Celebrating 20 Years of Changing Young Lives: The Hartman Literacy and Learning Center*

By Bill Henk – Let me tell you something that every dean absolutely loves.

What is it?  Well, it starts with the premise that the academic mission of a college or university falls into three categories:  teaching, research, and service.

In our College of Education at Marquette we aspire, first and foremost, to offer the highest quality educational experience possible for our undergraduate and graduate students.  At the same time, we aim to contribute significantly to the field of education broadly through cutting edge scholarship, while also providing service to our local community, the state, the nation, and our respective professional organizations.  All of our work is grounded squarely in the tenets of social justice and done with the greater good of society in mind.

Now imagine, if you will, an undertaking that brings together all three — teaching, research, AND service.  Such jewels of higher education are exceedingly rare, and in our College of Education, we’re fortunate to have two of them:  The Hartman Literacy and Learning Center and the Behavior Clinic at Penfield Children’s Center.   As it turns out, both are celebrating anniversaries this year, with the Hartman Center beginning its 20th year and the Behavior Clinic starting its 10th.

For today’s post, I’ll focus on the Hartman Center, in part because we’re marking its two decades of operating soon, on October 5, 2012, to be exact.  On that date we’ll celebrate the unique marriage of teaching, research, and service that the Center affords.  And trust me, you’ll hear more about the Behavior Clinic in the future.

The Hartman Center at a Glance

First you need to know a little more about the Center.  The short version is that we use itfor :

  1. teaching our pre-service educators how to apply best instructional practices in working with struggling readers and writers
  2. conducting original research that informs the field of literacy, and
  3. providing tutoring services in literacy (and more recently mathematics) to children who are at-risk for school failure.

Urban children in grades two through four are bused to and from their school to the Hartman Center where they are tutored  twice per week for ten weeks each semester by aspiring Marquette elementary/middle school teachers. The tutoring takes place under the gifted supervision of literacy professionals like our Center Director, Dr. Kathleen Clark as well as Dr. Doris Walker-Dalhouse and Dr. Karen Evans, and our resident mathematics educator, Dr. Leigh van den Kieboom.

In addition to the tutoring itself, families attend three events each semester (an open house, parent conference, and awards ceremony) and agree to read to or with their children several times per week.  It’s also worth noting that the urban school children who participate in the program are almost entirely African American.  And I should add that the Center is skillfully staffed by Ms. Calley Hostad who has followed the longtime stewardship of the Center by Ms. Coreen Bukowski,.

A Little History, A Lot of Impact

Although some tutoring services had been provided since the 1960’s, it wasn’t until 1992 or so that James (Jim) Hartman began his endowment of the Center in honor of his father, Ralph C. Hartman, a Marquette Law School alumnus.  Jim wanted to make a gift that his father would appreciate, and our Family Literacy Project, a collaborative partnership between nearby public and private schools that was co-founded by Dr. Lauren Leslie and Dr. Linda Allen fit the bill.

And the rest, as they say, is history.   Over the years well over a thousand children have been rescued from illiteracy, because of the Hartman Center, and some 700 teachers have been expertly trained there.

And along the way, many professional publications ensued including one by Drs. Leslie and Allen that netted the prestigious Albert J. Harris Research Award of the International Reading Association.  Work in the Center also led to the creation of the Qualitative Reading Inventory, co-authored by Dr. Leslie and Dr. JoAnne Caldwell, the most widely used and valued reading assessment instrument in the world.

In my eight years at Marquette, one of my greatest privileges has been getting to know Jim and Janet Hartman.  Their uncommon generosity enabled the pioneering work of Drs. Leslie and Allen to become so incredibly impactful in the first place, and because of their support, it not only continues to thrive to this day, but figures to persist evermore.

It’s a marvelous legacy to be sure, and at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I honestly believe that the Center has done more than change young lives — it’s saved them.  The tutoring has permitted the children we’ve served to achieve academically and position themselves for success in life.  And unlike many tutoring programs, we have the hard data or metrics to prove it.  In any case, without the literacy lifelines we’ve extended, I strongly suspect that most of these children would have languished in school, and likely have added to Milwaukee’s regrettable drop-out statistics.

As for the Marquette education majors who’ve been prepared in the Center, I can tell you that they are in high demand by local schools and districts.  When in the company of principals and superintendents, I am repeatedly told how our COED alumni are coveted, because they “really know how to teach reading.”

Although these accolades are certainly gratifying, what gives me the greatest satisfaction as an educator is imagining just how many school children our Marquette educators will deftly guide over the course of their careers.  Between the children we’ve helped directly through tutoring and those who have and will profit from being taught by our Marquette students, the impact of the Hartman Center is incalculable.  To be honest, I don’t think any of us can fully grasp either the quantity of beneficiaries or the qualitative differences we’ve made in their lives.

Its Reputation Preceded

For the record, as a literacy educator and researcher myself, I knew about the Hartman Center long before I ever set foot on the Marquette campus.  It achieved such a level of national prominence that I wanted to see for myself how it managed to provide an extraordinary community service, train highly coveted new teachers, and contribute to the professional literature — all at once.

Around that time, though, I got swept into administration and never got the chance.  Little did I know that one day I’d not only get to visit the Hartman Literacy and Learning Center, but be given the opportunity to proudly tell its remarkable story as the dean of the college that houses it.

And so you know, it’s a story that I will NEVER tire of telling.


*Operating the Hartman Literacy and Learning Center requires not only the generous support of Jim and Janet Hartman and the resources of the College of Education, but also the kind assistance of other friends who contribute on behalf of the deserving children we serve, the outstanding teachers we prepare, and the scholarship we do to improve literacy instruction nationwide.

If you would like to join the ranks of those kindly supporting the Center, please click hereThis year we are encouraging gifts of $20 or more to help support the purchase of Hartman Center t-shirts for the children and additional books for the center.   We’ve found that the children take great pride in wearing shirts signifying their connection to our university, and they greatly appreciate the books in our library that help them both to enjoy reading and become better at this vital skill.

4 Responses to “Celebrating 20 Years of Changing Young Lives: The Hartman Literacy and Learning Center*”

  1. 1 John M Parker September 27, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Proud of my daughter, Dr. Linda Allen
    John M Parker
    Colonel, USAF, (Retired)l


    • 2 billhenk September 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      And you should be, Colonel Parker. Your daughter’s work has been the difference in the lives of many struggling readers and writers and in the preparation of large numbers of Marquette educators. Thanks for your comment.



  2. 3 Lauren Leslie October 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Nicely done, Bill. It’s a legacy that I am proud of and so happy that it has continued so well in the hands of Kathleen Clark.


    • 4 billhenk October 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      Our Hartman Center has enjoyed extraordinary leadership through you and Kathleen, Lauren. That’s a big reason why we’re in the position to celebrate 20 successful years of operating.


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