Life of Learning

90.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

It’s a conversation heard around countless dinner tables or on the way home. What did you do at school today? The answer most often is nothing or "I don’t know" or "I played."

That one-sided conversation is common in early education students. Parents can try to talk to teachers during the shuffle of picking up their child, but that’s usually only slightly more productive.

U.S. Department of Education

“This is not just an education law,” says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “this is a civil rights law.”

Duncan is referring to the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, which is up for reauthorization by Congress. 

“The law is outdated and fundamentally broken. We need Congress to get past this dysfunction and fix the law,” Duncan said.

President Lyndon Johnson signed ESEA as part of his war on poverty. The original intent was to ensure that federal resources would help disadvantaged and special-needs children.

Charter schools in the commonwealth have grown rapidly. Over a five year period beginning in 2006, enrollment in the state increased by 54 percent, and according to the most recent data, 6 percent of Pennsylvania students now attend a charter school.

But a study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at Penn State has found that charter schools are more racially segregated than their public school counterparts. 

Gateway to the Arts

Early childhood learners outperform their peers when they are taught with an arts-integrated background, according to an independent study of a model used in 11 Pittsburgh area schools.

Forty-three percent of Pittsburgh public high school students were chronically absent during the 2013-14 academic year.

More than 250 education stakeholders are expected to attend today’s School Attendance Matters Conference hosted by the United Way of Allegheny County and several other sponsors to discuss ways to change the trend.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Parents, educators, students and political representatives met for two hours Saturday to discuss reducing suspensions in school and create a climate that doesn’t push students out of school.  

The Education Law Center of Pittsburgh and Great Public Schools led a workshop-style conversation at the Kingsley Center in East Liberty titled, “educate don’t incarcerate,” a nod to the notion that disciplining students by pushing them out of school creates a pipeline to future incarceration.

Ty Wright / Associated Press

A+ Schools, a non-profit that advocates for accountability in Pittsburgh Public Schools had a research firm conduct a poll in late January in which residents were asked targeted questions about what changes they would like to see to schools.

405 individuals were surveyed. 79 percent of them agreed with a statement that its possible for Pittsburgh to be known as a city whose public schools have high standards, great teaching and give all students, regardless of race or background, an opportunity for a great education.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

A high school history teacher at Ellis School in Shadyside is showing his 11th grade students the evolution of racial attitudes in America by exploring how common items have had different meanings for black and white people.

Students speak in the first person and personify one item a week including a typewriter, bus ticket, acoustic guitar, police baton and a flapper dress.

Sarah Schneider

Teachers in two Wilkinsburg elementary schools are now using iPads as part of the district’s new personal learning literacy curriculum.  

Kelly Polosky, a fifth grade teacher at Kelly Elementary said her students are able to move at their own pace with the use of tablets.

“During that intervention hour, students are able to stay focused and work on something they specifically need and it’s really hard to get to all those students at a small group table for me to work on, so this is something they can benefit from working on their own.”

Dawn Biery

Aileen Owens is the Director of Technology and Innovation for the South Fayette School District. Last year she was the recipient of two national awards for Digital Innovation in Learning.

As part of 90.5 WESA’s Life of Learning Initiative, Ms. Owens joins us to discuss her approach to teaching technology. 

Ms. Owens tells us more about the work she did with teaching technologies for k-12 education:

Cars assembled by middle schoolers zipped down the 65-foot elevated track lining the wall in less than a second.

The cars moved so quickly, the engineers often had to ask if their car won the race.

The dragster car competition was just one of several events at the Technology Student Association (TSA) regional competition at Pittsburgh Technical Institute. The organization focuses on bringing technology into classrooms and extending that learning after-school. Nearly 400 high school students attended the first day and 200 middle school students on the second day.

Courtesy of Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania

Traditionally, learning in the U.S. has been home to school and back to home.

Educators widely agree different approaches are needed for each generation of learners. They also agree that means learning must occur in all aspect of a student’s life.

