Member Highlight: The Portiuncula Foundation
December 9, 2019
Listen, learn, love, lead. It’s a short and simple motto, but these four words guide Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience (PULSE) fellows through their year of service with their host organization. PULSE’s motto encourages fellows to learn about their host organization and to engage with its community before attempting to solve any issues in the […]
Listen, learn, love, lead. It’s a short and simple motto, but these four words guide Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience (PULSE) fellows through their year of service with their host organization. PULSE’s motto encourages fellows to learn about their host organization and to engage with its community before attempting to solve any issues in the organization’s neighborhood.
Margie Schill — one of more than thirty 2018-19 PULSE fellows — is completing her fellowship as Communications Coordinator for Hilltop Alliance, an Allentown-based organization which seeks to retain and enhance assets in Pittsburgh’s Hilltop neighborhood.
“I work with some very passionate and engaged people at the Hilltop Alliance who inspired me to want to get more involved,” Schill said. “Through conversations with coworkers and community members who are familiar with the neighborhood, I was able to get the sense that a project at [Grandview Elementary School] might be something that could benefit the students in the community.”
Toward the end of her fellowship this spring, Schill enacted the last element of PULSE’s motto, ‘lead,’ by introducing a collaborative art project to a class of third grade students at Grandview Elementary School over the course of four weeks and eight sessions.
Within Grandview’s student body, 89% of students are racial or ethnic minorities — many of whom are African American. Similarly, 89% of its student body is economically disadvantaged. According to Niche, only 27% of Grandview students performed proficiently or better in reading, while only 17% performed proficiently or better in math.
According to Arts Education Navigator, students with a low socioeconomic status but significant participation in arts are more than five times as likely to stay in school than students of similar socioeconomic habits without an arts education.
Because the majority of students at Grandview Elementary School are racial or ethnic minorities, Schill decided to reach out to Pittsburgh’s #NonWhite Collective to find an artist of color to facilitate the project. Pittsburgh-based poet Veronica Corpuz responded and happily signed on to the project.
According to Schill, Corpuz helped the students relate to poetry by asking about their favorite songs and explaining song lyrics as a form of poetry, before discussing more substantial topics that would constitute their final project.
Stephan Patterson, a 2018-19 PULSE fellow who worked on the project, said the students’ participation in the project “let them express their feelings and discuss the problems they were facing more organically.”
For the final project, each student created a small abstract painting with the help of Laura Dicey, their art teacher, on top of which the students layered a photo of themselves and a poem about their hopes, dreams, and favorite things. The individual pieces were compiled onto a large board and surround the bubble-lettered question “What are your dreams?”
When asked about the lasting impact of the project, Schill believes that creating something to be hung for the entire school to see will help the students to feel like they are a part of something that is bigger than themselves.
“It can be hard to enter into a community and assess the needs of a community you’re not a part of,” Schill said. “But creating those community connections, getting to know those kids — they’re such cool kids — helped to connect me to the community. I hope this is something that can happen again.”
Elsewhere in Pittsburgh, The Global Switchboard has partnered with various community organizations to form a Global Learning Coalition — a network of educators, non-profits, and government agencies that seeks to ensure that all members of the Pittsburgh community have access to global and community learning activities. The coalition is currently working to identify effective metrics to assess access to global learning opportunities in Pittsburgh.
Global learning, whether it occurs in local communities or abroad, provides an array of skills and experiences that follow students throughout their civic and professional lives, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Institute of International Education. Broader access to education irrespective of gender, location, ethnicity, or level of income, is not just a moral imperative, but, according to the Quarterly Journal of Economics, is most likely to increase innovation and economic growth.
Racial disparity in the quality of public education is significant, according to a 2015 study of Pittsburgh public schools. Access to global education opportunities, like study abroad and foreign language education in elementary school, is rare in Pennsylvania according to Asia Society.
Although more than one of every five jobs in Pennsylvania is related to international trade, only 23% of K-12 students study a language other than English. Similarly, less than 1% of high school students participate in study abroad programs and only 2% of Pennsylvania’s college students study abroad. Those who do have access to these opportunities are facilitated by private schools such as Shady Side Academy and Sewickley Academy, that only wealthy — and often white children — can afford to participate in.
“People who are able to, who have time and resources, should reach out into their community,” Schill said. “Maybe it’s not going into a school and creating a mural, but you can do something like volunteering with the Allentown Learning Engagement Center to learn more about your community.”
If you’d like to support projects like this in the future, you can donate to PULSE here, learn how to volunteer and donate to Hilltop Alliance here, donate to #NonWhite Collective here, and donate to The Global Switchboard here. If you’d like to get involved with The Global Switchboard’s Global Learning Coalition, contact email@example.com.
This post was produced through an interview with 2018-19 PULSE fellows Margie Schill and Stephan Patterson and was written by Anna Bongardino, a spring 2019 intern for The Global Switchboard.