Thinc30 Youthquake aims to bring youthful thinking and energy to regional sustainability issues

Even before school began, nearly a dozen districts already were gearing up to participate in Youthquake, an event Covestro is hosting to engage students in improving sustainability in the region.

Educators from participating the districts gathered at the Consortium in August for training sessions in Project-Based Learning, the teaching method they’ll use as teams of their students identify and tackle sustainability challenges in western Pennsylvania’s communities.

Youthquake takes place September 17th at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.  It is one of a series of events Covestro has organized as part of its Thinc30 initiative to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in our region. Thinc30 is shorthand for “transforming, harnessing, innovating, navigating and collaborating for a purpose-driven, sustainable future by 2030.”

The Consortium has assisted with recruitment and preparation..

At Youthquake, student teams will learn about the UN’s 17 SDGs and exchange ideas about ways in which our communities may be falling short of them and how

At their schools, the teams will identify the particular challenges they’d like to address with PBL over the course of their fall semester.

Districts and schools that so far have confirmed plans to participate are: Allegheny Valley, Beaver Area, Blackhawk, Butler Area, Carlynton, City Charter, Greensburg Salem, Imani Christian Academy, Laurel Highlands and Woodland Hills.





Rachel’s Challenge presents professional development session in social and emotional learning


Teachers can measurably improve student behavior and interaction by establishing connections—both between themselves and their students and between the students themselves, the founder of Rachel’s Challenge told more than 700 educators gathered in August for a professional development session on social and emotional learning. by Intermediate Unit 1 and the Consortium co-hosted the session.

Darrell Scott, who launched the initiative to honor his daughter Rachel, a victim of the Columbine, Colorado. school shootings, said the simple act of greeting kids by name at the classroom door and exchanging a few words can alone improve behavior, as can other protocols advocated through Rachel’s Challenge.

As part of his presentation, Scott relayed the uncanny ways in which his daughter may have foreseen her untimely death and the anxious sense she exhibited about leaving a mark on the world. In extensive diaries and essays, she wrote that her life would have an impact that would arise from acts of kindness that ripple forward in a chain reaction. Among them, she stood up for a physically and mentally challenged young man who had been bullied at school and made friends with a young woman who otherwise would have suffered the isolation that often comes from moving to a new school and having difficulty making friends.

Her father not only has made a life’s mission of relaying his daughter’s story, he has tried to fulfill her prophecy by bringing her message to schools around the world and developing evidence-based ways of helping educators change school cultures.

Scott said one of the most important ways to avert bullying and other unkindness is to cultivate an atmosphere of empathy, noting that can only be accomplished when students begin relating personally to teachers and classmates and with deeper understanding.

Along with simple greetings at the classroom door, Scott encouraged educators to share bits of personal information throughout the school year and to create formal opportunities for students to share information about themselves with classmates they might not know. The exchanges humanize participants and make it all but impossible to treat them in hurtful ways, he said.

In a survey of nearly 10,000, students in schools undertaking measures recommended through Rachel’s Challenge reported a 145% increase in participation in school activities; a 123% increase in interventions to stop bullying; a 37% increase in the number who would not bully; a 117% increase in those reaching out to other students; and a 282% increase in those feeling a greater sense of school safety.




Consortium to help six districts develop post-secondary planning strategies

A half dozen districts will work with the Consortium in the upcoming school year to ensure they’re helping students make the most of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s mandate to develop post-secondary education and career plans.

Under state standards, students must develop their plans in the 8th grade. The plans are intended to be reference points as students assemble artifacts documenting steps taken from 8th grade until senior year to explore and prepare for post-secondary education and careers.

But because students in the 8th grade often still have only an inkling of what they might like to do, there’s a real need to make the plans “living documents” that kids can change as their interests develop or change, said Consortium Program Director Christy Kuehn.

Participating districts will draw on ideas from the The Handbook of Career and Workforce Development–Research, Policy & Practice, as they develop strategies to keep their students engaged in a process for post-secondary education and career planning.

The author, V. Scott Solberg, PhD., is Associate Dean of Research at Boston University (BU) and Principal Investigator at the Massachusetts Institute for College & Career Readiness. A leader in the field of post-secondary preparation, he spoke last year at two workshops the Consortium hosted in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory (REL).

The Consortium’s work with participating districts is being funded with a $1,000 Ignite Grant from Remake Learning. Under the grant, participating districts will come together to organize their work at a kick off session, then reconvene twice for collaboration and professional development.

