Life of Learning

Nearly $900,000 in grant funding has been pledged to implement Pittsburgh Public School’s plan to transition a Bloomfield elementary school into a partial STEAM magnet.

The school board voted to develop Woolslair PreK-5, the district’s smallest school with 110 students, into a partial science, technology, engineering, arts and math – or STEAM – magnet school in September after initial plans to close the school. The plan also includes developing curriculum at three other STEAM magnets, Lincoln prek-5, Schiller 6-8 and Perry High School. The board will vote to accept the grants at the April 22 legislative meeting.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The students in Zack Hull’s 8th grade English class are eager to share their “This I Believe” essays. For several years, he has had his students dig within themselves and write about something they believe in, and he said the end of their 8th grade year is the perfect time to do that.

Ryan Stanton/Flickr

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Acts. Reauthored in 2001 and now more widely known as No Child Left Behind, the law will be getting a major rewrite in 2015. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia covers the changes coming to the most enduring education legislation that Congress has ever passed. 

Eskelsen Garcia says the complaints of parents and teachers have provided a chance to make major changes to the acts.

"We have an opportunity because more and more members of Congress might have an open mind about ending this test-and-punish routine and replacing it with better information."-Lily Eskelsen Garcia

Also today, we explore the idea of technological fluency, and civil rights activist and UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski works to institute minorities in STEM-related careers. 


Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

Eleven-year-old gymnast Danielle Norris is practicing a roundoff back tuck dismount for her balance beam routine. She has a meet coming up soon, and later this month she's competing in the state championship. Danielle’s mom, Karen Norris, says she practices about 22 hours a week.

“When Danielle was first invited to join the team and they told us the amount of hours that were involved, we were a little taken aback by that,” Norris said. “That was fourth grade.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Every Wednesday, at a former Catholic school building in Brookline, more than 100 children gather for “People are Always Learning Something” or PALS, enrichment – a weekly co-op. The families there homeschool their children, and pretty much everyone said they’d been asked by one or more people how their children socialize if they are homeschooled.

Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

For many, the mention of "homeschooling" conjures negative stereotypes about the people who practice it: Homeschool families are religious fundamentalists who shun secular society, or libertarian ideologues who reject the whole idea of public education on principle.

Area educators gathered Monday to discuss best practices in promoting student achievement in public education at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s first Learning Together conference.

The day-long conference featured 50 round-table discussions and sessions showcasing what regional educators do to increase achievement in schools.

The Allegheny Intermediate Unit is one of 29 units in Pennsylvania. It provides specialized education services to the 42 suburban Allegheny county school districts.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Lynn Lightfoot’s kids have an easy commute to class.

It's down a flight of stairs and onto couches in a room crammed with everything from books to DVD’s to board games. Her teenagers, Aleeshyah and Noah, aren’t just her children — they’re her students. They are two of about 21,000 children who are homeschooled in Pennsylvania.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  

What: 90.5 WESA’s Life of Learning Forum: Ending the School to Prison Pipeline

When: Monday, Nov. 10, 2014, 7 p.m. (Doors open 6:30 p.m.)

Where: 90.5 WESA, Community Broadcast Center, 67 Bedford Square, Pittsburgh PA 15203

Registration for this event has closed. The forum will be recorded for future broadcast.

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.

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.

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.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Up to $20 million is up for grabs for Pennsylvania, under a new grant competition announced in Pittsburgh. The funds are to be used for expanding access to early-childhood learning programs.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto took part in a tour of the “Hug Me Tight Childlife Center” in the Hill District – along with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. While in Pittsburgh, Duncan announced that applications for grants are now being accepted.

College Students Still Struggling with Math and Writing

Jul 28, 2014
Scott Akerman / Flickr

A great deal of concern is given to young children being ready to learn once they begin attending elementary school. But what happens when those children grow up and are ready to attend college?

A study by the U.S. Department of Education finds one in four college freshmen lack reading and math skills for entry level-college work. This results in students needing to take at least one noncredit remedial class.

California University of Pennsylvania is working to reduce the amount of remedial help needed by students. Daniel Engstrom, associate provost in the Office of Academic Success at California University of Pennsylvania explains why more and more students are coming into college unprepared.

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Summer camp — it’s not just for kids anymore. 

Teachers from around the Pittsburgh area and from as far away as Alabama this week attended the STEAM Innovation Summer Institute at South Fayette Intermediate School to learn how to embed robotics, computational thinking and game design into their curricula.  

Amidst lights flashing  and lots of beeps, elementary school teachers are playing with, or rather experimenting with, littleBits — tiny circuit boards engineered to snap together with magnets.

Life of Learning: A Deeper Look In Innovative Education

May 2, 2014
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

From flipped classrooms to blending the arts and sciences, what does it take to bring innovative approaches to the classroom?

Technology and innovation are being utilized as teaching methods by several school districts in the greater Pittsburgh area. This innovation has been recognized as the Pittsburgh area recently received the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards in New York and was the only city to get the award.

The Flipped Classroom Approach

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Daniel Funk’s construction technology classroom at Sto-Rox High School is literally buzzing with activity.

Students are confidently working with heavy duty power tools as they finish building small hanging display cases.

“Right now we’re working on the drawers,” said senior Asa Powell. “The drawer fronts are probably the hardest, because they have the knobs and whatnot."

Powell said he regularly looks forward to Funk’s class.

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