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SOY Pgh promotes academic success for Latino youth through developing pride in students' heritage language and culture!

SOY (Supporting Our Youth) Pittsburgh - Latino Community Center

location_on Pittsburgh, United States
SOY Pittsburgh is an evidence-based, bilingual PK-5th grade out-of-school time program that prepares students for success in school and life through academics, experiential learning, social-emotional development, and cultural empowerment. Students in SOY Pgh cement their confidence that they are the future of Pittsburgh while simultaneously developing pride in their identity as Latinos.
Rosamaria Cristello, Executive Director of the Latino Community Center
Everyone should be caring about this. We are training the workforce of the future here in Pittsburgh…ten years from now these kids are going to be the people that are going to be employed. It's directly going to impact our region.

Rosamaria Cristello, Executive Director of the Latino Community Center


HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.
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Innovation Overview

3 - 12
Age Group
Updated on September 17th, 2021
about the innovation

What is SOY (Supporting Our Youth) Pittsburgh - Latino Community Center?

In recent years, the changing landscape of Pittsburgh's population has brought both exciting opportunities and challenges. As more Latinos have settled in the region, Pittsburgh's traditional monolingual approach to education, human services, and general systems and structures are no longer effective to enable all of its residents to thrive. This has given rise to the need for programs such as SOY (Supporting Our Youth) Pittsburgh, the only bilingual after school program in Allegheny County. 

The mission of SOY Pittsburgh is to help Latino students close the existing academic achievement gap, developing pride in who they are as Latinos and preparing them for their future as Pittsburgh’s next generation of leaders. SOY Pittsburgh seeks to empower Latino youth to take pride in their heritage, and to prepare them for a successful future through four program goals: 

  • Academic Advancement
  • Cultural Empowerment
  • Social-Emotional Development
  • Family Engagement

The students who participate in SOY Pittsburgh have a bright future ahead. Unfortunately, school data demonstrates that there is a large achievement gap between Latino students and their white peers, and as such academic advancement is a foundational program goal. Students in SOY receive daily homework help and tutoring, in addition to personalized practice through evidence-based, online accounts in bilingual reading and math that are monitored by program staff. The Out-of-School Time Supervisor analyzes individual student data at both the school and program level, in addition to what is observed through student-staff interaction, to tailor support to student need. A cornerstone of both SOY Pittsburgh's academic advancement and cultural empowerment goals is bilingual language development. A unique and important piece of SOY Pittsburgh's programming is that we recruit Latino and Spanish-speaking volunteers to tutor the students, providing them with successful role models to whom they can relate and look up to. 

In this climate of anti-immigration sentiment permeating the United States, it is critical that students in SOY Pittsburgh take pride in their heritage, which includes developing both their Spanish and English language skills. There is extensive research demonstrating the benefits of bilingualism, and this is key for our students.  Currently, the students in SOY Pittsburgh range in language skills from those who are fluent in Spanish and new to English to those who are fluent in English and experiencing the loss of their native Spanish. Our program staff includes certified elementary school teachers  specializing in Spanish and English as a Second Language (ESL) who can help students' skills develop at a personal level. In addition to language development, SOY Pittsburgh programming builds students' knowledge of their heritage through community partnerships. Through our Artist in Residence program, in partnership with the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, students work with a Mexican-American visual artist to explore art from their countries of heritage and a Puerto Rican musician to learn music from their native countries. Our partnership with Los Sabrosos Dance, Co. allows students to learn various Latin dances, connecting them through movement to their heritage, and our collaboration with Google's "Hola" group of Hispanic employees gives our SOY students the opportunity to learn coding from Spanish speakers in the tech industry. All of our partnerships and collaborations provide our students with the opportunity to interact with Latino professionals who are successful in their fields, a way to open doors to the future for our students who may have limited experiences.

SOY Pittsburgh's goal of social-emotional development is threaded throughout our programming as the staff builds positive, caring relationships with students. As many of our students have experienced trauma through adverse experiences, it is crucial that SOY is a safe and positive place for them to learn and have fun each day. Furthermore, SOY Pittsburgh is one of only two after school programs in the United States that is implementing The Positivity Project (P2), a national movement that helps students build positive relationships through identifying character strengths in themselves and others. This evidence-based model is moving our students towards being positive, caring individuals and away from the isolation and negativity that many have previously experienced. 