Educators from second training session report out on experience with Human-Centered Design

As seven teams of educators debriefed in May, they seemed to exude a sense of discovery about using Human-Centered Design (HCD).  Some were surprised to find the process made it so easy to elicit input from peers. Others found HCD helped them see “the big picture.”

Virtually all said they found the process inherently inclusive. And one noticed that the inclusiveness “built confidence” in participants, while another said he found it “amazing to see how efficiently and collaboratively people worked using such a low-tech tool.”

The teams all were winding up projects they began in the spring after participating in Expanding Innovation 2.0, an HCD training program that the Consortium offered in partnership with LUMA Institute.

HCD is an activities-based approach to problem-solving that focuses on people above other factors, whether the challenge is making a better product, as is often the case in industry, or identifying and executing changes that schools want or need to make.

The Grable Foundation funded our partnership with LUMA to make HCD methods available to educators in the region.

Educators involved in the Spring HCD training represented Duquesne City,
Greensburg Salem, Riverview and Yough school districts and Greater Latrobe School District’s Mountainview Elementary School, Manchester Academic Charter School and Pittsburgh Brashear High School.

The projects they undertook varied widely—from identifying better uses for spaces in their school building at Pittsburgh Brashear and rewriting Riverview School District’s 7th grade STEAM curriculum to finding ways to combat the drug epidemic in Yough School District.

Another seven districts had debriefed on projects at a January poster presentation after taking our inaugural HCD training last fall.

We began an occasional series of Case Stories describing a sampling of these projects in the last edition of our newsletter. Watch for more in upcoming editions. And, if your district or school would like to enroll a team of its educators in an upcoming HCD training session, please contact our Executive Director, Mary Kay Babyak or our Director of Organizational Advancement, Jackie Foor at 412-678-9215.








Educator in the Workforce caps program year with focus on healthcare careers

Teachers, counselors and others participating in Educator in the Workforce never fail to come away from the program’s daylong immersion sessions with something to take back to their students.

At Allegheny Health Network’s Simulation, Training & Academic Research (STAR) Center in May, for example, one teacher said her biggest takeaway was that “there are so many jobs for people with just a high school diploma.”

For others, it was learning about paid summer internships that AHN offers to help high school students explore healthcare careers; or finding that so many entry-level jobs not only offer solid career paths but also opportunities for further training and education.

Presentations at AHN encompassed both familiar healthcare career paths like nursing and pharmacy and much less visible ones like dosimetry and audiology.

The site visit at AHN’s STAR Center capped the first full year for Educator in the Workforce. The program began with a pilot in the spring of 2018. The Consortium fully launched the initiative with eight site visits during the 2018-2019 school year. It is designed to address a need educators often express–getting enough exposure to careers outside education to help them give students guidance.

Along with healthcare careers at AHN, this year’s sessions showcased employment opportunities in construction, manufacturing, broadcasting, entrepreneurship, sanitation, financial services and electric utilities. Other hosts included Mascaro Construction, Covestro, NEP Group, Alpha Lab, ALCOSAN, PNC Financial Group and Duquesne Light Co.

Along with presentations about the full range of careers an employer offers, immersion sessions typically include facility tours and in some cases, opportunities for educators to talk with employees about their jobs or even try their hands at them.

During the AHN visit, for example, participants got hands-on opportunities to do the same kinds of procedures in the simulation lab that employees do in training or for practice. Simulations range from delivering babies in a maternity unit to reviving an overdose victim in an ambulance. In the lab, clinicians work with robotic mannequins that are programmed to simulate respiration, heartbeat and other vital signs and bodily functions as they would change in response to different clinical conditions and treatment.

Offering career paths for students without college degrees wasn’t unique to AHN. All host employers this year described opportunities for advancement from the entry-level and in many cases, opportunities for further training and education. Just as at AHN, participants at other sites invariably expressed surprise at the availability of career paths for students without degrees.

“I’ve really enjoyed the visits,” said one Clairton City School District teacher who attended two this year. After learning of all the opportunities at AHN, she added, “I’ve already got students in mind who I’ll take all of this back to.”







PartnerUP’s pre-employment training is a model for helping students take next steps after high school

The second annual Super Day for PartnerUp represented a tremendous opportunity for students. As apparent as that was, it was equally clear that the program holds real promise for employers.

“It’s helping us touch a group of candidates we weren’t reaching before,” said Ardene Roach, a recruiter from PNC Financial Services Group, which began piloting PartnerUp last year in collaboration with the Consortium.

