• Today is: Monday, October 16, 2017

What cool things are going on in Pittsburgh schools? Here’s an impressive list, from A to W

schools 2017
Sally Quinn
October04/ 2017

Pittsburgh school districts don’t just give lip service to the importance of education. Our local schools invest heavily in our kids’ futures, addressing the child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.

Tablets, iPads, and robots are just a start in the education revolution surrounding us. Hello, aquaponics and Trout in the Classroom. Cheers to mobile Fab Labs — and one that got its start as a tiny house! Kindergarten coders and maker spaces galore are part of the excitement.

We asked local school districts to fill us in on their newest school programming. Here are the highlights:

Allegheny Valley School District

 At Allegheny Valley, a new maker space supports STEAM learning at Springdale Jr.-Sr. High School for grades 9-12. The school continues to work to integrate career- and work force-ready skills in the curriculum.

The primary and upper elementary schools incorporate the PATHs (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) program to help kids learn skills to stay grounded in social and emotional learning (SEL). The skills help them resolve conflicts and handle their emotions peacefully, empathize with others, and make responsible decisions.

A 14-classroom wing is under construction at Acmetonia Primary to house STEM, music, and technology classes.

Avonworth School District

 Avonworth unveiled a new “Pathways to the Future” plan to focus on personalized learning, interdisciplinary learning, and the use of space and time. The elementary library has been redesigned with new furniture.

A high school computer lab has been transformed in the Lopes Lounge, run by the life skills students. Kids can “Build Your Own Course” to go deeper into topics of interest. Another addition to the curriculum is a Project Lead the Way engineering class.

Construction is beginning on a large group instruction space planned to enhance project-based and STEAM-related learning activities for middle and high school kids.

Baldwin-Whitehall School District

With help from Baldwin-Whitehall’s education foundation, local businesses, and parents, the district is building its first mobile Fab Lab to bring in-depth digital fabrication to its elementary schools.

At J.E. Harrison Middle School, a state-of-the-art situation simulator provides students with immersive problem-solving experiences that encourage teamwork and creative problem-solving. The simulator was designed for science classes, but the goal is to find new ways to use the simulator, including modules like Succession (8th-grade social studies), Pandemic (6th-grade health), and even language arts. For example, 7th-grade students will read Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” and then interact with actual Iditarod sled dogs within the Mission Ops collaborative space.

McAnnulty Masterminds is a Ready to Learn, after-school pilot program within the Baldwin-Whitehall School District. The program, funded by the WQED/PBS Ready to Learn Grant, allows participation in STEAM activities. Components of the program include PBS Math IQ lessons, Scratch Jr., and aspects of the Ruff Ruffman science experiments.

Chartiers Valley School District

At Chartiers Valley, everything is new at the middle school in a dynamic new learning environment. Additional construction is underway.

High school curriculum introduces four engaging courses: Cybersecurity and the Law, a University of Pittsburgh elective; Environmental Sustainability, an interdisciplinary engineering class; Advanced Placement Seminar to investigate real-world issues from various perspectives; and Medical Interventions, part of the Project Lead the Way Biomedical Sciences course.

Social studies is the focus of new content and structure across all grade levels. The idea is to learn how citizens can contribute to the betterment of our community.

In the intermediate school, the emphasis has moved from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset to help kids develop strategies to move forward when challenged by challenges.

Deer Lakes School District

The middle school at Deer Lakes just opened its $65,000 state-of-the-art innovation center, transforming the former library into a learning center with dynamic classrooms, interactive video boards, dry erase walls, and maker spaces.

All four school are now part of a new college and career readiness counseling plan, which begins as early as kindergarten, to help kids focus on their post-high school ambitions. Kids in grades 5-12 and their parents have access to the career cruising software program to explore careers, create a career portfolio, and conduct college searches.

The high school’s Zulama gaming series, which offers classes in game design, programming, 3-D modeling, and screenwriting, has been expanded. More advanced classes have been added to the Carnegie Mellon University-created program.

Physical activity gets its due with the addition of FitnessGram for grades 3-8. Kids can be assessed in 12 areas in which progress can be tracked.

schools 2017
Fox Chapel High School students turned a tiny house into a mobile Fab Lab.

Fox Chapel Area School District

High school kids at Fox Chapel built a Fab Lab in a tiny house that will travel with its educational tools to elementary schools within the district, as well as beyond. The Grable Foundation and 84 Lumber helped support the endeavor.

