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The Pittsburgh Project

location_on Pittsburgh, United States

Empowering kids to be change makers through hands-on, interdisciplinary education

The Pittsburgh Project is committed to revitalizing our city by supporting its most vulnerable citizens and equipping its young people to be change makers. We believe that by reimagining out-of-school-time programming, we can provide our children with an education that will equip them to be the kind of innovators and leaders that our community and the global community need.


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All information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been checked by HundrED.






November 22nd, 2022
Our students are learning to be creators in a world of consumers, visionaries in a world of reproducers, leaders in a world of followers. In a world full of passive observers, they are becoming young people with a consciousness, a voice and the confidence to use it .

About the innovation

What is The Pittsburgh Project?

We believe that every person deserves a quality, holistic education that prepares them to maximize their potential. To provide this education to our children, we employ enriching activities like those found at expensive specialized programs (offering them for less than 50 cents per day) and integrate them into an immersive experience that unifies learning rather than further fragmenting students’ lives into a list of activities. Students have extended exposure to a wide variety of subjects such as robotics, sewing, engineering, knitting, artificial intelligence, mindfulness, woodworking, poetry, songwriting, wrestling, visual arts, coding, fitness and yoga. By participating in our program, students not only gain skills related to what they are studying but also become more creative, better collaborators, better problem solvers, develop more perseverance, become more willing to try new things and less afraid of failure.

Using the after-school program and summer day camp model has been key to our success. Not only is it a model that meets the needs of working families but we have many of our students 5 days per week, all year long starting when they are five years old. This type of extended exposure is essential when trying to develop a culture of learning that is so different from what they experience everywhere else. To build that culture, we are purposeful about every detail; everything from the way the space looks to the words that we use, to the way that learning is structured must communicate a clear message to the students that they are not only allowed to but expected to interact with the staff, the environment, each other and what they are learning in a way that is markedly different from school.

Equity is at the core of our approach. By designing programming that compliments in-school education rather than seeking to replicate it, we provide our students with skills that when combined with traditional education will help them to navigate social structures and escape the pitfalls of generational poverty. Straightforward education is an important ingredient for success but research shows that “soft skills” such creativity, curiosity, collaboration, communication, perseverance, patience, self-control, integrity, etc. are strong predictors of life success. We aim to educate the entire person and design programs that systematically address cognitive, emotional, spiritual, social and ethical development. In doing so, we are preparing the students from our community  for future success despite the additional hurdles that they will have to clear in comparison with other people their age.

Our students and their peers are chasing a moving goal because what it will take to be professionally successful and an impactful citizen are ever changing. Rather than focusing on training our students to run faster in a race that is stacked against them, we are giving them the skills that they will need to anticipate where the goal will be and to meet it there. Our students are learning to be creators in a world of consumers, visionaries in a world of reproducers, leaders in a world of followers. In a world full of passive observers, they are becoming young people with a consciousness, a voice and the confidence to use it.

Implementation steps

Find a Space

 While a variety of different kinds of spaces will work, it is important to spend some time considering what your goals are for your programming and how the space can accommodate those goals.

Consider what your space is communicating to students. How is it making them feel? What expectations are they getting from what they see? While there are many options for what will work, I caution against trying to install this program inside of a school unless the school is giving you free reign to change the space that you are using. Kids tend to have a set expectation of how to approach learning in school and that expectation is usually in opposition to the type of learning that we are encouraging.

Determine Guiding Principles

 Your principles do not need to be the same as mine to accomplish similar results. But they need to encompass your values and your goals. All of the programming that you design should be evaluated against the principles and anything that does not serve them should be eliminated.

For example, the guiding principles for our elementary students are:

Creativity The process of having original ideas that have value. Imagination is the root of creativity. It is the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present to our senses. Creativity is putting your imagination to work. It is applied imagination. Innovation is putting new ideas into practice (Definition by: Ken Robinson)

Curiosity Seeing the world with wonder. Desiring to know “why”, to fully understand things. Going beyond “desiring to understand” by doing the work to actually find answers. This means learning how to effectively search for truth by asking good questions, doing research, taking things apart, etc…

Communication/collaboration The constructive sharing ideas and feelings to build community and/or to accomplish a mutually desired task. Learning how to express one’s self in a clear way that is easily understood by others. Learning how to listen to others with the intention of fully understanding them. Learning how to compromise, to let go of ownership of an idea so that it can be refined into something better. Empathy is a big part of this.

Confidence (1) Knowing who YOU are and loving that person. Knowing that you exist on purpose and for a reason, that you are important. (2) Possessing the fortitude to stand up for what is right even when doing so is not popular. (3) The ability to take failure in stride, to try something that you might not succeed in and to learn from the mistakes that you make.

Character Developing character traits that contribute to a person being a good neighbor/citizen. These traits include but are not limited to: Perseverance, self-control, optimism (hope), gratitude, sacrifice, integrity, honesty (tied to trust)

Invest in Staff

One of the foremost recommendations for success that I can give is to invest in a professional educator who is dedicated to the idea of OST programming to lead the initiative. By locating someone that sees OST as a career and not a starter job, you will be able to build programming that has year-to-year continuity which is key when trying to develop a culture.

Next you will have to find people to implement the programming. The number of staff needed will obviously be determined by the number of children that you are serving. Something that has proven to be important in our programming is finding a diverse group of people to staff the program (we have found that we need people with an education background- but not a whole team of educators, we need artists-but not a whole team of them, etc.) One non-negotiable in staffing is to fill a substantial part of the team with people from the same or similar neighborhoods that the students are from, this makes the transition into a new way of learning much easier for the students.

Invest time in developing a structure for training staff. Staff need to be as thoroughly trained in the “why” of the program structure as they are in the “how.”

Design Curriculum

When choosing what activities to do with the students, the most important thing is to follow the passion (your passion, the educators' passion and the students' passion) rather than trying to replicate another program exactly. When putting together curriculum, there is no magic set of subjects that are going to best educate the students. Everything that you do should serve your guiding principles but by choosing things that have passion behind them, you are making it easier to stick with them long enough for them to become meaningful.

Do not fragment learning. Build the program in such a way that students are exposed to a wide variety of subjects and become comfortable with interdisciplinary thinking.

The one piece of our curriculum that I would recommend to almost everyone is to install a dedicated makerspace. We launched the DREAMlab for just a few thousand dollars and it has paid great dividends. It has been a space that naturally lends itself to boiling education down to the essence of creative, hands-on, interdisciplinary learning.


This is not an overnight process. You are developing a culture of learning and that takes time. Students will take giant steps forward and then lapse into apathy. You are teaching them to approach the world in a way that is foreign to most of them. Trust in your vision and in the students’ potential and continue on no matter what.

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