“It’s bringing us these young people who are looking to grow their careers” echoed Comcast recruiter Melissa Hychalk.

Hychalk sees an advantage in recruiting high school students. “They’re so fresh and new, you can mold them into being the employees you want them to be,” she said.

PartnerUp is a pre-employment training program that now reaches nine high schools, a majority in some of our region’s most under-resourced districts. Initially aimed at seniors who planned to enter the workforce immediately after graduation, the program has expanded this year to juniors as well.

A total of about 2,100 students participated in PartnerUp during this school year, a tenfold increase from last year.

Super Day scenes at the Consortium

In addition to helping students develop the soft, transferrable skills that all employers demand, PartnerUp also prepares them for job searches. They learn to identify their skills and discuss how they’d be applicable in the workplace; engage in mock interviews and get support for writing resumes.

It’s important for students with little to no experience, but who have the skills we look for, to get these opportunities,” said Brianna McMeekin, Assistant Vice President and Assistant Talent Program Manager at PNC, who delivers PartnerUp’s pre-employment training in schools.  “For us, PartnerUP is a workforce development tool, but we want the program to help guide and prepare high school students for their next steps, whether that next step is at PNC or elsewhere.”

At the end of the school year, Super Day gives all participating seniors the opportunity to interview for jobs with participating companies. Along with PNC, employers this year included Allegheny Health Network, Comcast and People’s Natural Gas Co.

This year’s Super Day took place May 16th. It brought some 50 of these young adults through the Consortium’s offices from morning until early afternoon. Their excitement was palpable as was the impact the program has had on them, according to company recruiters.

“They’ve come so far from when the training started at the beginning of the school year,” said PNC’s Roach.

Karla Iorio, a recruiter for Allegheny Health Network (AHN) agreed. She said the students “really shined” in the interviews after the coaching they received and was particularly excited about seeing the growth in a couple who “I really connected with and helped mentor.”

Connecting with high school students is important, Iorio added. “We foresee huge growth in certain (hiring) areas over the next several years,” she said, noting that PartnerUp can help AHN’s recruitment prospects by “just getting us out there and helping us advertise what we have to offer.”

When hospitals can’t find ways to showcase the career paths they offer outside of clinical care, those job opportunities can end up in a blind spot for students.

“We’re not just doctors and nurses,” Iorio said. “These kids might not think we employ cooks or carpenters, electricians and plumbers, but we offer all of those jobs.”

Employers participating in PartnerUp are recruiting for their entry-level jobs. At Comcast, that might mean working in the call center on customer care or at AHN, it might mean something in food service or housekeeping.

But all of the employers regard the jobs as stepping stones from which young recruits without college degrees not only can build careers, but often can also obtain tuition support to further their educations.

Like growing numbers of companies, employers participating in PartnerUP increasingly are working to promote from within.

As PNC’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Demchak pointed out at the Consortium’s Future Ready Partnership Conference in April, an upfront investment in talent pays off in the long run.

“Companies are finding that retention is so much easier than attraction,” said Susie Puskar, Director of Youth Innovation at Partner4Work, who attended Super Day as a supporter. “We’re thrilled to see leading companies in the region investing in talent and identifying the pool of high school students within our region as a key resource to develop.”

Of course, no one could be happier than the students benefitting from that investment.

“This is a huge opportunity,” said Maddy Boynton, who participated in PartnerUp’s pilot as a McKeesport High School senior. She should know. Boynton was hired at the end of the pilot a year ago to work in PNC’s call center and already has had her first promotion.

Now a member of the Human Resources Department’s Enterprise Team, she said “PNC is definitely wonderful in helping you grow as a person and in your career.”




Two Brownsville Area educators engaged students to reimagine their District’s middle school library using Human-Centered Design

The shelves are gone. The space has been cleared.  The books have been put in storage. It would be at least a couple of weeks before the ceiling tiles came down and the flooring was pulled up.

That’s how things looked at the end of March after French teacher Lynn Jellots and Librarian Jennie Karwatske led a team of students through a process to transform Brownsville Area School District’s underused middle school library into a “Future Readiness Center.”

The process they used was Human-Centered Design, a set of techniques and principles for problem-solving that emphasizes inclusivity and puts stakeholder needs at the center of decision-making.

Jellots, Karwatske and the district’s Director of Secondary Education, Bill King, learned the techniques during a training session the Consortium offered last fall in partnership with LUMA Institute, a Pittsburgh consulting firm that’s nationally known for offering HCD training to corporate clients. The Grable Foundation supported the training to give educators access to the same tools that have helped companies improve customer focus and efficiency, among other metrics.

