New programming, new initiatives and brand spanking new buildings! Pittsburgh-area schools open the year with lots of excitement and goals for students and staff alike. Check it out:
The theme of “#DynamoProud” highlights this year’s emphasis on celebrating accomplishments and honors at Allegheny Valley School District.
With completion of the Acmetonia Elementary construction project, all K-6 kids will be in the same building. A new Pre-K program offers two half-day sessions to start little ones off with a solid education foundation. The curriculum will focus on promoting positive approaches to learning while working collaboratively with families.
Acmetonia Elementary will continue its emphasis on STEAM learning through student application of critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. STEAM learning will be emphasized in the Innovation Lab at Springdale Jr-Sr High School. Popular ongoing programs include robotics, coding, art and advanced technology.
The district expanded its one-to-one program with the addition of Chromebooks in grade 3-9. Grades 10-12 will continue utilizing iPads.
A new emotional support program will begin at the high school, including the addition of a social worker to support student and family needs.
Avonworth School District’s #BeTheKindKid was identified by the HundrED organization as an innovation that can be replicated in other educational environments. This fall, Dr. Scott Miller, Avonworth Primary principal, will represent the school district in Helsinki, Finland, at a conference that brings together innovative education leaders from around the world.
A new literacy series called Wit & Wisdom launches in grades K-5. The series uses rich, authentic text that builds students’ fluency, comprehension and love of reading while providing diverse perspectives of the world.
The district adopted Carnegie Learning Math for kids in grades 6-8. The new math series was developed by cognitive learning scientists along with math teachers. Carnegie Learning uses a problem-based approach to build a real-world understanding of mathematics, while also encouraging creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.
To help support kids socially, a new program called Life Skills is offered to 6th graders, to expand to 7th and 8th graders in future years. This research-proven program equips students with the knowledge and skills to avoid destructive decisions by promoting healthy behaviors.
The high school will be instituting nine new college-in-the-high-school courses, bringing the total number of college courses to 17.
High school kids also will have the opportunity to participate in the PartnerUp Program sponsored by PNC, Matthews International, People’s Gas, and Comcast. PartnerUP provides opportunities to gain insights into career preparation as well as the chance to gain employment in an entry-level position in a sponsoring company.
The district is expanding courses for computer science and robotics, including a program called TEALS, which partners industry computer science professionals with teachers and students.
The Bethel Park School District began the school year with a tech update, replacing over 2,200 Chromebooks for student use in grades 2-6 from those purchased in 2013 when the District began its 1 to 1 Technology Initiative. Another 355 iPads were bought for kids Grades K-1. Since 2014, all students in Grades 7-12 have Chromebooks they use in school and also take home to help complete assignments.
The coding and STEM experiences for Grades K-5 is expanding with the purchase of SAM Labs curriculum-aligned courses in STEAM and coding. Grade 5 will be using the Learn to Code module and Grades K-4 will use the STEAM course.
All five elementary schools offer Family Learning Together experiences in the evening, where students and parents return to school for a meal together before embarking on hands-on STEAM-themed activities.
For high school kids, Bethel Park will be offering two additional Dual Enrollment Courses with CCAC: Intermediate Algebra and Life Science. Kids can also take advantage of College in High School classes in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.
There’s a committed focus on providing students the support they need to be successful, with additional social workers and partnerships with agencies such as Auberle and Outreach Teen and Family Services to provide counseling not only for students but also for families. Bethel Park High School will be rolling out the Best Buddies Program to foster positive one-on-one friendship and leadership development opportunities for students with and without disabilities. And the district continues its partnership with WQED/PBS and its Kindness Initiative.
Primary school teachers at Chartiers Valley School District are beginning a yearlong professional development with Apple iPads. This training will explore instructional practices, goals and strategies to engage students. The effort is part of the district’s effort to develop and improve the learning environments.
The intermediate school has received the PaSmart grant, which will help launch exciting new computer science opportunities for kids to incorporate coding. The grant also assisted in refreshing student Chromebooks. Teachers are working to update the English Language Arts Curriculum.
With the final phase of the high school construction wrapping up, students and staff will enjoy their first full year in the new building.
