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Justice Scholars

Justice Scholars provides a college-oriented, social justice focused educational experience for students at Westinghouse Academy.

Our theory of change includes teaching students about the opportunity gap in educational achievement in low-income communities of color and giving them the tools to challenge it through cultivating an environment of educational achievement.


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

Web presence






January 2019
...We talk about what’s going on in our community and we can communicate and get to know each other and now we are family.” - 11th grader "[Justice Scholars] means a lot to me because it’s like a second home where you can be yourself and PACS is there and helps us with college readiness and teaches us ways of life.” - 11th grader

About the innovation

A social justice-focused college and career support program for students at Pittsburgh Westinghouse

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.

Implementation steps

Enroll Students to Earn College Credit

11th and 12th graders at Westinghouse can enroll in College in High School courses including U.S. History, Persuasion (a creative writing course), and Introduction to Social Justice (a social work course). In these courses, Justice Scholars begin to envision themselves as college students.

Foster a Trusted After-School Academic Support Environment

The program provides scaffolded supports that acclimate students to the expectations of a college environment, even before they make the transition. The theme of social justice unifies the program model, as it trains youth to understand and address societal inequities, including the opportunity gap that results in educational under-achievement in low-income, Black neighborhoods.

The program targets this inequity in two ways: 1) it prepares students to become advocates for change and 2) it ensures that students they have the requisite knowledge and skillsets to attain and be successful in post-secondary education. Dedicated teams of support, including PACS staff, afterschool providers in existing afterschool program, university student volunteers, along with invested University faculty and staff provide the infrastructure required for this program to thrive.

Create Change Leaders

In their College in High School courses and in Justice Scholars after school sessions, students gain knowledge of how to create change and actually be engaged in efforts to advocate regarding important issues. This enhances their sociopolitical development and empowers them to become change agents.

At the end of the school year, students will conduct research on a social justice issue of their choice and present it at a public symposium at the University of Pittsburgh. Through this the students will solidify their new identities as college-bound learners. This will engage the university community and help them to adopt new perspectives of the Homewood community and the young people who live there.

In addition to the research symposium, Justice Scholars participate in leadership opportunities including volunteering and mentoring in the Homewood community. These civic leadership opportunities include reading to younger students and mentoring 6th through 8th graders.

Engage Students in Real Collegiate Experiences
A 2017 report shows that only 10% of Westinghouse students will go on to graduate from a two- or four-year college. The Justice Scholars curriculum demystifies the college admissions process and the collegiate experience by bringing students regularly to campus, engaging them with professors, staff, and Pitt students, and empowering them to continue their learning with mentors and on their own. These experiences help scholars solidify their identity as college students.
Create a Pipeline

  • Kindergarten through 5th grade students build interpersonal skills and enhance academic outcomes in a check-and-connect mentoring program. College students pair with elementary schoolers for an academic school year to “check” on students—systematically monitor their academic and behavior outcomes and “connect” with them as college student mentors and role models. Justice Scholars also regularly check in with the younger students and read to them in after school programs.

  • 6th, 7th, and 8th grader students engage in career exploration and identity interventions. As part of this effort, guest speakers from various industries/disciplines present to students, sharing their stories of finding specific career paths. Students participate in various exercises that support the development of their own story about who they are and what they will achieve in life. Students visit campus at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as diverse local industries, to discover what various fields of study and professions look like in real time.

  • 9th and 10th graders also participate in an academically-focused mentoring program, connecting them with a mentor from the University of Pittsburgh. The focus of the program will be to ensure that the students develop and maintain college readiness habits as they enter into high school (i.e., 2.5 GPA and 90% attendance) rather than trying to “catch up” in 11th and 12th grade as experience has shown us that many Westinghouse students attempt to do. The older Justice Scholars juniors and seniors also act as mentors for younger students, allowing the older students a leadership and growth opportunity, and giving the younger students a model for their own achievement.

Evaluate specific community needs
Justice Scholars staff conduct twice-yearly surveys to ensure that students are gaining college-readiness skills. We interview teachers to learn about their experiences implementing college in high school courses. In the summertime, we interview program alumni after their first year of college so we can find out how the program can continue to adjust and improve college access and readiness.

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