Pursuit of Knowledge: The Importance of a Pittsburgh School’s Culture

The last year saw great shifts in the pursuit of education from primary schools to higher education. We share messages from Pittsburgh schools about their respective school’s culture, because what an educator chooses to share says something important about how its students perform and succeed.

It Feels Like Yesterday

Even after 40 years, my high school and college memories still feel very close. Crushes; cross-country and track team friendships and competitive failures, student government elections, Friday nights in the student run campus bar (imagine that!); meeting my first wife, Mr Wells’ cutting comments on my writing. So many vivid memories and choices that it’s hard for me to imagine the shape of my life without Allderdice High School and Carleton College.

Mix all those memories together with the love and aspirations we have for our children and you get an emotionally potent mix that makes choosing a school a uniquely pressure-filled experience.

Maybe it’s because high school and college choices have such a long reach that long term impacts are paramount when comparing one school choice to another. We want to know where graduates of this high school end up going to college. We want to know what careers graduates of this college pursue and how their average income compares with our other choices.

The Importance of a School’s Culture

The schools we are choosing fully recognize this. The marketing materials they provide are full of descriptions of what students do after they graduate. Stories of what alums are doing now and how they attribute their successes to school take up a lot of the real estate. Yes, the traditional measures of excellence do matter. Ratings, test scores, alumni success do matter. They deserve consideration.

But our children spend a lot of time in school. Much more time than they spend with us. And it is the culture of school that will empower our children, build their confidence, reinforce their curiosity, and develop their creativity. It is the culture of school that most directly affects the emotional prospects of our children.

A school’s culture is visible in how students interact with each other and how teachers and administrators interact with students. We see it in what happens when a student asks for help. We see culture in whether students are studying alone or together–both inside the classroom and out. Culture makes space for students to explore questions that are important to them about identity, family and community. Cultures can be tolerant, caring, and patient. Cultures can recognize and value creativity.

Beyond the Numbers

No set of numbers, however, can describe a school’s culture. But what a school chooses to share says something important. So does how they treat prospective students and their families. So does how they answer our questions. And it’s not just what they say but how they say it. It’s also in what we see, hear and feel when we visit.

My first college visit with one of my own children was to Oberlin. It was my first time there. It was a beautiful day. The college seemed like it might be a good choice. My daughter had a different reaction: It’s not for me. Just like that, Oberlin was off the list with a speed I couldn’t explain. And Sarah couldn’t explain her reaction either. At least not in a way that made any sense to me. But she had felt something or seen something that made her uncomfortable enough to want to pass on Oberlin. I felt then, and I still do now, that there’s no reason to discount feelings—even if they can’t be explained.

Our Duty as Parents

There are school cultures where our child will thrive, some where they will muddle through, and others that may be deleterious. It is up to us (with our children) to determine what is an emotional fit and what is not. And while our conclusions won’t arrive with the authority of US News & World Report rankings, they are at least as important as those rankings.

For those of us with the resources needed to make good choices for our children, listening and overseeing during school visits is an essential part of data gathering. We’re lucky to have the opportunity to consider our options, and theirs, and fortunate to play a role in setting our children on a school path that will best set them and help them to prepare for a good life.

Story by Jeremy Resnick

University Library: Diverse Group of Gifted Students Have. Pittsburgh schools culture

The last year saw great shifts in education from primary schools to higher education. We share messages from organizational leaders on what the future holds for their institutions.

Why Pittsburgh Public Schools is an Excellent Choice for Your Child

A message from School Superintendent Dr. Wayne N. Walters

In today’s educational environment, parents have many choices. Private, charter and cyber schools try to compete with our public schools, but they do not have the variety of academic offerings and options as Pittsburgh Public.

Through our magnet offerings, for example, students receive special instruction that develops their talents and interests in specific areas. At PPS, 22 magnet schools and programs focus on subjects related to STEAM and STEM education, creative and performing arts, world languages, science and technology, pre-engineering, and more.

In addition, our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs allow students to acquire 21st century job skills that transfer to essential jobs in our society. Beginning in the 10th grade, students can enroll in one of 16 programs that range from healthcare and first responder training to culinary skills and childcare, to information technology, internet management and entertainment technology to in-demand skills in the trades, such as construction, heating and cooling and automotive repair.

In many programs, students earn industry certifications or college credits through a dual enrollment agreement with Allegheny County Community College. Furthermore, a new partnership between PPS and the City of Pittsburgh provides work-based learning opportunities and paid employment to CTE students. 

The goal of Pittsburgh Public Schools is to graduate students who are ready for whatever comes next in college, career and life. The magnet and CTE programs are great examples of how we support student preparation leads to graduate success.

To find out more, visit www.pghschools.org/magnet or www.pghschools.org/CTE.

Two older children standing infirm of a wooden structure holding laptop computers with PA Cyber stickers on them. Pittsburgh schools culture

The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School

PA Cyber is an online public school that provides an option for students who learn better without the confines of classroom walls or an eight-hour school day. After 23 years of perfecting online education and with a legacy of 21,000 graduates, PA Cyber has demonstrated that learning online works for many students. 