A committee of students and teachers are at work developing an outdoor classroom space, which includes a greenhouse, garden, picnic area and instruction space. The idea is to create a space that’s conducive to learning and exploring.
A team of volunteers from The Williams Company was scheduled to assist in the outdoor classroom. Also, the Williams Company partnered with the district to provide STEAM initiatives for students and teachers.
This school year marks year two of the expansion of the high school’s computer science program.
Keeping kids physically healthy is as important as challenging their minds. To that end, the district has collaborated with Vision to Learn, which provides free glasses as well as a replacement pair to each student who needs one. A partnership with Children’s Hospital for their Mobile Care Lab will provide kids with free physicals and immunizations for students.
This will be the first year Cornell has participated in The Challenge Program, which works to build bridges between businesses and high school students. The idea is to motivate kids to develop the kind of habits needed to succeed in school and future careers. The sponsoring company is Arlanxeo, an international synthetic rubber that has offices in Pittsburgh.
Fox Chapel School District’s Special Education Department will be expanding the Best Buddies initiative to a K-12 program this year. Best Buddies fosters inclusion and understanding of kids with different abilities. Fox Chapel has featured a Best Buddies program for 12 years at the high school and six years at Dorseyville Middle School.
Kerr Elementary School students will start the school year in a brand-new school. The building features innovative learning spaces where students will gather to work on projects, conduct research and plan. Included is a “collaboratory” that will house the library, a maker space, a SMALLab learning space and a computer science robotics lab. The new Kerr will host the district’s new Pre-K program.
The district is implementing a Spanish Immersion pilot program that will be offered to one class of first graders. Kids will spend the majority of their day listening, speaking and learning core subjects in Spanish. Classes such as art, music and gym will be in English, as will lunch and recess. Eventually, the program will be offered from first grade through fifth grade. The program is the first of its kind in Western Pennsylvania.
Enhanced learning is part of a few classes. Students in grades 6-8 will use a new textbook series for social studies classes with enhanced learning materials. The text includes a digital learning platform that gives the students access to a variety of ways of learning the material. Kids enrolled in Latin, French and German will use a new textbook series that includes digital materials.
The high school will launch the new and improved College and Career Essentials course as a requirement for juniors. The course will expose students to a variety of postsecondary options, teach interviewing skills, and address personal strengths and learning styles to connect students to a career.
Eighth-grade students interested in computer science will be able to take the new Intro to Python or Python classes. The curriculum will allow them to boost critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Eighth graders will also be able to take Music Production and Careers 8, a new course that will introduce students to music technology and production.
Hampton School District has been inducted into the League of Innovation, a national coalition of forward-thinking school districts organized by Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization with the mission to accelerate innovation in education. Hampton is one of just six Pennsylvania schools in the league.
Hampton is in the final phase of an initiative in which every student in grades 2-12 has a personal electronic device for use in the classroom and at home. Students in grades K-1 have access to personal devices for in-school use.
The outdoor courtyard at Central Elementary School is being transformed into an outdoor maker space. The space is unique in that it is centrally located within the confines of the school, so kids will have the security of being in an outdoor area that is fully surrounded by school walls. The project will be completed in phases with the hope to further support hands-on exploration and learning while promoting collaboration between the three elementary schools.
The McKeesport Area School District is in the second year of a one-to-one device initiative. Last year, the third graders were all given iPads with the idea to keep the devices with them as they grow from year to year. This year, third and fourth graders will have iPads as the program continues in its five-year plan. Each department has yearly goals and plans based on this program.
With the safety of students and staff a top priority, a new school police department is coming to fruition. This new security measure will soon be hiring officers to work on district campuses.
A new and comprehensive student accounting system and parent portal have been developed. This new system is easier to use and navigate than previous systems. As a part of the program, kids can be enrolled more quickly in a process that can be completed from home. Schools will be able to release news and notifications on this portal, rather than by mail.
This year, Montour School District’s elementary school kids will continue to be enriched through established and successful programs that include:
- A comprehension literacy program,
- STEAM courses,
- Digital Citizenship lessons,
- and hands-on learning resources through the Brick Makerspace Powered by LEGO Education, Google Lab, FABLab, and Minecraft Lab.
