Education | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Posted By on Wed, May 2, 2018 at 2:46 PM

click to enlarge Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council rebrands as Literacy Pittsburgh to highlight services beyond reading
CP photo by Sabrina Bodon
Don Block (left) and Gary Singery (right)
Literacy is more than just the ability to read and write. It’s the ability to help a child with their math homework, understand a doctor’s prescription and fill out government forms.

For the past 35 years, the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council has provided the Pittsburgh region with free educational programming and workplace resources. On May 2, the GPLC rebranded as Literacy Pittsburgh with hopes to better market its services and reach a wider audience.

“Our new brand and name is more inclusive and more encompassing of what we’re already doing,” said Literacy Pittsburgh Board of Directors President Gary Singery at the press conference. “We’re far more than an adult education program.”

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Apr 6, 2018 at 5:30 PM

click to enlarge Duquesne University students volunteer to help integrate and educate Pittsburgh refugees
Photo courtesy of Jewish Family Community Services
Duquesne University student working with a young refugee
One of the most daunting tasks for refugee children in integrating into an American lifestyle is something most Americans take for granted: speaking English. According to Dr. Jennie Schulze, an assistant political-science professor at Duquesne University, language skills are one of the biggest barriers in getting refugee children properly educated in the U.S.

“There is a need to close that gap and help integrate these refugee students into our society,” said Schulze in a press release.

But Schulze and Duquesne students are being proactive about this issue and are volunteering their time to help Pittsburgh refugees. At an after-school program at the Pittsburgh Gifted Center in Crafton Heights, Duquesne students work with refugee children from Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, helping them with homework and practicing English.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Posted By and on Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 5:24 PM

click to enlarge As part of National Walkout Day, Pittsburgh-area students demonstrate, call for stricter gun laws
CP photo by Sabrina Bodon
Dozens of high school students gather in Market Square in Downtown after walking out of class
On March 14, thousands of students across the Pittsburgh region walked out of their classes to express their frustration with inaction from state and federal legislators on gun control. More than two dozen schools in the area participated in some kind of demonstration as part of National Walkout Day, whether it was an actual walkout, a discussion or a rally in the name of protesting gun-violence and mass shootings.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 5:40 PM

click to enlarge University of Pittsburgh grad students want a public-health building on campus renamed
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Piotrus
Parran Hall on the University of Pittsburgh campus
Former U.S. Surgeon General Thomas Parran was the first dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health. That distinction granted Parran the distinction of having a building named for him: Parran Hall, which houses part of Pitt’s School of Public Health.

But a group of Pitt grad students wants to remind students and other Pittsburghers of Parran’s other memorable distinction, one of the more nefarious nature. While serving as surgeon general, Parran oversaw the Tuskegee and Guatemala syphilis experiments. The Tuskegee experiment enrolled hundreds of poor blacks from the rural American South, many of whom had syphilis, and left them untreated for decades to monitor their symptoms. Many participants were never informed they had syphilis.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 1:40 PM

Last night, the executive board of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers voted unanimously to strike if PFT President Nina Esposito-Visgitis deems it necessary. The board's vote comes after PFT tallied thousands of ballots from city teachers who overwhelmingly voted in favor of a strike earlier this week.

"On Monday, the PFT Executive Board got a clear message from our members that they are willing to go on strike if necessary," Esposito-Visgitis said in a statement. "I am honored that the Executive Board and the members continue to trust the Negotiations Team to advocate for the issues that are important to them and their students."

PFT has been negotiating with the Pittsburgh Public School District on behalf of teachers, paraprofessionals and technical/clerical employees for months. The district’s contract with the union expired on June 30, 2017. Today, they have returned to the table in hopes of reaching a resolution.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Posted By on Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh and Japanese college students celebrate city's first Coming of Age Day
CP photo by Ryan Deto
American and international students participate in Coming of Age ceremony at Pitt on Jan. 10
The University of Pittsburgh participates in a program every year that allows college students from Japan to live in Pittsburgh briefly, so they can improve their English language skills. And while the Japanese students benefit from learning a new language, some of them miss out on a very important holiday they would have experienced in Japan.

Coming of Age Day, or Seijin no Hi, is a national Japanese holiday celebrated on the second Monday of January, and held to encourage Japanese residents who have turned 20 years of age to partake in all the benefits of becoming an adult. In Japan, turning 20 means residents can legally drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, drive and gamble.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 5:18 PM

Pittsburgh YWCA gathers local organizations to tackle sexual and domestic violence
CP Photo by Rebecca Addison
Education materials from the Futures Without Violence Coaching Boys into Men program
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's lewd comments from 2005 have become widely known in just the few weeks since they were released. But now they're also being used to educate Pittsburgh youth about gender violence. 