With a new elementary STEAM curriculum, kids will engage in academic reading, scientific writing, purpose-drive inquiry, and digital fabrication.

This is the first year of the district’s involvement in the League of Innovative Schools. With entry by invitation only, Fox Chapel was recognized for its comprehensive K-12 computer science curriculum, its commitment to maker education, and its research and technology partnerships with local universities and entrepreneurs.

Upgrades in several schools include new maker spaces, a food lab, art rooms, and special education rooms.

schools 2017
The new Montour Elementary School engages kids through innovative learning spaces.

Montour School District

Montour School District opened the doors to a new elementary school, designed with a number of cool learning spaces that include a full Minecraft Education Lab, an Upcycle Makerspace, Human-Centered Design Areas, and an outdoor Amphitheater. The school was customized with creative furniture to engage kids and accommodate individual comfort. The furniture includes desks for small group instruction, optional seating for students with stand-up desks, plus ball seating.

Teacher desks are smaller than traditional models and are equipped with wheels to move throughout the rooms. Each classroom has a 75-foot Promethean Interactive Display Panel using ClassFlow, along with whiteboards. Another learning-centric space a LEGO Makerspace.

Mt. Lebanon School District

Elementary school libraries in Mt. Lebanon have expanded their maker spaces through guidance through a partnership with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, as well as teacher development training. Elementary school kids will also gain computer coding experience to prepare them for more advanced opportunities in high school.

The school district emphasizes the Universal Design for Learning to create curriculum and instruction to ensure inclusion and accessibility for all students. Broadening the effort of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is another point of emphasis for development of kids’ mental well-being.

Northgate School District

Northgate Middle School is one of 50 schools across the country joining the pilot year of the Dynamic Learning Project supported by Digital Promise, EdTech Team, and Google. Northgate was chosen based on need, existing technology infrastructure, and innovative leadership committed to teachers’ success. The project’s goal is an investment in teachers by sponsoring and training a coaching fellow who will provide personalized, tech-based coaching to help educators approach technology in new ways. The effort should engage the entire school of teachers, principals, and the greater community, for the success of students.

As far as the physical health of kids, Northgate received two grants: The Game On grant from CSX transportation will be used to expand access to physical education and healthy food in school, as well as engage parents to boost healthy eating habits at home. Action for Healthy Kids has enabled the purchase of Tower Gardens to educate kids on growing their own foods and developing a wholesome lifestyle.

North Hills School District

North Hill’s McIntyre Elementary School has undergone an expansion with a two-story, 11,480-square-foot addition. The project adds eight classrooms, three small group instruction rooms, and a re-imagined playground area.

High school kids are taking advantage of new classes with a career- and college-ready focus: Principles in Biomedical Science, and Acting 1 to 4. Another exciting new course – The Art of Making – is an engineering course in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh and World Language and Culture Enrichment. The mission is for kids to develop design thinking through a maker culture, and systems engineering.

Grades 5 and 6 are working on an upgraded computer literacy curriculum aligned with the rigorous national-level Next Generation Science Standards.

Penn Hill School District

Teachers are in the spotlight at Penn Hills, where kids will be the subsequent winners.

The school district is in its second year of affiliation with the National Math Science Initiative to promote more students participating in Advanced Placement courses. The program offers teacher training and other benefits through the Gates Foundation and Exxon-Mobil.

Linton Middle School is another one of the 50 schools chosen to participate in Google’s national Digital Promise Program in a partnership with EdTech, allowing the district to collaborate with the Google corporation to help make teaching and learning more enjoyable

Pine-Richland School District

Pine-Richland’s first maker space is operating in Wexford Elementary, which includes Keva building planks, Buddha Boards, plus story, electronic, and modeling kits.

At Eden Hall Upper Elementary, kids created an interactive visitor kiosk, where visitors can learn about the history of the school. A greenhouse is attached to the kiosk. In a partnership with Chatham University, kids are being challenged to come up with a concept to re-purpose space that incorporates green features for sustainable living.

Pittsburgh Public Schools

A new undertaking by Pittsburgh Public Schools – the 2017-2022 Strategic Plan: Expect Great Things – sets out to make meaningful student-centered changes this year and continued improvement into the future.

A Student Advisory ensures that all kids’ voices will be heard, along with a district-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports at every school New codes of conduct differentiate between pre-K and age 5 and ages 6 to 12.

A partnership with the University of Pittsburgh guarantees admission and scholarship support for all valedictorians and salutatorians. To help kids advance, new English language arts and math academic coaches are in place. On the health side of the effort, every campus now has a full-time school nurse on staff.