The Future Readiness Center may be the end goal of Brownsville’s project, but along with the aim of transforming a library, Superintendent Keith Hartbauer had some less obvious reasons for wanting to test-drive HCD as well.

One was to try a new way of engaging students. Another was to help Brownsville’s students meet new standards for career exploration and preparation that the Pennsylvania Department of Education began assessing this year. All the stars lined up when the Consortium organized its first training session.

“We knew we needed to do some things around career learning, particularly for the middle school,” Hartbauer said. “We were in the right place at the right time for it to happen.  We felt if we could create a career center, we’d get to where we needed to be.”

Jennie Karwatske (Left) and Lynn Jellots discuss their work in progress

To do the project, Hartbauer fielded a team for the HCD training because he “wanted to create a different mindset, not just for instruction, but for working with kids.”

“I think the whole concept of LUMA training—how it gets students or a group of people to really collaborate, think outside the box and come up with different ways to solve a problem—is very intriguing,” he added.

The district’s Director of Secondary Education came away from the training with much the same feeling. “It’s friendly and it’s positive,” King said at the time. “It’s a unique approach to problem-solving.”

HCD also lent itself well to another of Hartbauer’s goals. “From the very beginning, we wanted students to take ownership of this project,” he said.

The district set some parameters, but within them, Jellots and Karwatske engaged a team to imagine and design a center that would meet the needs students have as they plan for post-secondary education and careers.

Most of the kids working on the project were participants in the high school team that Jellots organizes for The Future Is Mine, the Consortium’s career exploration program. But they also pulled in others as needed, including from the Fayette County Career & Technical Institute, the CTC Brownsville students attend if they want to pursue occupational training in fields like health sciences, graphic design and others.

The team began with an HCD method known as “Contextual Inquiry,” taking field trips to explore schools that already have centers for college and career resources. Together, the site visits and the interviewing and notetaking students did during them were part of the process of “Looking,” one of three broad categories of methods that HCD prescribes, along with “Understanding” and “Making.”

Following the visits, the team worked on “Stakeholder Mapping,” an HCD method included in “Understanding” that helped identify “who would be invested” in the new center, Jellots said. They found the group would include stakeholders ranging from students and teachers to counselors, school board members and even members of the community.

The middle school library as it looked in March after shelving and books were removed

“Abstraction laddering,” an HCD method that’s also in the toolkit for “Understanding”, helped students contribute ideas about the many possible ways the center could be used and how different spaces within the center would need to be equipped. They continued refining their work with additional HCD methods, including “Rose, Thorn, Bud,” which helps distinguish among ideas that are positive, negative or have potential.

The HCD methods they chose—known collectively as their “recipe”— helped students determine features they want the center to offer. Among them will be a wall with white boards and cork boards to post information like college application deadlines; shelving for college catalogues, SAT study guides and other reference materials; computers and possibly a small audio/video laboratory for recording and critiquing mock job interviews, among other things.

Plans also call for the center to open onto an outdoor courtyard and include a small café or coffee shop, where students can get soft drinks or snacks.

Jellots said the students “loved the HCD process” and that everyone is excited to see the center taking shape. Their vision is for the finished space “to have a kind of open, hip, urban feel,” she added.

Jada, a senior on the team, said she liked HCD because the process keeps the most outgoing participants from disproportionately influencing the outcome.

Many HCD methods call for participants to offer ideas on Post-It notes, rather than verbally, she noted. As a result, “everyone gets to be part of it,” Jada said, and their finished work reflects “bits and pieces of everyone’s thinking.”

Kyle, another senior who used a 3-D computer modeling and design program to create schematics for the team, said the way information is gathered and presented using HCD “makes it easy to follow.”

“All the ideas were laid out in front of me,” he said, “so it wasn’t hard to do.”

Similarly, Talia, a sophomore, said the process “really helped us to organize what we were presenting to the school board and give the main ideas.”

The students presented the final drawings to the district’s board late last year. At a subsequent meeting, they won approval for the concept, with different aspects left pending for cost estimates and further analysis of feasibility.

Team members said they were enthusiastic about designing the center because they believe it will help peers and younger students plan for their next steps after graduation and be better prepared.

“I think it will help kids getting ready for college and there will be a place for mock interviews to get kids ready for jobs,” Jada said.