Young Men of Color Learn How to Interview Their Role Models

Jan 8, 2015
Crossing Fences

Since 2012, the Crossing Fences project has been using audio and radio to connect generations and continue the oral tradition in Pittsburgh.

The project, run by local radio program Saturday Light Brigade, gathers African-American students in neighborhoods such as Homewood, the Hill District, and Sto-Rox, and teaches them about audio engineering.

During this time, members of Crossing Fences and the students discussed role models within the community. The students then had to reach out to these role models and plan, record and edit an interview with them.

Joining us to discuss the project are Larry Berger, executive director and Chanessa Schuler, multi-media specialist of Saturday Light Brigade Radio.

OCHS

Pittsburgh has become a hub for technology and computer developments, thanks to institutions including Carnegie Mellon University and Google.

Local students who wish to one day join this field must learn at a young age the language of computers- coding.  

Last week students around the world took part in the second annual Hour of Code event in which they spent an hour learning computer code. The program was created by Hadi Partovi at Code.org to introduce individuals, not just students, to the coding process.

Oakland Catholic High School was one of the schools that participated in the event, and school president Mary Claire Kasunic stopped by Essential Pittsburgh to explain the significance of the program.

Cathy Lewis Long Explores the Future of Pittsburgh Education

Dec 10, 2014
Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

Last week educational visionaries from the area who are rethinking education gathered for their annual summit. As part of the WESA’s Life of Learning Initiative we’ll explore what’s on the educational horizon with Cathy Lewis Long, Executive Director & President for The Sprout Fund.

Building Neighborhood Bridges to Innovation

Dec 8, 2014
Peter Radunzel / Flickr

Pittsburgh native, entrepreneur and Urban Innovation 21 CEO William Generett is an advocate looking to connect the city’s disadvantaged neighborhoods to the tech sector. 

He joins us in Studio A for a conversation on how he plans to accomplish this goal.

More than 400 teachers, administrators, librarians, artists, out-of-school educators, mentors, parents and students crowded a ballroom at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Friday to discuss how to create a more integrated learning environment in Pittsburgh.

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

The adoption of zero tolerance policies in schools has risen sharply since the 1999 Columbine shootings.  But are those policies making schools safer? Many education stakeholders in Pittsburgh say the widespread use of zero tolerance policies has increased the likelihood of students entering the criminal justice system based on school incidents. 

“If we can move from a zero tolerance policy, which excludes children who are having trouble, to progressive discipline, which includes those with a rehabilitative effort to get them back on their feet and back into school, we can do a better job with community safety,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, David Hickton, said at WESA’s community forum entitled "Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline" on Monday.  

John Walker / Flickr

In 2008 the Pittsburgh Promise began offering scholarships to area high school students. Since then 1,084 scholarship recipients have graduated from college.

While the program is having its successes, it isn’t without critics who say it hasn’t resulted in any meaningful improvement in academic achievement.

Joining us for a conversation about the organization, which recently delivered its annual report is Pittsburgh Promise executive director Saleem Ghubril.

The state has given early education grants to four southwestern Pennsylvania agencies. The grants are for $75,000 a year for three years.

The organizations received the money to continue work they’ve already started in reducing the student achievement gap for children in at-risk communities.

Courtesy of Assemble

There’s good news and there’s bad news when it comes to after-school programs in Allegheny County.

The good news is that more children than ever are participating in after-school and out-of-school-time programs: 10.2 million nationwide and 52,646 in Allegheny County, according to a new report from the Afterschool Alliance. That puts the national participation rate at 18 percent, while Allegheny County’s participation rate is much higher at 28 percent.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

A recent story about the disparity in Boy and Girl Scouts course offerings at the Carnegie Science Center caught fire online. The outrage was made all the more contentious because the seemingly single course offered for Girl Scouts centered on creating beauty products.

When surveying a room of teachers, parents, and students about the significance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, and the results can vary with a mixture of answers filled with uncertainty often dominating the conversation.