In PA Cyber’s student-centered model, teachers meet students where they are in their education journey. They create customized learning paths that are unique to each student. They recognize the different developmental stages students typically follow while respecting the unique abilities of each child. This flexible-but-focused learning model allows PA Cyber teachers to use a variety of teaching strategies and curriculum choices to create an education program that is deeply personal. 

Beyond the computer screen, students can choose from hundreds of in-person field trips and enrichment events each year where they can socialize with peers and families can meet. Events comprise art and STEM workshops, career days, holiday parties, and so much more.

PA Cyber meets the curriculum requirements of the Pennsylvania Department of Education and is accredited by the Middle States Association. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment to any school-age child residing in Pennsylvania and does not charge tuition to students or families. Visit pacyber.org to learn if PA Cyber is the perfect fit for your student. 

25:1 student-faculty ratio

Enrollment: Open throughout the school year

25:1 student-to-faculty ratio

Annual enrollment: 11,000 

Tuition: $0

Oakland Catholic High School

Tell us about your school’s philosophy for learning.

Oakland Catholic High School dedicates itself to providing a value-oriented, college preparatory education for young women. We hold ourselves and our students accountable for the development of healthy, creative, and expressive women who are encouraged to use their God-given talents in pursuits that satisfy personal and communal needs. Aware of the dignity of the students in our care, we fulfill our mission by developing their spiritual, intellectual, and personal potential.

Set in the heart of the city’s academic, cultural and healing center, Oakland Catholic offers students’ unique opportunities at neighboring institutions. We offer a variety of courses that challenge each student to achieve her fullest potential and develop the analytical and independent thinking skills that are needed for a lifetime of learning. Furthermore, Oakland Catholic teaches decision making grounded in morality and promotes a respect for God, self, and others through retreats, liturgy, prayer, and service opportunities.

Consistently named one of the top 50 Catholic high schools in the nation by The Cardinal Newman Society, with even higher rankings for academic excellence, Oakland Catholic challenges its students with a rigorous curriculum taught by faculty members who are experts in their fields. Students experiment in state-of-the-art facilities and our kiln equipped ceramics studio. Each year, our senior class earns millions in scholarships to colleges and universities around the nation, with virtually 100% of graduates attending post-secondary institutions. Offering an extensive list of sports, clubs & activities, the school also fosters social, physical and leadership development.

What is the role of the student in the learning model?

At Oakland Catholic, every valedictorian, every team captain, every project leader, is a young woman. Rather than reserve leadership positions for a select group, we bring out the leader in each of our young women. We push students to develop the competence, confidence and skills required to become strong, globally-minded, and compassionate leaders. At Oakland Catholic, we consider each and every OC Eagle a leader-in-training. To this end, we ensure that opportunities to step up and exert influence abound. But it’s not just that young women can hold every leadership position at our school; each year they do so with impressive discipline, unexpected insight, and inspiring passion that makes us proud to send them out into the global community as the next generation’s thought leaders. Visit oaklandcatholic.org for more information.

Application deadline: January 16

Acceptance: rate 98%

Student-to-faculty ratio: 11:1

Enrollment: over 400

Tuition: $17,400

Minority percentage: 38%

Central Catholic High School

How does your Pittsburgh school prepare students for college and what placement programs do you have in place for helping students pick the right school?    

We begin discussions about college and post-secondary plans from the very beginning. Freshmen learn about the importance of grades and course selection, and we build on that foundation each year. We have built a pathway for success, knowing each student’s path differs slightly from the young man next to them. We utilize classroom instruction, individual meetings, and an online platform to help students navigate the college search process. Then, we utilize data-driven admissions information and academic profiles to create a balanced list for each pupil. Students are also given opportunities for career exploration.

Visit centralcatholichs.org for more information.

Students on a lecture in amphitheater answering professor's question. Pittsburgh schools culture

Propel Schools

Propel Schools is a network of 13 public charter schools serving approximately 4,000 scholars throughout Allegheny County. Our scholars are encouraged to become leaders of their own learning through our data-driven, personalized approach to education. We have five core values, that we call Habits, that are our expectations for all members in our learning communities. These Habits were intentionally chosen to embody the skills that will help scholars succeed not only in Propel Schools, but in college, their careers, and beyond.

Demonstrating, teaching and celebrating the 5 Habits for our scholars is an integral part of our mission at Propel to catalyze the transformation of public education so that all children have access to high-performing public schools. Our Habits are: Own It!, Walk Through the Door, Look in the Mirror, Treat Others the Way You Want to Be Treated, and Do Your Part. Because our educators play a critical role in the success of our scholars, we work hard to support them so that they can be their best every day.

Student to faculty ratio: varies per school

Minority percentage: 73% in 2022

Acceptance Rate: Dependent on the number of open seats

Application Deadline: October 1 – December 31

Tuition: $0

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