciarra and John participated in an orientation to work with youth prisoners, earned their Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative certification to understand the implications of working with vulnerable populations, and read several books and articles on their topic.
“I applied for the Summer Scholars program with the hope that having this experience would help make me be a better teacher someday,” says Ciarra. “I want to play a part in students’ lives and help show them that learning and education are so important.”
A member of the Phi Sigma Pi Honors Fraternity and Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, Ciarra is involved in Make-A-Wish and Relay for Life at SJU. Additionally, she serves as the assistant lifestyle editor for The Hawk student newspaper and as an SJU transfer mentor.
When he isn’t exploring the theoretical and research aspects of education, John is a Hawk Host with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and a member of the SJU Theatre Company.
— Elizabeth Krotulis ’17
Office of University Communications
Summer Scholars Project Title: “Mentoring and Literacy for Youth in the School-to-Prison Pipeline”
Mentor: Suniti Sharma, Ph.D., associate professor of education
High Schools: Ciarra attended Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
John attended Whippany Park High School, Whippany, New Jersey