The Community Literacies Project is based on a six-year university partnership between Aquinas Center and the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. The Aquinas Center-Penn partnership has served as a dynamic vehicle investigate problems faced by immigrant populations and students and families of color as they strive for educational opportunities.

We have learned from families directly about how policies and practices impact youth’s educational experiences, including issues that cut across culture, language, and immigration status as well as ones that are unique to specific groups. We have also learned how they advocate for educational access and equity. Unfortunately, the perspectives and knowledge of families, especially those from historically disenfranchised communities, do not often inform educational research, policy, and practice. Our partnership has been bridging these divides by bringing together neighborhood leaders, educators, families, and university faculty through collaborative, community-based research.

Despite the challenges many families face, we have been documenting another story that is less told in the research literature: how individuals from a range of backgrounds come together to organize and advocate for greater opportunities, including educational access. It is within community contexts such as the Aquinas Center that diverse families share, investigate, and take action on issues related to their children’s education.

Community Literacies team presents at the annual Ethnography Forum at the University of Pennsylvania.

Nature of Partnership

The research-practice partnership is unique because:

  • It focuses on multiple vulnerable populations including refugees, undocumented and mixed-status families of Latina/o and Asian origins, and African Americans experiencing the pressures of a gentrifying neighborhood.
  • It is housed in a diverse community site that serves as a refuge for groups who might otherwise be scapegoated within the dominant culture and fosters positive cross-cultural exchange.
  • It links education to other issues that present obstacles to family engagement and access to high quality educational opportunities.
  • It engages families and youth in participatory research to co-investigate educational issues of their choosing and disseminate these findings to institutions within the city and beyond.
  • It focuses on coalitional work, providing an avenue for families and youth identify overlapping experiences, access resources, and organize together to create new networks of support.

Thanks to a large multi-year research-practice grant from the Spencer Foundation, the Community Literacies Project has launched a new phase to:

  1. Promote research as a fundamental human right, specifically for those who are economically, socially, and educationally vulnerable.
  2. Fund program coordination and training for community members to empower themselves through the types of research tools normally the exclusive purview of universities.
  3. Maintain participatory research with community members, who would be involved in all aspects of the research process, from deciding its focus, how to approach the identified problems, collecting and analyzing data, and disseminating findings.
  4. Our research hub is designed to make research findings and researched-based practices accessible.

Democratizing Knowledge

Share inquiry has produced a wide range of art, tools, and publications that communicate findings.

Drs. Campano, Ghiso, and Welch authored a book describing the theoretical framing, the research partnership, the nature of the advocacy discourse communities engaged with the work, and included co-authored chapters with University of Pennsylvania students who participated in research at Aquinas. Partnering with Immigrant Communities:  Action through Literacy, was published by Teachers College Press in 2016 and features chapters with Lan Ngo, Emily Schwab, David E. Low, Grace Player, Mary Yee, Karim Mustafa, Robert LeBlanc, Alicia Rusoja, and Katrina Bartow Jacobs.

The book has been warmly received and was honored in 2018 by the National Council for Teachers of English with the David H. Russell Research Award and in 2017 by the Literacy Research Association with the Edward B. Fry Award.

The following articles and book chapters also feature work conducted at and with Aquinas communities:

Campano, G., & Ghiso, M. P. (2011). Immigrant students as cosmopolitan intellectuals. Handbook of research on children’s and young adult literature, 164-176.

Campano, G., Ghiso, M. P., Yee, M., & Pantoja, A. (2013). Toward community research and coalitional literacy practices for educational justice. Language Arts90(5), 314-326.

Campano, G., Ghiso, M. P., & Welch, B. (2015). Ethical and professional norms in community-based research. Harvard Educational Review85(1), 29-49.

Campano, G., Ghiso, M. P., & Sánchez, L. (2013). ” Nobody Knows the… Amount of a Person”: Elementary Students Critiquing Dehumanization through Organic Critical Literacies. Research in the Teaching of English, 98-125.

Ghiso, M. P., & Low, D. E. (2013). Students using multimodal literacies to surface micronarratives of United States immigration. Literacy47(1), 26-34.

Ghiso, M. P., & Campano, G. (2013). Coloniality and education: Negotiating discourses of immigration in schools and communities through border thinking. Equity & Excellence in Education46(2), 252-269.

Ghiso, M. P., Spencer, T., Ngo, L., & Campano, G. (2013). Critical Inquiry Into Literacy Teacher Education. In Literacy Teacher Educators (pp. 51-64). SensePublishers.

Ghiso, M. P., Campano, G., & Hall, T. (2012). Braided histories and experiences in literature for children and adolescents. Journal of Children’s Literature38(2), 14.

Campano, G., Ghiso, M. P., Rusoja, A., Player, G. D., & Schwab, E. R. (2016). ” Education without Boundaries”: Literacy Pedagogies and Human Rights. Language Arts, 94(1), 43.

Stornaiuolo, A., & LeBlanc, R. J. (2016). Scaling as a literacy activity: Mobility and educational inequality in an age of global connectivity. Research in the Teaching of English50(3), 263.

Ghiso, M. P., & Low, D. E. (2013). Students using multimodal literacies to surface micronarratives of United States immigration. Literacy, 47(1), 26-34.

Campano, G., & Low, D. (2011). Multimodality and immigrant children. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood12(4), 381-384.

Campano, G., Ghiso, M. P., Rusoja, A., Player, G. D., & Schwab, E. R. (2016). ” Education without Boundaries”: Literacy Pedagogies and Human Rights. Language Arts94(1), 43.

Ghiso, M. P., Campano, G., Player, G., & Rusoja, A. (2016). Dialogic teaching and multilingual counterpublics. L1 Educational Studies in Language and Literature16(Special issue International Perspectives on Dialogic Theory and Practice).

Player, G. D., Gill, V. S., & Campano, G. (2016). ” Beyond the Barriers”: Listening to Immigrant Youth to Transform Higher Education. Learning Landscapes10(1), 215-234.