At a meeting of area social service agencies and nonprofits today, as part of YWCA's Week Without Violence,organizations shared the resources they're using to prevent domestic and sexual violence. The event was put together in collaboration with Southwest PA Says No More, a local chapter of the No More campaign created by the FISA Foundation, Heinz Endowments and the United Way of Allegheny County to focus on prevention-focused work to stop gender-based violence.

"YWCA Greater Pittsburgh was thrilled to partner with Southwest PA Says No More to host the program today with the overall theme of Facing Violence Among Men," says Chaz Kellem, senior director of advocacy for race and gender equity for YWCA's Center for Race and Gender Equity. "The hope was to collaborate and learn about programs that are working with men and boys towards ending domestic and sexual violence...It is our hope that it will help build and strengthen relationships and explore possibilities for collaboration."

While several participants at the Oct. 20 event talked about resources they use to work with adults, most talked about educational resources for working with children. George Fleming is a batterer intervention specialist who works with men who have been court ordered to seek treatment for violent behavior. He says prevention programs in schools are key to ensuring fewer men come through his doors.

"The majority of the men in the group have never had education," Fleming says. "These types of subjects are taboo. If you don't go down to the board of education and demand some education in these schools you are moving backwards."

One popular gender violence prevention education training program used by high school athletic coaches is Coaching Men into Boys. Another is MVP Strategies, which is used in local charter schools like Urban Pathways and City High Charter.

MVP uses scenario-based intervention training. For example, one scenario would ask students what they would do in a situation where a group of friends are making homophobic remarks.  

Chris McAneny, executive director of Educating Empowering Eliminating Dating Violence, says these programs can only be effective if everyone in a school is participating.

"If the teachers, administrators and principals aren't on board, we're losing opportunities to teach everyday," McAneny says.

According to Southwest PA Says No More, 44 percent of reported sexual assaults take place before a victim turns 18. That's why the organization is hoping national attention on addressing sexual assault on college campuses will find it's way to middle and high schools.

"There's been a lot of great work happening at our colleges around sexual violence," says Kristy Trautmann, executive director of the FISA Foundation. "So what we've been looking at is taking what works and moving it down to our middle and high schools."

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Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 12:26 PM

click to enlarge Public officials calling for removing law enforcement from schools at panel tonight in Pittsburgh
Courtesy of Dignity in Schools Campaign
Dignity in Schools campaign poster
According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education for Civil Rights, students of color are disproportionately more likely to be referred to law enforcement and be subject to school-related arrests.

This is why a group of local, state and national policy-makers is calling for law enforcement to be removed from public school campuses, instead replaced by additional counselors and social workers. The group is part of the Dignity in Schools Campaign and will be discussing these school-arrest issues at a dinner and panel discussion tonight in the Hill District.

The message of the event is written in a press release put forth by the campaign: "Instead of hiring school police, schools should invest in hiring more counselors and training school personnel in these positive approaches, which research shows can significantly improve behavior, decrease suspensions and expulsions and improve academic outcomes."

Speakers include Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, state rep. Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty) and Tanya Clay House of the U.S. Department of Education. Also local rapper and activist Jasiri X will be performing. 

The group is demanding that schools across the nation stop arresting minority students; shift funding from police to counselors and “peace builders”; fund measures like positive interventions; enforce the Every Student Succeeds Act; and abolish paddling in schools. The group will also be focusing on decreasing school suspensions, since data from the Department of Education shows that once suspended, students are more likely to drop out.

The event is free and starts at 5 p.m. at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center
(1852 Enoch Street, Hill District). It's open to public and those interested can register at the group’s Eventbrite page.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Jul 26, 2016 at 4:49 PM

If you've never been to this remarkable historic site and history center just an hour west of Pittsburgh, — and plenty of Pittsburghers haven't — this offer of free entry is the perfect excuse.

click to enlarge Free Admission to Pittsburgh-area Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village this weekend
Photo courtesy of John Heinz History Center
Meadowcroft Rockshelter
Meadowcroft, in Avella, Washington County, is home to what's touted as the longest continuous site of human habitation in North America: a massive rock overhang used as a seasonal shelter by Native Americans as long as 16,000 years ago.

