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.

This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

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.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

“A diorama on steroids.”

That's how Susan Mellon describes what she’s doing in her Springdale Junior and Senior High classroom, where students are combining poetry with computer technology and engineering.

“Kids tend to be a little intimidated by poetry, so I thought this would take something they’re intimidated by and don’t like and make it fun,” said Mellon, a gifted support coordinator at the school.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Dream. Discover. Design.

That’s the motto of Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland, a public magnet school focused on the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Essentially, the entire middle and high school shines a spotlight on innovation.

“The whole idea is tinkering, so we play, we tinker, we fail, we figure out what we did wrong, and we work again,” said Ann Gollapudi, who teaches physics and computer science at SciTech.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

When you think back to your school days, or even if you’re still in school, you likely sat through numerous lectures, then went home and worked on math or science problems on your own.  

Now, some teachers, such as Sue Marino at Chartiers Valley High School, are turning the traditional notion of schoolwork and homework on its head by “flipping the classroom.”

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

  

In an effort to combat the rising obesity rates in Allegheny County, physical education instructors in the North Allegheny School District have taken steps to ensure students coming out their system are devoted to lifelong fitness.

Dave Schmidt, the district's Health and Physical Education Department chair, said that over time his department has shifted from a team sports-based curriculum to one that focuses on lifetime exercise activities.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 FM WESA

The major components of living a healthy life are learning about and eating healthy food and the importance of physical fitness. 

With 54 schools in the Pittsburgh Public School System and nearly 26 thousand students, getting them fed requires planning and adherence to government guidelines for nutrition.

In some cases, the food for Pittsburgh public schools is prepared offsite, at a facility in the South Side. 

Curtistine Walker, director of food service for Pittsburgh Public Schools explained “the only schools that receive meals from the satellite site, or I guess you could call it our plant, are those schools that don’t have full service kitchens and right now, there’s probably about 20 that don’t.”

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Last week, a panel of experts gathered at the Community Broadcast Center to discuss what the future of the learning/education system should look like to be as effective as possible for the region’s children. The public forum tackled a range of questions from the audience, including the state of early childhood education.

Ryan Lowe / 90.5 WESA

A 90.5 WESA Life of Learning community forum on the evolution of learning in Pittsburgh was recently held at the Community Broadcast Center.

Listen to a special one hour broadcast of the forum on Monday March 24, 2014 at noon and 8pm, moderated by Essential Pittsburgh host Paul Guggenheimer and produced by Kevin Gavin, Executive Producer for Special News Projects.

Join us for a 90.5 WESA Life of Learning community forum on the evolution of learning in Pittsburgh. Come and ask questions and help us help the community grow.

It will be held on Tuesday, March 18th at the Community Broadcast Center on the South Side at 67 Bedford Square.  Doors open at 6:30 and the forum begins at 7. Among the topics posed, we'll explore:

•   What are the roles of teachers, parents, support organizations in helping to build that system?

On Monday afternoon, a chartered bus wound its way through the steep, narrow roads of the South Hills on its way to Baldwin High School.

On board were employees of HIAS, an agency that works with the State Department in bringing refugees to the United States. HIAS works with Jewish Family and Children’s Services, one of four resettlement agencies in the Pittsburgh area.

Pittsburgh has become a hub for refugees. This week HIAS is holding its national conference here, and among the activities are visits to where refugees live, work — and go to school.

Flickr user dcosand

Standardized: Lies, Money & Civil Rights

Dan Hornberger has been a high school English teacher for more than twenty years. During these years, his concerns regarding schools teaching to standardized tests spurred him to action.

The result is a documentary titled Standardized: Lies, Money & Civil Rights which he produced and co-directed.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Feb 12, 2014
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

 

Dazzled by the bizarre and eccentric characters of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, children’s author Jonathan Auxier has always been fascinated by peculiar storytelling.

The Vancouver native moved to Pittsburgh to pursue a theater and writing degree from Carnegie Mellon University and fell in love with the city’s charm and enchanting geography. His book, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, spins the tale of a blind orphan who happens to be the greatest thief to ever live. 

The Failure to Educate Many African American Males

Jan 24, 2014

The graduation rate for African American males in Pennsylvania is 57 percent compared to 85 percent for white males--a 28 percentage point gap, according to the latest data from the Schott Foundation for Public Education.  Reasons for the discrepancy are complex.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Quality pre-K programs can help kids later in school, both academically and socially. But many families can’t afford to send their children to pre-school, and government funding for early childhood programs has decreased in recent years.

A statewide effort was launched Thursday to ensure all three- and four-year-olds have access to quality pre-K programs. Michelle Figlar is executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, or PAEYC. She said research has shown children who have access to strong pre-K programs do better overall in school.

When temperatures dropped below zero in the beginning of January every school district and private school in Allegheny County canceled class. But a few schools made sure their students attended class online.

Seton La-Salle Catholic High School in Mt. Lebanon was among them.

Principal Lauren Martin explained they do anything they can to avoid having to tack on make-up days in June for bad weather earlier in the year because parents have already made summer plans and the kids are unfocused and eager to get out of school.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Students from three dozen middle schools across the region gathered at Carnegie Music Hall Saturday for Pittsburgh’s 15th annual Future City competition.

Coordinated by the Carnegie Science Center, the competition challenges students to imagine and build the cities of the future.

Linda Ortenzo, director of STEM programs at the science center, said getting to the actual competition is a semester-long process.

State House Passes Plan to Redevelop School Funding Formula

Jan 16, 2014

The state House has passed a plan that could bring lawmakers back to using a funding formula when doling out money to school districts across Pennsylvania.

The legislation would create a commission to review education funding and make recommendations for a new formula--something education advocates have urged for years.

Flickr user albertogp123

The stereotypes about adults seeking GED certification can be ugly and simplistic. But the reality is that many lack a high school diploma for reasons largely outside their control: health problems, family issues and immigration status, just to name a few.

Some, like Rebekah Petrakovits, were home-schooled without proper oversight from school officials who were supposed to monitor their progress.

The Pittsburgh region will continue as a “Hive Network.”

The MacArthur Foundation, which selected Pittsburgh in February as just the third “hive” in the nation, following New York and Chicago, has re-authorized and funded the project for another two years.

The goal of the Hive Network is to expand learning for young people beyond schools to museums, libraries, afterschool programs and community centers. Participating organizations offer programs to engage youth in learning based on their interests.

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