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17 Aug

Spring 2016 RSL students identify unmet need for Durham Literacy Center students

What could be more important than providing education programs for Durham residents who want to improve their lives through literacy?

As a group of RSL students found out, making sure that students have the necessary transportation to access the education programs in the first place.

Four students in Professor Ken Rogerson’s Spring 2016 PUBPOL 301: Political Analysis in Public Policy course—Hope Acuri, Jenn Hofmann, Nathalie Kauz, and Kate Scandura—were partnered with the Durham Literacy Center, a community-based organization focused on increasing youth and adult literacy. for their RSL project.


The Durham Literacy Center logo

Some professors, when planning RSL Gateway Courses, select a specific issue or theme they want to highlight—for Professor Rogerson, he knew he wanted his students’ RSL experiences to center around poverty in Durham. In addition to the Durham Literacy Center, students partnered with the Food Bank and Meals on Wheels, allowing them to see firsthand the different ways that Durham residents experienced poverty.

For Acuri, Hofmann, Kauz, and Scandura, the Durham Literacy Center asked them to conduct a research project regarding issues of transportation. The DLC purposefully held its tutoring sessions in the morning because that was the only time Durham residents who relied on public transportation could reach the office. However, despite this extra precaution, many DLC clients still expressed difficulties and frustrations with getting to their lessons reliably and on time.


Students at the DLC (photo courtesy of the Durham Literacy Center)

Thus, these four RSL students set out to figure out what the barriers were for DLC students in accessing consistent, reliable public transportation to their lessons. In order to do so, they designed and implemented their own survey, distributing it to nine out of the twelve students who were enrolled in DLC’s Youth Education Program.

They found that, out of these nine students, only four took the bus to get to the DLC, while the other five received a ride in a car from a family or friend. However, for those four students, the difficulties they experienced with the buses were wide ranging. Their main complaints included “it’s too expensive,” “it arrives too late,” “I feel unsafe,” “the bus stop is too far,” and “buses do not come when they say they will.”

Based on these survey results, Acuri, Hofmann, Kauz, and Scandura drafted a memo to the Durham Literacy Center, outlining different recommendations for how the DLC could help to alleviate their students’ transportation difficulties. For one, they suggested having DLC students attend GoTriangle meetings and speak to their experiences. GoTriangle, the umbrella transit system for Durham public transportation, has a program called GoPass, through which academic institutions can provide their students with free unlimited bus passes. However, the Durham Literacy Center did not qualify as an academic institution because they did not have at least 100 students. But by sending students to GoTriangle meetings and explaining the importance of the DLC as an academic institution, the RSL students thought that maybe this could influence GoTriangle to change its policies.


An announcement for a GoTriangle meeting

The RSL students also recommended that the DLC apply for potential transportation grant funding through either local or regional organizations. Bus passes are expensive, a monthly bus pass costing $34, which can comprise a significant amount of a DLC student’s monthly income. However, if the DLC was able to secure grant funding to cover the cost of monthly bus passes for its students that use public transportation, that could be greatly beneficial.

In their final evaluations, all the students reported learning a lot about how public policies can have real effects on Durham community members. They write:

If we have learned one thing from this experience, it is that public services, like transportation and education, fail to meet the needs of all people. Our society relies on organizations like the DLC to fill those gaps and help those who may have slipped through the cracks.

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