Effort aims to help black male students qualify for Pittsburgh Promise
January 30, 2015 12:00 AM
Mentors and students link arms as they recite their Manhood Statement at the beginning of the We Promise Scholars gathering Wednesday at Duquesne University.
Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent Linda Lane applauds the senior scholars Wednesday at the We Promise Scholars gathering at Duquesne University.
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Victor Kivuva, a senior at Pittsburgh Science & Technology Academy 6-12 in Oakland, said he has learned the “importance of how powerful it is to be an African-American male with an education.”
That revelation has helped to propel Victor to raise his grade-point average, which he said has gone from “not good” to regularly above a 3.5 on a 4-point scale.
What helped him to change?
He credited “We Promise,” a Pittsburgh Public Schools program supported by The Heinz Endowments, which he said helped him boost his time management skills, self-confidence and motivation.
Started two years ago, the program is aimed at encouraging black males — who historically as a group have lagged in academic performance — to boost their grades and attendance so they can be eligible for Pittsburgh Promise scholarships for postsecondary education of up to $40,000.
The program includes in-school mentorship by African-American men and districtwide summits. It started for juniors and seniors and has expanded to include freshmen and sophomores, bringing the number of students in the program to 441.
From the final quarter of last school year to the first quarter of this school year, 59 percent of the We Promise students in grades 10-12 improved their grade-point averages.
The need for such a program is evident. In 2013-14, 30 percent of African-American male students graduated Promise-eligible while 42 percent of black females, 73 percent of white males and 82 percent of white females did so.
The Pittsburgh Promise requires a 2.5 grade-point average, although it has an extension program at Community College of Allegheny County for graduates with GPAs between 2.0 and 2.5. We Promise accepts black male high school freshmen with grade-point averages as low as 1.5.
At a summit this week at Duquesne University for about 100 high school seniors, the theme was on “Key Tools for the Journey Ahead,” with an emphasis on networking.
Victor knows something about networking. In remarks to the students, school district superintendent Linda Lane said Victor had asked her for a recommendation for college and had just told her that he was accepted at the University of Pittsburgh. He is waiting to hear from Morehouse College.
In the opening session, the students formed a circle, linking arms to repeat the “Manhood Statement,” the last lines of which are, “I am destined for greatness/Because I attract, what I am.”
In breakout sessions, black men served as facilitators to help the students learn networking skills. In the one led by Paul Spradley and Lloyd Cheatom, both Heinz fellows at Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12, students began by partnering with a student they did not know, with each spending 45 seconds talking about himself. They also did speed networking with African-American professionals in the room.
After that session, Haji Muzhimu, a senior at Pittsburgh Brashear High School who came to the United States from Kenya in 2005, said We Promise opened his mind to new possibilities. He said his grades have improved enough to make the honor roll. He plans to attend the Bradford School.