Taking on 'Education in Our Barrios'
Swarthmore professor Edwin Mayorga is leading an innovative method of researching and learning along with local undergraduate students and high schoolers from neighborhoods in North and South Philadelphia.
For Edwin Mayorga and the Latino youth that make up the Education in Our Barrios Philadelphia team, learning begins at home, in the "barrio," the neighborhood.
“The project is premised on the idea that our communities and young people in particular are holders of very important knowledge. They’re never a blank slate when they enter a classroom,” said Mayorga, assistant professor of educational studies at Swarthmore College, who first launched Education in Our Barrios with a small group in East Harlem in 2013.
Mayorga explained that the goal of the participatory action research project is to create connection with self and community, allowing students to “explore their own identities and relationship to their history.” Through that lens they are also able to examine community histories and Latinx communities in the United States, in a format that is designed to “help them be rooted and develop a certain consciousness about the issues that are shaping their lives.”
The project this year involves seven high school students from Esperanza Academy in North Philadelphia and Furness High School in South Philadelphia, and six undergraduate student mentors from Swarthmore College and the Community College of Philadelphia.
This year's group defines their research focus as mental health in Latinx communities. The cohort is planning to release a survey in late April for Latinx youth ages 16-24, which will investigate the state of their mental health, the stressors in their lives, the places where they feel most at peace, their economic and social conditions, and their sense of cultural identity, among other aspects of mental and behavioral health.
“The goal in particular is to share that research with the community and use it as a way to advocate for policy change,” Mayorga said, adding that a priority of this year’s research is “making sure that Latinx youth are not invisible in respect to mental health and general welfare.”
The youth participating in the Education in Our Barrios project will then brainstorm ideas and solutions based on their findings.
Mayorga said mentorship provided by college students involved in the project introduces another component.
“High school kids really get a kick out of someone who is just slightly older than them,” said Mayorga, adding that the mentorship element incorporates college and career preparation in a natural way in the program’s structure. The group is currently supporting high schoolers — which include U.S. born, documented, and undocumented students — in applying to college, seeking out financial aid opportunities, and making visits to college campuses.
Mayorga said that in the future he hopes to grow the program so that it continues to bridge “a kind of divide between North and South Latinx communities” that Mayorga noticed upon first moving to Philadelphia from New York City in 2014.
Though the program is relatively new, it has already had an extended impact, Mayorga said, describing how some young people who have participated in the program in the course of its three years of existence have come back to the project as mentors who are able to “turn and leverage what they know for the next group of youth.”
“It’s a life-giving thing for me personally,” he said.