Sixteen employers to host site visits 

Some 400 students and team advisors from nearly 30 high schools participating in The Future Is Mine (TFIM) will fan out on the first day of our 2017 Student Leadership Conference to explore careers with 16 different employers.

The two-day Conference takes place April 20-21 at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center. This year’s event also will feature a college fair and as well as a visit to the Senator John Heinz History Center.

tfimSite hosts this year are: Allegheny General Hospital; ALCOSAN; Allegheny County; Carnegie Museum of Art; Dollar Bank; Google; Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; Huntington Bank; iHeartMedia; Jefferson Regional Medical Center; Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; Schell Games; Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum; United Way; Urban Design Associates; and the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh and Gateway Clipper Fleet.

Post-secondary schools signed up so far for the college fair include: Community College of Allegheny County; Indiana University of Pennsylvania; LaRoche College; Penn State University; Pittsburgh Technical College; Robert Morris University and Slippery Rock University.

This year’s Conference theme is Ready for the Future!


ALCOSAN project offers hands-on challenge and eligibility for college credit

Students from Penn Hills and South Fayette school districts will be collaborating with ALCOSAN in the coming weeks to make recommendations for reducing storm water runoff on their high school campuses. dsc_0800

To kick off the project, the teams met last week with Julia Spicher, a civil engineer from ALCOSAN, who gave them a presentation explaining why runoff from many sources in Allegheny County contributes to sewer line overflows, polluting waterways whenever ALCOSAN’s treatment plant receives more waste water than it can handle.

Organized by our Student Powered Solutions program, the ALCOSAN project is one of a number of community partnerships created to give students hands-on opportunities to apply their learning and improve their soft skills by working in teams.

As part of the ALCOSAN kickoff, students also learned a little about “green jobs” and found out how they can to earn a college credit for their work on the project through Community College of Allegheny County.

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Students bring fresh perspective to PANTHERx

PANTHERx Specialty Pharmacy General Manager Tim Davis was impressed enough with the work he saw from kids performing a project for his company that he wanted to follow up on their ideas.

He was particularly interested recommendations that PANTHERx switch to cellulose packaging for drug deliveries, equip high tech refrigerators provided to patients with battery backup and possibly use iPads to replace the electronic interface on the units.

The ideas underscored the value getting a “fresh perspective” from outside the company, Davis said.

As a specialty pharmacy delivering expensive and perishable prescriptions to patients with rare diseases, the company not only needs to use temperature-controlled packaging for prescriptions, it also needs regular communication with patients to ensure none of the medicines are compromised or wasted. It tasked students with finding ways to improve these capabilities.

The ideas came from a team of 8th graders in Blackhawk School District who worked over the past semester to research and provide recommendations. They took on the assignment through Student Powered Solutions, a Consortium program that creates partnerships between businesses and schools so that students can apply their learning to real world challenges and build the soft skills essential to working on teams.

Students said they learned lots that textbook learning doesn’t always teach. They said they sharpened their research skills, developed the ability to communicate well within a group and learned to create and deliver presentations.

As for what they liked best about working on an authentic business problem, one said “I liked working on something where your ideas might actually be used to help someone.”

Another said the project underscored “the value of face-to-face communication” in a world where so technology mediates so many exchanges.

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Scholarship qualifications and guidelines

Under a program made available from the Regional Chamber Alliance Foundation, the Consortium is pleased to announce scholarship opportunities to seniors graduating from nine area high schools as well as to students attending the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics.

This program provides up to four $500 scholarships for seniors in the Mon-Yough area who plan to continue their education beyond high school. The deadline for applications is Friday, March 10. Qualifying high schools are: Clairton City, East Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward, McKeesport Area, South Allegheny, Steel Valley, West Jefferson Hills, West Mifflin Area and Woodland Hills.

Applicants must complete the Scholarship Information Page and email the following information to the Consortium at

  • A copy of the SAR (Student Aid Report) page ONLY showing the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as proof of financial need
  • An academic high school transcript or a college transcript (if applicable), including SAT or ACT scores

Anyone needing additional information may call the Consortium at 412-678-9215


Model Cleaners CEO praises student-consulting work

When a team of Albert Gallatin School District students suggested that Model Cleaners hire a social media manager, company President John LaCarte called the idea “spot on.” He also praised a customer video they’d created for having an authentic feel, more like ones he’s seen on Facebook than expensive studio shoots from ad agencies.