New initiatives include an updated science and social studies curricula developed. and early learning benchmark assessments. An interesting feature is the introduction of an Artificial Intelligence TUG robot that will be traveling the hallways delivering materials and interacting with team members.
Grades 5-8 will implement a new science curriculum this year. David E. Williams Middle School will expand student services through the Reading Achievement Center and a Multi-Tiered System of Supports.
Montour High School kids will work with a new United States History text and will continue to refine the productive use of Personalized Learning Time.
Mental health and student safety are a focus at Mt. Lebanon School District this year.
Three more elementary school counselors were added to the elementary schools, providing each of the seven elementary schools with a dedicated counselor.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) teams in all 10 buildings will continue to work on the district-wide initiative. The goal is that, upon graduation, each student will have a working knowledge of each of the SEL skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making.
The district superintendent and Mt. Lebanon police chief will continue the series of conversations with the community they began last year about school safety. Topics will include infrastructure changes to the school, prevention programs and mental health and well-being initiatives. A School Community Safety Forum will be held on Oct. 10.
Classes for parents are planned on subjects such as helping kids deal with stress and anxiety, identifying drug paraphernalia, helping kids with math, and navigating college and career interests.
On the technology side, Jefferson and Mellon middle schools will be piloting an Artificial Intelligence program. This effort will involve discussion of ethics, problem-solving, enhanced use of computers and the role of AI in the world.
Looking forward to student success after graduation is a goal this year for Northgate School District. The high school will expand a program that has the potential for all students to earn credits toward a college degree. The College in High School program is a partnership with the Community College of Allegheny County, which allows kids to earn college credits while still in high school. These rigorous courses, which align to the outcomes of a matching CCAC course, prepare students for post-secondary schooling and give students a jump start on earning credits toward college graduation.
This year, through a gift from the Grable Foundation, over 200 Northgate High School students will have the chance to earn college credits at no cost. This will make the goal of attending college more of a reality for kids who might have thought it was not financially possible.
High-tech equipment and environmental sustainability share the spotlight at North Hills School District.
The school district’s four elementary schools are now equipped with interactive touchscreen displays. Promethean ActivPanel Nickel displays were installed in every classroom, the computer lab and library. Designed exclusively for educators, the internet-ready displays put a wealth of resources at a teacher’s fingertips. With a menu that’s easy to access, teachers can move seamlessly between content and resources without disrupting the lesson flow.
The district is planning to add interactive touchscreen displays to the middle school and high school in the future.
Environmentally-friendly improvements have been added to the cafeterias. Styrofoam trays were replaced with compostable, molded fiber trays as part of the district’s ongoing initiative to work toward a greener school environment. Paper straws have replaced plastic ones, and new napkin dispensers hold compostable napkins.
Pine-Richland School District is building on the success of many award-winning programs:
- Hance Elementary was named a Title I Distinguished School for 2018-2019 due to its Top 5 ranking in aggregate math and English language arts scores.
- Hance also made it to the 2019 Pennsylvania Healthy Schools Honor Roll. Schools named to the honor roll are recognized for taking strides to create a green and healthy learning environment for their school and community.
- Eden Hall Upper Elementary was named a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, one of only three in the state in 2019. This distinction acknowledged the school’s commitment to sustainable practices and leadership in facilities, health, and environmental education and will be recognized this fall. Wexford Elementary School earned the distinction in 2018.
- Eden Hall Upper Elementary also received the SupportMusic Merit Award from the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation for its commitment to music education and the arts by providing innovative learning opportunities for a well-rounded education.
With input from the community, Pine-Richland is embarking on its new 2019-2023 strategic plan. So far, six departments have completed the programming study phase, with three beginning this year.
This year, students in grades 1-5 will experience a new basic math tool in addition to the My Math and Red Bird programs added last year. Splash Math will be used in grades 1-3, with Moby Max serving as the basic facts tool in grades 4 and 5. Both programs are web-based and are responsive t a student’s level, promoting growth and development.
On the science front, K-5 teachers will work with Amplify Science for a blend of hands-on experiments, teacher-led online simulations, and embedded reading and writing opportunities to engage like a scientist.
South Fayette School District’s strategic plan for the new school year has the mission of “Small World, Big Future.”
