Life of Learning

Virginia Alvino / 90.5 WESA

Though more than 60 percent of the students in Pittsburgh Public Schools are people of color, district officials said eighty-five percent of its teachers are white and primarily women.

Carrick High School junior Trevon Stanton said throughout his education, he’s rarely had a teacher who looks like him. That’s why he’s considering becoming a teacher one day.

First off, it starts with me," Stanton said. "If no one’s going to be the change then I will.”

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council members and education activists say it’s time for Pennsylvania lawmakers to prioritize affordable early childhood education in the state’s budget.

Early Positive Racial Identity Could Help Close Achievement Gap

Mar 28, 2016
Office of Child Development / University of Pittsburgh

As Pittsburgh becomes more diverse, how can we ensure young children are maintaining a positive racial identity throughout their development? In a recent study by the race and early childhood collaborative, researchers dive into the concept of identity among preschool and kindergartners. We’ll have representatives from the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development and the School of Education Center for Urban Education tell us about the need for the study and best practices going forward.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

About 160 area students toured the U.S. Department of Energy's Technology Laboratory Wednesday as part of President Obama's Brother's Keeper initiative to address opportunity gaps in science, technology, engineering and math fields. 

Students were encouraged to pursue those fields with hands-on activities, such as experimenting with liquid nitrogen and testing acid voltage of fruits and vegetables. Researchers also talked to students about the lab's work in energy and environmental research and development with the focus of providing clean energy. 

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

  Last May, Governor Tom Wolf held a news conference in front of the Camp Hill state prison in Cumberland County.

He was joined by Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and a handful of district attorneys, all pushing for a $120 million funding increase — not for prisons — but for preschool.

“These are the first steps to what I have as a four-year goal to fully fund early childhood education,” Wolf said.

Preparing And Retaining Urban Teachers

Feb 29, 2016
Norton Gusky / flickr

A 2015 report by the National Center for Education Statistics stated that 17 percent, or one out of six, of teachers leave the profession within four years, with one out of ten doing so after the first year alone. These high rates are even worse for urban schools, with Pittsburgh Public Schools seeing an average turnover rate of 22 percent over the last three years. 90.5 WESA’s Kevin Gavin spoke with Shirley Johnson, professor of education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Randy Bartlett, senior director of teacher residency at Propel Charter Schools, about what can be done to better prepare urban educators.

Bill Hildabrand

Staff turnover rates are a consistent problem when recruiting teacher talent. How do you prepare future teachers studying education for the challenges and rigors of urban schooling? 90.5 WESA’s Kevin Gavin posed the question to Bill Hildabrand, seventh grade teacher at Chartiers Valley Middle School, and Lacey Hohl, second grade teacher at Faison Elementary School.

Life Of Learning Special Focusing On Urban Teaching

Feb 29, 2016
Al Kruse / flickr

Teaching is both challenging and rewarding. Whether you teach in an urban or suburban setting each has its unique challenges. As part of WESA’s Life of Learning Initiative today’s Essential Pittsburgh focuses on teachers in urban school districts.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

In Pennsylvania, fourth graders from middle and upper class families are more than twice as likely as their peers from low income families to score advanced or proficient on standardized reading tests, mirroring the nationwide trend. 

Over the last 40 years, family income has overtaken race as the best predictor of student achievement. Among Pittsburgh Public Schools, the general trend holds true. Schools serving more low-income students have lower test scores. But in part two of our three-part Life of Learning series, we report on one public school that has found a strategy for improving student achievement across the board.

Sunnyside Elementary School special education teacher Jennifer Barger said she never realized how powerful data could be, until her students started tracking their own.

The good news: over the last 40 years, the achievement gap between black and white students has narrowed substantially.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

About 50 of the 550 students at University Preparatory School in the Hill District are learning the skills of effective leaders.

Teachers at the school selected students they felt were listened to by their peers. Now they're aiming to have those students lead the way toward a more positive school climate.

Pittsburgh Public School’s national search for a new superintendent will be a multi-month, transparent process full of community input, Board President Regina Holley said Monday.

The process will begin in January with seven forums held from 6 to 9 p.m. at schools around the city. Childcare will be provided, and all events will be streamed at pittsupsearch.com. There will also be a dedicated email, voicemail and Twitter feed for public input, she said.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public Schools is turning to more progressive methods of discipline, after finding that cut and dry methods, like Zero Tolerance, led to too many suspensions.

Back in the ‘90s, many schools started using those methods as a way to motivate kids to behave.

They put police officers in schools, along with metal detectors. They issued harsh punishments to prevent bigger offenses. 

It became a way of doing things, but opponents say rather than getting students to behave, it was just pushing them out of school. Now administrators shy away from those methods.

COD Newsroom / flickr

A grant awarded to the Community College of Allegheny County is designed to provide education and training in healthcare professions to low-income individuals. We’ll learn about the program from Jodi Campano, account executive for Workforce Development at CCAC.

Pittsburgh Public Schools

Moira Kaleida and Lynda Wrenn might both be new to the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Directors, but they’re not new to the district. 

A+ Schools

A+ Schools' annual analysis of Pittsburgh Public Schools noted again a troubling academic disparity between the district's black and white students.

