Return to Headlines

Delta Program Teacher Recognized for Advocacy Class

 Delta Program English teacher Amy AllisonTime will tell whether Delta Program English teacher Amy Allison successfully taught her students to be advocates, but a global nonprofit believes she gave them a solid head start.


Judith’s Reading Room, an Allentown-based organization that establishes libraries and promotes literacy, recently bestowed its annual Judith’s Award, one of its highest honors, and a $1,500 prize to Allison for her Advocacy for Teens class in the fall. 


Nonprofit founders Cathy and Scott Lieber traveled to Delta to present the award to Allison and class consultant Virginia Squier, a retired Delta teacher, with school board members and Superintendent Curtis Johnson on hand.


According to the award citation, Allison and Squier taught students “how to appropriately engage in civic and cultural literacy by first learning about State College’s local library as a foundation for how to advocate for an issue.” Students spoke about Schlow Centre Region Library at their respective municipal meetings before, as a class, choosing a cause to promote themselves.


“I feel it is my duty as a teacher to aid students in learning how to navigate our world, understand our cultural literacy and advocate for themselves and others,” Allison said.


As the primary award recipient, Allison stands in good company. Her recognition was one of Judith’s Reading Room’s 2024 Freedom Through Literacy Awards to 11 “champions of literacy” in North America, South America and Africa. 


Judith’s Award started in 2019 to honor applicants who mirror the dreams and passion of the nonprofit’s namesake, Judith F. Krug, a Chicago librarian who devoted herself to protecting First Amendment rights as the American Library Association’s director for intellectual freedom.


“We found that your program is definitely in the spirit of what Judy did for her whole career,” Scott Lieber, Krug’s cousin, said at the award presentation.


Last year, Allison drew inspiration for the class from a podcast titled “Scene on Radio,” which featured a teacher mentoring students with carrying out advocacy projects.


“It just lit a fire under me,” Allison recalled. “I thought, ‘This is really such an important skill for students to learn,’ and I had the opportunity to be in a position to present that skill to help these students.”


Serendipitously, Squier approached Allison soon after with a similar wish. The advocacy podcast episode also had impressed Squier, who had seen firsthand how influential student voices could be with elected officials while teaching at Delta. A partnership was born.

Researching Schlow’s funding, staffing, and operations, then speaking at municipal meetings, gave the students an initial taste of advocacy. After assessing their experiences, they brainstormed potential projects for the class as a whole. In the end, the consensus choice was lobbying for lowering Pennsylvania’s minimum age to be on school boards from 18 to 16.


This spring, the same students have been pursuing the project as part of a business writing class, which Allison is treating as an extension of the advocacy course. Teams have been assigned to write surveys and emails, arrange meetings with local representatives, conduct research, and draft various types of proposals.


 Delta Program English teacher Amy Allison“It's a wonderful learning opportunity to see how to manage all the resources, how to reach out to the community, and how to work in groups, which can be problematic at times,” Allison said.


Along the way, students have developed real-world skills such as writing a business letter, creating proposals, interviewing people, even making professional calls. For practice on the phone, students worked in pairs using a script.


“It’s not just limited to advocacy for the public good,” Allison said. “It’s also personal advocacy; when you go into the world of business, or whatever world you choose to go into, being able to advocate for yourself and your projects.”


From the start, the goal has been to help the students effectively channel their voices. Already, they’ve seen the power of speaking up.


“When the kids went to the various township meetings, the councils were very appreciative,” Allison said. “They were effusive, so happy to see the students. In one place, they applauded. So it was really exhilarating for the students to know their voices were being heard.”


Squier said she would like to see student representatives on all local municipal boards, or create an advocacy class that draws from each Centre Region municipality.


“You can’t complain about kids not being engaged in government if you don’t let them engage,” she said. “You’ve got to get them when they’re young and fired up and still see a world of possibilities.”


Story and photos by Chris Rosenblum

Published May 9, 2024