Westinghouse is a gem of the Homewood community and the school has a rich legacy of African American academic excellence. Renowned writers, athletes, politicians, artists, educators, and community leaders have walked the halls of this school in eras past. Historically, Westinghouse has graduated scores of young people who went on achieve greatness, some even claiming historic firsts for African Americans in this country. Though Westinghouse pride is alive and well, in the previous few decades, as the Homewood community has experienced economic and social decline, the school has declined in its educational productivity. Westinghouse is regularly the lowest performing high school in Pittsburgh. In 2017, only 18% of its students were proficient in literature, 14% proficient in math. A 2017 report, Opportunities Lost: The Urgent Need to Improve Pittsburgh’s Schools, found that “not a single senior met the minimum College Ready Benchmark set by the state on either the SAT or ACT” (p 22.)
These indicators reveal a low likelihood that students from Westinghouse will attend and complete college. College often seems unattainable for students in communities like Homewood, as exposure to college spaces and college learning experiences are a far reach. Our aim is to expose students to college. We recruit students who express an interest in social justice and will consider enrollment in a University of Pittsburgh campus for college. The Justice Scholars Institute works with its partners at Pitt and in Homewood to connect Westinghouse students to college-educated role models, expose them to college campuses, engage them in college credit bearing courses, and coach them in the steps and strategies necessary to get to and through college. This work is based on previous research by Pitt-Assisted Communities & Schools staff members and others that shows that youth who form a stable motivational identity during adolescence are more likely to engage in civic and community engagement and volunteerism.
All young people, even the most disadvantaged communities and schools, deserve a quality education, and at least the opportunity to seriously consider post-secondary education. This program supports the educational potential of students in Westinghouse through the creation of targeted and enhanced academic opportunities for students that will provide avenues for students to quality post-secondary education.