In addition to interpretive exhibits about that attraction, Meadowcroft (part of the John Heinz History Center), also includes a replica of a 16th-century Eastern Woodland Indian Village and two 1770s-era structures like those European settlers would have inhabited in the Upper Ohio Valley.

Visitors can use an atlatl — a spear-throwing implement used by prehistoric hunters — watch a blacksmithing demonstration, and more.

Courtesy of the Jack Buncher Foundation, admission to Meadowcroft is free this Saturday and Sunday for all adults, children and seniors. 

Meadowcroft is open noon-5 p.m. on Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information, see here.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 12:35 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's superintendent scandal could hurt education discourse
Photo by Rebecca Nuttall
Anthony Hamlet at the June 7 press conference
As a reporter who has covered education in Pittsburgh for nearly eight years, I was disheartened last week to hear that Pittsburgh's newest superintendent Anthony Hamlet was being scrutinized for discrepancies in his resume.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette story about the discrepancies was one of the first things I read this past Saturday after returning from my honeymoon at a resort with spotty WiFi. It filled me with anxiety before my looming return to work on Monday. Not because the prospect of a 9-to-5 work week seems less than appealing to anyone after 10 days off, or even because Mondays are the busiest days here at City Paper, but because I had been looking forward to a fresh start on the education beat.

Hamlet was presented to the public on May 18 and approved by the Pittsburgh Public School Board that same evening. In a statement from the district following the board's vote, Hamlet was defined as a "transformational leader." At the May 18 press conference, search consultant Brian Perkins touted Hamlet's record of raising achievement at struggling schools as director of school-transformation accountability in the Palm Beach County's (Fla.) school district.

“It was critical for us that we had somebody that had improved achievement for a diverse population of students,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools Director Regina Holley.

Perkins called the search process a "textbook" example of how to ensure that input from various community stakeholders is included in the selection process. It appeared Hamlet checked off all the requirements that make up a quality pick for superintendent. 

"The call for applications was a very specific one. We weren't looking for hundreds of applications," said Perkins. "We said we wanted someone who has teaching experience. We said we wanted someone who has been a principal." 

His selection was also praised by local leaders like Mayor Bill Peduto and the teacher's union.

"Dr. Hamlet brings a tremendous wealth and diversity of experience to our district, and the PFT whole-heartedly welcomes him," Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visigitis said in a statement. "It was wonderful to hear him speak to the primary importance of a positive and supportive school culture, and we look forward to working with him, and introducing him to the great work of our teachers, our students and our union."

But since then, the details Hamlet listed on his resume to bolster his record have been called into question. A June 3 article by the Palm Beach Post criticized Hamlet's assertions that he raised the grades at two struggling Palm Beach County schools from an F to a C, and raised the graduation rate at Palm Beach Lakes High School by 13 percentage points.

At a press conferences today, Hamlet admitted to making an error when he said he raised the two school's grades from an F to a C. But he said the other numbers he used as evidence of his accomplishments were taken from different data sets than those used by federal and state education agencies. (Data from the Florida education department and federal graduation rates do not align with Hamlet's assertions, according to the Post-Gazette and Palm Beach Post).

"It is unfortunate that we have begun this way," Hamlet said. "But I believe today, having answered these questions, I look forward to working with the board, schools, community, families and, more importantly, the students to continue some of the great work already taking place in the district."

Whether or not  Hamlet knowingly embellished his resume, it's possible the damage has already been done. 

All too often, discussions about education in Pittsburgh and around the country amount to little more than playing politics, and missteps are not quickly forgotten.

I'm afraid that now, anytime someone disagrees with a proposal by Hamlet's administration, they'll use this situation as undeniable proof that he is wrong instead of having a discussion about the merits of a proposal or alternative solutions to the district's problems.  

We've seen it happen before. All too often, the proposals and decisions made by Superintendent Linda Lane weren't evaluated based on their content. Instead they were criticized because Lane was seen as a continuation of the old guard started by former Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. When Lane was selected, many in the Pittsburgh community clamored for a superintendent from outside of the district. Lane's inclusion in the Roosevelt administration led many to write off her initiatives before an adequate discussion could take place.

Hamlet's selection was refreshing because he was supported by nearly every key stakeholder in the education community . For the sake of education discourse in this city and the success of Pittsburgh's public school students, I hope this pothole in Hamlet's tenure doesn't dictate his next five years with the district. 

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