Plum Borough School District

Plum spotlights tech in a lot of ways: The Mobile Maker Lab, which includes 3-D printers and robots, visits each district elementary school for nine weeks to give kids a hands-on maker experience. All kids K-6 take coding classes. The high school’s new Mac Lab supports equally new classes, such as Computer Science Through Gaming and AP Computer Science. A new Virtual Reality Lab will be used for additional classes, And the high school library is being transformed into a 21st Century maker space.

An entrepreneurial grant was earned through the elementary schools’ new Grow Rooms, aquaponics labs, and a Trout in the Classroom project.

The district fosters global awareness and cultural understanding by hosting 40 fifth-grade Chinese kids and partnering with Chinese high schools.

Shaler Area School District

Shaler is working to shape the district’s future through a human-centered design concept, which involves input from all stakeholders – teachers, parents, and kids.

Kids as young as kindergarten and first grade are learning computer coding and engineering skills through Project ENGIN (Engage, Network, Grow, Inspire, and Navigate) and Project Caboose to promote the STEAM curriculum.

South Fayette Township School District

South Fayette consider computational thinking as the new literacy and has embedded STEAM problem-solving into traditional education for K-12 kids. STEAM classrooms might have kids building musical keyboards from cardboard, wire, circuitry, and Scratch block-based programs or programming robots that react to motion detectors.

Carnegie Mellon University helps guide computer classes. The 8th graders participate in Python design simulation, based on the movie, “The Martian,” in which kids imagine they are trapped on Mars and must complete a series of challenges to remain alive. High school computer classes are increasing in number and sophistication under the guidance of the CMU computer science department.

Kids in K-8 use block-based code to program robots, make apps, construct interactive stories, and build 3-D prototypes.

The district’s effort to build sustainable mindsets by partnering with Fort Cherry School District and Eden Hall, Chatham University, funded by a grant from the Grable Foundation. As a result, the middle school houses an indoor living wall, a moveable living cart that can be moved within the campus, and an outdoor living wall. Composting education and practice takes place in the cafeteria, outdoor classrooms include bird feeders, vegetable gardens, and a small orchard. A classroom aquaponics system and solar panel setup are other components of the program.

South Park School District

South Park kids are energized by lots of new classes. The high school offers an anatomy and physiology course for kids interested in pursuing medical careers and an AP economics class for those interested in business. More creative writing and public speaking classes have been added, along with a Game Design elective course. A new student café will likewise offer vocational support.

The newly renovated middle school lists three new music appreciation, plus a newly formed jazz band.

Kids in middle and elementary schools can participate in a language-independent study through Duolingo, choosing from French, German, or Spanish.

Physical fitness has received attention, too, with the addition of a new high school weight room and personal fitness classes for seventh and eighth grades in the middle school’s new fitness center.

Upper St. Clair School District

A new Innovation Hub at Fort Couch Middle continues Upper St. Clair’s STEAM initiative, offering engineering and robotics. It is modeled after the high school’s Innovation Hub, which features an MIT-certified Fab Lab.

Boyce Middle launches its SHOP@Boyce, an expansion of the high school’s SHOP@USC, a pioneering, student-run business that produces and markets spirit wear.

A district-wide implementation of a Professional Learning Community model with participation by dozens of district administrators, teachers, and principals. Within the program, teachers meet to discuss student needs, share expertise, and work collaboratively to improve learning.

West Jefferson School District

West Jefferson crafted a comprehensive educational plan, according to the district’s core values of respect, integrity, and empathy. The learning-centric strategy is intended to deliver personalized learning.

Parents can more easily track lunch accounts with a new student app and online payment system at the SchoolCafe. With the PrimeroEdge register, parents can have more control in monitoring their kid’s eating habits and customize lunch plans.

Woodland Hills School District

Responding to the levels of stress, anxiety, and trauma seen in their youngest kids, Woodland Hills created a full-service mental health treatment program for each of the two K-3 schools. With support from the Penguins Foundation, the centers are called The Igloo. They were custom built to provide a safe setting that is inviting and fun.

The district has partnered with United Way to help reduce chronic absenteeism through the Be There Buddy Project. A 2-1-1 text messaging service has been implemented to help families connect with resources for basic needs, as well as updates on programming.

Sally Quinn

Sally Quinn is an award-winning writer and editor who has been covering her favorite city for more than 20 years. She welcomes comments and story ideas for Kidsburgh.