Similarly, the CEO nodded approval when a Charleroi Area School District team recommended replacing the company’s smart phone app. In fact, LaCarte even asked if he could test one they’d created.

Model Cleaners President John LaCarte responds to student suggestions

Model Cleaners President John LaCarte responds to student suggestions

Both teams presented ideas to Model Cleaners last week to conclude projects they undertook as part of Student Powered Solutions (SPS), a Consortium program that pairs classrooms with companies willing to pose real business problems for them to solve. The projects give students a chance to apply learning and develop workplace skills. For companies, the projects offer a chance to help develop the region’s workforce and sometimes even yield usable solutions to business challenges.

As part of our partnership, Model Cleaners tasked students with developing ideas to market to younger customers who don’t use dry cleaning services as frequently as older ones. The company also asked if the students could think of any ways to make residential pick-ups more efficient than having van drivers stop at every regular customer’s house, only to sometimes find they had no laundry that day.

Taking on the first challenge, Albert Gallatin’s team laid out the benefits of using social media versus mainstream advertising channels. Charleroi’s team worked on improving pick-up and delivery efficiencies, showing LaCarte a smart phone app they thought would improve on the one his company offers, but finds few customers using. Additionally, they recommended a bar-codes that would enable drivers to create routes only for customers who needed pick-ups on any given day.

Classroom teachers who oversaw the students work attended the presentations along with a handful of school administrators. Following the presentations, Charleroi Superintendent Ed Zelich came away impressed. In his entire career, he said, “This is one day I won’t ever forget.”

Announcing finalists and a special partner for 2017 Champions of Learning Awards celebration

Selection Committees for the Consortium for Public Education’s annual Champions of Learning Awards have chosen 18 finalists in six categories for 2017 and named a candidate to receive a Special Tribute. (Names in all categories are available in this  complete roster.)

Winners in each of the categories will be announced at the Champions of Learning Awards Dinner on Saturday, April 1 at the Pittsburgh Marriot City Center. Also to be announced at the event are winners of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Be There Awards. champions-logo-copy (It’s not to early to make reservations. Go to Eventbrite to reserve tickets online or download our mail-in reservations form.)

“We’re pleased to have United Way as a partner at our Champions celebration this year,” said Patti Hoke, who coordinates the event. “Supporting youth is at the heart of both of our awards. ”

“Our Champions awards are designed to celebrate individuals, businesses and organizations that create or support outstanding learning experiences across western Pennsylvania,” she added.

This year’s nominations came from 24 school districts in seven counties as part of a selection process that began in September and drew 80 submissions.

United Way, which is accepting nominations through Thursday, January 12, confers Be There Awards on adults “who go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of youth across Allegheny County.”

The Champions Selection Committees choose finalists in categories including The Arts, Business Partnerships, Classroom Teaching, Community Partnerships, Leadership and Volunteerism. The judges also decided again this year to give special recognition to an individual whose contributions to learning in the region span a career. This year’s Special Tribute will go to William Isler, President of The Fred Rogers Company.


New hires bring expertise in business and education

With a major initiative unfolding to ensure students in our region receive the opportunities and experiences needed to explore careers and build soft skills essential in the workplace, the Consortium has added two new Program Directors, Sarah Brooks and Candice Williams.


Sarah Brooks


Candice Williams

Sarah brings a background that combines education, applied learning and workforce development. Candice brings experience in program development, change management, process improvement and team leadership from the business and education sectors. Both began their careers as classroom teachers.

Most recently Sarah served as Program Manager for two workforce development programs—the National Robotics League and Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ. Both are industry initiatives aimed at promoting manufacturing careers to students through regional and national combat robotics competitions. Prior to working with those programs, Sarah worked as a high school science teacher, first in Illinois and later in New York and Ohio, where she earned a Master of Teaching in earth science from Wright State University. She earned her Bachelor of Science in marine sciences from Eckerd College and also holds a Bachelor of Arts in tourism and recreation management from Niagara University.

Candice comes to us from PNC Financial Services Group, where she served as a Learning & Development Consultant and held a leadership role in an enterprise-wide change management initiative. Prior to joining PNC, she held several program management positions at Relay Graduate School of Education in New York City and at Citizen Schools in Charlotte, North Carolina. In these roles, she designed and managed nationally recognized programs, led data-driven process improvement and change management efforts and managed partnerships across various organizations. She began her career as a 5th grade classroom teacher in Charlotte, NC through Teach for America. Candice holds a Master of Public Management from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh.