Additionally, she said the center will enable counselors and teachers to better target career presentations at interested students. “We want there to be a space for smaller groups so kids can sign up for presentations,” she added. “Right now, everybody goes to the auditorium when we have a guest speaker and not everybody is interested in the same things.”

Similarly, Karwatske said guidance counselors will be able to invite speakers who can talk about careers that small groups of students identify in “interest-inventories” taken in district schools.

Hartbauer’s view of the proposed center is even more expansive. “We can bring the community in,” he said. “When colleges come, it will be a place where they can present. Businesses can come in and tell kids the skills they need when they’re hiring.”

“What I also like is that the little coffee shop can bring in our special needs kids,” the Superintendent added. He envisions them staffing it and building skills needed in food service, retail and other jobs. From his viewpoint, “We’ll be encompassing a whole range of needs with one center.”

If you or your district would like to participate in one of the Consortium’s upcoming Human Centered Design trainings, please contact Mary Kay Babyak ( or Jackie Foor ( at 412-678-9215.


SWPA Personalized Learning Network invites education leaders to Conference

The Personalized Learning Leadership Conference will presentations from a high-profile lineup of education thought-leaders including Allison Zmuda. The event takes place June 25-June 26. Anyone wishing to attend can register at Eventbrite.

Allegheny Conference invites education leaders to regional visioning events

Education and community leaders are invited to participate in a series of regional events, culminating with region-wide gathering to mark the 75th anniversary the first Pittsburgh Renaissance with discussions of where we go next. The events are comprise “Our Next 75,” an initiative that the Allegheny Conference on Community Development is undertaking to engage the community in envisioning and planning western Pennsylvania’s future. Learn more


LCTE participants see growth in confidence and skills

Our program for Leadership in Career & Technical Education (LCTE) wound up the school year with students discussing and practicing the soft skills needed in any workplace and learning a few of the basics of personal finance.

A.W. Beattie students hosted a tour of their school

Held at A.W. Beattie Career Center, the final session drew participants from three career and technical centers (CTCs) in addition to Beattie, including Forbes Road, Parkway West and Steel Center.

As an exercise to see how different temperaments affect group performance, students adopted assigned personas—ranging from perfectionist to shy, know-it-all, natural leader and yes-man, among others—and competed in teams to build the highest house of cards. Some students said their assigned roles matched their personalities, while others needed to act parts far from who they really are.

Discussion afterward suggested that the two teams with the tallest structures had thought outside the box more than those whose couldn’t get theirs as high. Among other things, they’d thought to fold cards in half to make them sturdier.

In addition, student role played various common workplace scenarios, demonstrating how they’d resolve different kinds of tensions, like confronting a colleague whose conduct would result in dismissal.

Students said they’d grown through the program in numerous ways.

“I never talked in class before,” said Sarah, a senior at Steel Center. “But I do now.” She said she’d even built the confidence to participate in learning sessions her school gives to eighth-graders who might want to consider taking classes at the CTC.

Another participant said the program had expanded her understanding of personal finance. “Nobody else teaches you any of this, like about credit or getting a mortgage.”

Alex, a senior at Forbes Road said she’s found the leadership training has helped her contribute more in the part-time job she’s doing with a landscaper.

“It’s really helped me with communication,” she said “I’ve been able to speak up and offer ideas. They’ve even used some of them.

“I wish more kids could come to this,” Alex added. “It’s really been good for building skills.”












Field trip brings together students from three districts in mentoring program

Students and adult mentors in the Be a Middle School Mentor (BAMSM) program that we offer in collaboration with United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania visited  Cathedral of Learning in May.

The trip brought together BAMSM participants from Clairton City, McKeesport Area and Woodland Hills school districts for tours led by student tour guides that the University of Pittsburgh trains with a semester-long curriculum.

After their first stops in the nationality rooms, guides asked students what other rooms might be on their wish lists. Among the choices were rooms representing the cultures of Japan, Israel, and Africa, among others.

As the groups of students wended their way through, they related some of the things they learned in BAMSM.

For Abby from Woodland Hills, the biggest takeaway was lots of help with her English classes. One of her classmates, Darian, said the most important thing he’d learned in the program was “how to be successful.”

Asked to enumerate some tips, he said, “You have to get an education.” Others around him chimed in their own answers. Kamiyah said being successful requires “responsibility,” while a friend sitting nearby said it takes “perseverance.”

A favorite part of the program? For Skyler, from McKeesport, it was “when you worked with a mentor at the beginning of the year.”“You learned how to be part of a team,” she said. “That was good for me.”