Included are strategies to address equity and diversity, providing cultural competency training for faculty and increasing the diversity of the staff. The district plans to revise the curriculum to include more diverse literary standards and cultural teaching practices.
A counselor was added at the intermediate school, as well as a school social worker, to support students and families. A partnership with Holy Family Institute will provide services for school-based mental health and student assistance programming. Family Behavioral Resources have been added at the elementary and intermediate buildings to support emotional and behavioral health. Other strategies include ongoing training for parents and integrating Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in grades K-12.
The district is continuing to make security enhancements, which include an additional armed security officer. This year, each school building will have its own full-time security personnel.
As far as curriculum, South Fayette has partnered with the Arts Education Collaborative, which is currently leading an audit of K-12 arts programming. Partnerships with the League of Innovative Schools and Harvard University’s Project Zero have provided training for many teachers to help improve the learning process. A new math curriculum has been adopted in the intermediate school.
In the secondary level, additional College-In-High-School courses have been added, as well as other electives, such as Data Science and Cybersecurity, designed to prepare students for future careers.
The district was awarded a PA STEM Grant for Building Robust Learning Ecologies and Pathways in Computer Science in partnership with eight districts. Together, they will develop a state-wide online education platform for STEM education across grades K-8.
WEST JEFFERSON HILLS
West Jefferson Hills School District’s brand-new 300,000 square-foot Thomas Jefferson High School officially opened its doors for the 2019-2020 school year. The new school has three main components, which include an Arts Wing, Academic Wing and Athletic Wing. The main entry architecture modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The state-of-the-art high school is designed to maximize learning through collaborative, technology-rich spaces and support a variety of teaching methods.
Personalized Learning Time is being implemented for high school and K-5 students. Kids will choose from a variety of customized learning opportunities within a flexible block of time. Students who are struggling can schedule extra instruction, high school kids receive, for example, AP test preparation, yoga or club meetings. K-5 might sample from a variety of activities that promote collaboration, creativity and project-based learning.
The CHILL Project at the middle school offers a dedicated mindfulness center with a full-time dedicated CHILL specialist. The CHILL Project is a comprehensive mindfulness-informed, skill-building program that serves the needs of the entire school community, including teachers, students and family.
The Dignity & Respect Campaign continues with a focus on introducing behaviors that help to create an environment to promote inclusion. The program started in 2008 at UPMC, as the founding sponsor, and is now in more than 100 organizations, schools and communities. As the year starts up, a student committee will be chosen from various clubs and athletic teams to create new and effective ways to introduce the student body to the core components.
A Best Buddies program will begin at the high school this year with plans to roll it out to the entire district in upcoming school years.
At the new high school, a bee apiary, with roughly 60,000 honeybees in four hives, is intended as an environmental-based learning opportunity.
Staff and students at Wilkinsburg School District are looking forward to moving into the newly renovated Turner Intermediate School on Oct. 7. Renovations to the building included updates to the central heating, cooling, plumbing, lighting and security systems. New windows, doors, ceilings and floors were installed.
But the fun part for kids and teachers is the new furniture and classroom designs for students in grades 2-6 included in the renovations. Flexible seating options – which research has shown to be effective in improving focus – are available in all classrooms. Dedicated space also was planned for a special education suite and a STEAM lab that will encourage innovation and collaboration.
Room for the expansion of the chorus and band programs is included. On-site counseling services will be located at the new Turner facility. Additional space also is available for the planned Spanish Immersion program the District is implementing in future years.
Kids will appreciate a later start time. Those who attend Kelly Primary and Turner Intermediate now begin their day at 8:40 a.m., with dismissal at 3:20 p.m. It is hoped the move will decrease the number of students who are tardy to school and increase breakfast opportunities for students.
Woodland Hills School District is excited about the creation of its “Charge to Success Period” happening within the Pre-K to grade 5 schools. Within the Charge to Success classes, every student will engage in a STEAM curriculum that includes blended learning, project-based learning and expeditionary learning instruction.
Every nine weeks, Woodland Hills will host a district-wide showcase of projects the kids created at each of the elementary schools. The plan is to bring equity, cohesion and enrichment to students across all the district elementary schools.