The Carnegie Science Center is trying to emphasize the impact of STEM learning through the results of a survey, “Work To Do: The Role of STEM Education in Improving the Tri-State Region’s Workforce.” 

Life of Learning: American Education and the Arts

Sep 11, 2014
Josh Staiger / Flickr

Local and national arts education leaders gathered in Pittsburgh this week for a two-day Arts Education National Forum. There, teachers and advocates discussed how to prepare students for a new America through the arts.

As part of WESA’s Life of Learning initiative, Essential Pittsburgh explored the state of arts centered learning programs in area schools, community involvement and the future of arts education.

While the discussion of access to arts education has often meant a lack of resources, Sandra Ruppert, director of the Arts Education Partnership said the problem often is money and a lack of faith in arts.

“In some places around the country I believe the arts are not being taken seriously. The arts are sometimes considered more of an enrichment than a core academic subject and a necessity. Sometimes the arts are viewed for kids that are at risk or for the gifted and talented and not for every child,” she said. 

McKeesport Community Encourages Good Attendance

Sep 10, 2014

Often discussing a student’s attendance is a negative conversation or one that leads to disciplinary action.

But early Wednesday morning, teachers and community members rallied around McKeesport Area School District students as they were dropped off at the front door. As school bus engines rumbled, volunteers holding welcome signs cheered, pinned stickers on students and handed them school supplies.

“I’m glad you’re here today,” and “It’s important to come to school,” the volunteers repeated to the students.

There are 2.4 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs available for every unemployed person in Pennsylvania with STEM skills, according to the national science education advocacy group Change the Equation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education reported that in 2013, low-income students in Pennsylvania scored about 9 percent lower on standardized math tests, and 20 percent lower on standardized science tests.

Westminster College in Lawrence County, about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh, has just announced a new program that aims to address both of these issues.

IQ STEM includes an undergraduate scholarship component and a professional development component, both of which focus on four high needs school districts in the region surrounding Westminster: Sharon City School District and Farrell Area School District in Mercer County, and Union Area School District and New Castle Area School District in Lawrence County.

High needs schools are defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965 and by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 as schools with high teacher turnover rates, a high percentage of out-of-field or uncertified teachers, a high number of unfilled teaching positions and/or a large percentage of students whose families fall below the poverty line.

'Ready Freddy' Brings Kindness to Kindergarten

Aug 25, 2014
University of Pittsburgh

Today is the first day of kindergarten for many Pittsburgh area students. They will be welcomed this year by the “Ready Freddy” green frog mascot as part of the program developed by the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development to make the first day easier for the little ones.

Ken Smythe-Leistico is the assistant director of Pitt’s Office of Child Development. He says that many children have anxieties about transitioning into kindergarten.

“You leave that past life as you know it and all those comforts that you had...and you’re navigating all these elements at five years old,” he says.

Brian Donovan / Flickr

As the Pittsburgh region experiences its yearly rush of returning college students, a number of high school graduates who initially registered will not be moving into the freshmen dorms. 

According to University of Pittsburgh Education Professor Lindsay Page, 10 to 20 percent of the high school graduates who register for college in the spring fail to show up for enrollment in the fall. This is due in large part to unforeseen financial constraints, lack of resources and lack of guidance.

In researching this growing problem, Page looked at enrollment data, and she interviewed career counselors, advisors and students for her forthcoming book Summer Melt: Supporting Low-income Students through the Transition to College

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

Educators are increasingly concerned about kids losing knowledge during the summer. As part of our Life of Learning Initiative, we look at a program that not only helps middle and high schoolers learn during the summer, but also allows them to show off their new skills to colleges and future employers.

Life Of Learning: Discussing Pre-K Education

Aug 15, 2014
Kirsten Jennings / Flickr

From the time they are born to when they first attend school children can learn a lot. The skills of reading, writing and basic math are attained by some children who attend preschool.  This can provide preschoolers with a significant head start over children with no pre-kindergarten education.

Studies have shown the gap between the two groups  grows as their schooling progresses. The benefits of preschool are especially important for children deemed “at risk.”

Pages