Sharon City School District’s Forum team focuses cultural changes 

A small group of students working with Sharon City School District’s Forum team last spring raised concerns about school safety and about their sense that students didn’t feel a strong connection with staff.

The concerns prompted the team to conduct a survey of the student body to determine how widespread the feelings might be. The intent was to gather data for changes that might improve overall school culture. sharon-city

Team-building activities that have been incorporated across grade levels already have brought about an uptick in communication between staff and students, according to Sharon City’s Forum participants.

Among other changes, the data also suggested that a bullying prevention program and a concerted effort to embed “integrity” through everyday actions represented good early steps.

Since then, Sharon City has become part of a Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) initiative that will broaden findings about cultural markers and do so across all stakeholders.

“We’re a pilot school in an initiative on school climate,” explained Dawn Blair, an Assistant Principal in the district and a Forum team member.

As part of it, the district is surveying parents and staff as well as students and using PDE’s more detailed questionnaire, giving the Forum team a larger data set, which will help create a needs assessment.

The district, in turn, will incorporate the information into its strategic plan.

Among other things, the PDE survey poses questions designed to gauge staff and student morale and any trends that may emerge across the different groups of stakeholders, Blair said.

PDE is hoping that the data will enable districts participating in the initiative to make positive changes, Blair added. “They want to look at whether change in climate can have an effect,” particularly on indicators of school safety, such as disciplinary referrals.

The Forum team is hoping to use survey findings to help “bring about a sense of community between student and teacher,” Blair said. “We want to make students more comfortable going to teachers if they have problems.”



Forum team brings student voice to bear on school culture

Pittsburgh Allderdice High School’s Forum team set out this year to harness student voice in service of overall school culture. After beginning late last spring with just a few kids who attended a Forum meeting in March, they’ve grown their group of participants to 35 and launched a couple of student-driven initiatives.

Interestingly, the students advocated for committees and projects to improve Allderdice that “overlap concerns of teachers and administration,” said Sarah Mueller, a chemistry and earth science teacher and Forum team member.The kids said they wanted to improve respect for school property, including cleanliness of hallways and restrooms. allderdiceAdditionally they suggested that a school store might improve school spirit and having peer tutors during study periods would improve the learning environment.

“They’re now working in their committees to put some of their ideas in motion,” Mueller said. Concurrently, the students and the Forum team await results of a school-wide survey conducted to see what other activities and committees the student body thinks are needed, she added.

While the Forum would like to increase participation in student activities, “we don’t want to be spinning our wheels on things they don’t think are important,” Mueller said.

Colleague Nikki Schmiedlin, a social studies teacher and also a Forum team member, said, “We didn’t feel there was enough student participation or accountability.” With students now trying to lead changes, “We want to keep the participation up and increase it,” she added.

Imaginary projects can help kids get a better sense of self

Ideas that emerge when teams of 8th graders are challenged to imagine and invent something the world needs are by turns fanciful, practical and everything in between.

But byproducts of the process are more the point. By bouncing their individual ideas around, coming to consensus and following through with a plan or prototype, students  find clues to their own identities.

That’s what happened when our College & Career Knowledge program took about 90 middle school kids from Clairton City, Greensburg Salem, McKeesport Area and Steel Valley school districts to Pitt Greensburg in December.

The kids worked in teams to develop products or services they believe the world needs and afterward, took surveys designed to help them understand what the project taught them about themselves. The exercise helped some see their leadership potential. Others discovered artistic impulses, analytical capabilities, or other characteristics that it’s important to know before choosing a career, or even a college major.

After working with a team that dreamed up a device for turning turn water into food to end world hunger, Jonathan, a middle school student in McKeesport Area School District, said, “I guess I learned that care about something,“ explaining that the project helped him realize people can work together to change things. “I used to just think that whatever happens, happens.”

Working on the same team, his classmate Austin said he realized “I took the lead as soon as we started.” It gave him inkling that he’s a take-charge type who can get teammates enthused and get them collaborating, he said.

Using the Holland Career Codes, which is designed to help people connect personal interests and attributes to careers, the kids each identified the two most dominant characteristics they brought to their projects. For Austin, who aspires to a career in science, the top two were being realistic and investigative, followed closely by being enterprising.

As for other projects, the kids’ let their imaginations roam. Just to name a few, they came up with portable wi-fi devices, shelters for animals affected by natural disasters and temperature-controlled shoes.

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