“The gap is in the 30s,” said Carey Harris, the Pittsburgh-based advocacy group's executive director. “That’s got to be a focus, and I think probably the No. 1 concern leading up to that (will) be attendance and suspensions.”

Integrating The Arts Into STEM Curriculum

Nov 16, 2015
Eddie Welker / flickr

Creating the formula for the perfect curriculum can be a complex issue, requiring balance between subjects, instructors and policy advocates.

For several years, there’s been an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but many education experts are now pushing for an equal emphasis on the creative arts.

90.5 WESA

  

Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders this week agreed on a “framework” for a state budget with hopes for a full spending plan by Thanksgiving. The announcement comes nearly five months after the 2015-16 year began.

According to Senate minority leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), the budget is expected to include about $5.9 billion for basic education funding for public school districts, a $200 million increase from this past year.

Gadgetdude / Flickr

The difference between a worker who has a high school diploma and one who doesn’t may have a larger impact on the economy than some may realize. 

Each year, Pennsylvanians without a high school diploma or GED cost taxpayers an average of $683 each, according to Jamie Baxter, director of legislative policy and advocacy at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU).

But getting them a high school diploma, according to the AIU, could mean the state getting up to $6,000 per year in taxes from each worker. 

Integrating Technology In Classrooms Around The Region

Oct 29, 2015
Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

One hundred seventy-five school leaders, education experts and other stakeholders from across the country recently convened in Pittsburgh at the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools national meeting to discuss the role technology partnerships can play in enhancing digital learning in schools. The league is comprised of just 73 school districts including three from the Pittsburgh area:  South Fayette, Avonworth and Elizabeth Forward.

U.S. Department of Education

Researchers believe negative racial identities in black students might be contributing to the racial achievement gap, which in Pennsylvania amounts to more than 20 points in 4th grade and gets worse by 8th grade, according to state test data.

A new early childhood collaborative group between the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Public Schools will be working this year with parents and teachers to learn how to better foster positive racial identities.

Alberto G / flickr

Throughout Pennsylvania parents of elementary and middle school students are opening their mailboxes today to find standardized test scores for their children and their schools that are much lower than they were last year.  The drop has been nearly unanimously attributed to a more difficult set of tests that are more closely linked to Pennsylvania’s Common Core standards than they have been in the past.

“I would caution any parent from over interpreting these scores…this is a new baseline,” Heidi Ondek, Superintendent, Quaker Valley School District said.  “It may take years before this is a reliable enough measure to base too much on instructionally.”

University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development

  Twenty Pittsburgh Public Schools welcomed hordes of excited and apprehensive kindergartners on Thursday with Freddy the Frog, a green frog mascot representing the district's readiness program.

“We make a big celebration for the kindergarten children coming in for the first time and for their parents,” said Carole Barone-Martin, Pittsburgh Public's executive director of early childhood education.

Photo: MoD/MOD / Wikimedia Commons

Pennsylvania law requires school districts train teachers and other staff members to report suspected child abuse, but those laws don't cover every aspect of the growing danger involved with potentially improper contact between district employees and the students they're charged to teach.

“Pennsylvania does not have, at this time, a state law which mandates school district have policies regarding electronic communications.  Many states do,” said Ira Weiss, Pittsburgh Public Schools solicitor.

Vox Efx / flickr

Hearing about incidents of student-teacher fraternization does not surprise David Campbell, a 40-year veteran of teaching.

“[I]t’s the natural kind of thing that happens in every institution I’ve been in,” Campbell said.

Summer Dreamers Academy

Pittsburgh Public Schools Summer Dreamers Academy is one of four programs in the U.S. to win the 2015 New York Life Excellence in Summer Learning Award. Given by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), the awards aim to highlight best practices in educational summer programs.

“Research suggests that high quality summer learning programs can really make an impact socially, emotionally and academically in the lives of low-income students,” said Dara Murray, manager of program quality with NSLA.

Yoshimitsu Kurooka / flickr

Ten percent of children in schools have reported being involved in student-teacher fraternization.  While these interactions have been around for decades, some recent high profile cases have turned a spotlight on the problem.

Charol Shakeshaft, a professor of education leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, has been studying the subject for more than twenty-five years.  She said through educating students, teachers, and parents, predators can be caught and brought to justice. 

“One in ten kids,” Shakeshaft remarks, “That’s a lot.  And it happens in all kinds of schools.  Don’t kid yourself that it wouldn’t happen in the school district in the town that you live in. It would.”

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Two men rob a convenience store in Beaver County, killing the clerk in the process. They steal a car and head to Raccoon Creek State Park, where they open fire on beach-goers with automatic rifles.

This was the imaginary scenario that criminal justice and nursing students from Pittsburgh Technical Institute encountered Wednesday morning at a live disaster response exercise staged on park shores.

Five of the nine Pennsylvania schools that will receive federal School Improvement Grants are in the Pittsburgh Public Schools system, the state Department of Education announced Tuesday.

On one hand, it’s great news, because it means $7.3 million in additional funding is coming to PPS over the next five years. On the other hand, it means five of the lowest-achieving schools in the state that have not made substantial progress on state assessments are located in Pittsburgh.

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