Family engagement, the final goal of SOY Pittsburgh, is crucial when working with a community that can feel isolated or marginalized due to language and immigration concerns. Families whose children take part in SOY Pittsburgh attend at least three Latino Community Center/ SOY Pittsburgh events per year, including family meetings, parent education, and/or volunteer opportunities. The SOY Pittsburgh staff also supports our families with interpretation, school conferences, and advocacy to ensure students are receiving the educational supports and services they need. From the start of SOY Pittsburgh to March of 2019, we have observed the families of SOY Pittsburgh grow from a group of disconnected parents to a supportive community of families that help and care about one another. Families existing within this more connected community thrive, which leads to more positive outcomes for our SOY students. 


See this innovation in action

SOYPgh Parent Quote
"My daughter, when she started the program, she couldn't read well. She had a really hard time. She's doing much better now, the teachers at SOY help her, and she can really read so much better. She even likes it!" ~Diego, SOY Pittsburgh Parent
SOY Reading Skill Progress
This image shows the DIBELS (reading fluency assessment) data shared by the school for our kindergarten-5th grade students. All students are progressing in their reading fluency... Kindergarten assesses letter name and sound recognition, first grade assesses sight word recognition, and 2nd through 5th grade assess reading fluency. 
SOY Pittsburgh Math Data Sample
The staff at SOY Pittsburgh is constantly monitoring academic progress... this shows a download of student math data, standard by standard. Math support through homework help, tutoring, and our evidence-based, online program is a pivotal part of SOY Pittsburgh to help students advance. This sample shows how our online system tracks progress on each standard, which allows us to tailor tutoring and support for each student.
Social-Emotional Development - The P2
SOY Pittsburgh is one of only two after school programs in the United States to be part of The Positivity Project (P2), a national movement that works with children to teach them how to build positive relationships through learning to recognize character strengths in themselves and others. We focus on a character strength each week, and do a daily activity to engage the students with the character strengths. #OtherPeopleMatter
Student Reading Practice video shows students independently practicing reading during a tutoring session. 
Students simultaneously maintain and/or develop their Spanish language skills while learning songs and music from their countries of origin with our Artist in Residence partner, Gena.
Evidence-Based Benefits of Bilingualism
There is a wealth of research on why bilingualism is beneficial, which is why we emphasize both English and Spanish language development in SOY Pittsburgh. We want our students to be fully bilingual and biliterate. This document briefly outlines, with citations to supporting research, some of the many benefits!
Hojalata (lamina) Art
Students explore hojalata or lamina through their exploration of Mexican folk art with our Latina Artist in Residence. In exploring and learning about art from their native countries, they develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for their heritage; critical in a climate where they often feel the impacts of marginalization. 
Huichol Art Project
Students work with our Mexican-American artist in residence, Alison Zapata, to learn about the culture of Mexico and Mexican folk art by creating Huichol art. 
SOY PIttsburgh Data Analysis Result
The Allegheny County Department of Human Services Office of Analytics, Technology, and Planning analyzed data across the SOY Pgh program from its inception. The attached slide shows the academic progress of SOY students, in addition to their improved attendance. 
Google — Year In Search 2018
SOY Pittsburgh After School was highlighted in 2018's Google Year in Search under "What Makes a Good Teacher" at minute 1:21
Dayron: Spanish Reading
Sample of student reading Spanish
Beechwood Video May 2018
SOY (Supporting Our Youth) Pittsburgh Artist in Residence Profile


Achievements & Awards

May 2019
February 2019
Innovation page created on

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Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Determine there is a true need
Confirm there is a need for this program in your area before jumping in! This will take time, and it will help build support and validate your program. Learn if there is a specific area that Latino students are struggling with the most. This information will help you design your program.
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Connect with Potential Partners
Once the need is verified and there is a clear understanding of the areas of o, meet with key stakeholders and partners that will help make your program successful! There are so many resources and opportunities around you, make sure to loop these in!
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Project Plan & Budget
Now that you have all your information gathered, it's time to put it all together and create a plan! Don't forget the most important step of all... to verify with the community your final plan, and provide time and space for final input!
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Seek Funding
None of this can actually happen without funding! If you have done the steps before this, you will find support to make this happen.
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Build A Strong Team
The key to this program being a success is the people behind it!
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Create Program Materials - Logistics
In order for an after school program to run smoothly, it is critical to have clear policies and procedures.
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