A tale of three Pennsylvania schools, Part 3

Urban Academy in the greater Pittsburgh area offers a rigorous course of study that is innovative, flexible and individualized.

Editor’s note: reimaginED guest bloggers Walter Blanks Jr. and Nathan Cunneen, who serve as press secretary and communications associate, respectively, for the American Federation for Children, recently had the chance to see the inner workings of several charter, private and virtual schools in Pennsylvania. Their visits came courtesy of an AFC partnership with the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, the Commonwealth Foundation, and Harrisburg Families United. In this post, Cunneen reports on what he saw at one of those schools during the “Stronger Together Tour.”

You can see Cunneen’s other school tour posts here and here.

Along the route of our Stronger Together Tour was Urban Academy of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School, the oldest charter school in the region. Serving local families for more than 20 years, the school was founded by a consortium of community organizations led by the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

These groups came together to create a high-quality option for families in the community, an emphasis that remains a guiding focus today. The school’s traditions are deeply rooted in the founders’ belief that all children, specifically Black children, deserve to be immersed in a high-quality, rigorous, and culturally relevant and responsive learning environment.

Under the leadership of talented and dedicated educators, the school has become a model of academic excellence for Black students in the greater Pittsburgh region. As a charter school, Urban Academy can offer families a curriculum that reflects the individual needs of its student body. Urban maintains a commitment to excellence in traditional subjects, while continually seeking out ways to ensure curriculum is at the cutting edge.

Staff and administrators place great importance on creating an environment in which students are excited to participate. This is a school where everyone, from front-office workers to teachers, knows every student’s name – something rarely possible in large schools where children can get lost in the crowd.

The students may be too young to realize they’re getting an individualized education, but the results of that care and attention are clear. When asked what they want to be when they grow up, the answers came swiftly and confidently: chef, doctor, athlete.

While many students across the United States struggle with the “why” of education, especially asking why they should pour their efforts into learning, Urban Academy seems to have found an answer to that question. It’s expressed in the school’s mission:

To provide a superior education that will develop students’ academic excellence, leadership skills and social values to enable them to ultimately become positive contributors to the community in which they live and to society as a whole.