Though open for a little more than a month, the Hill House Passport Academy Charter School held an official ribbon cutting last week to thank the funders, educators and students who made the unique school a reality.
And for 21-year-old Marlene Burton, it has been one of the best months of her life.
“Since I’ve been accepted, these teachers have been the biggest influence on my life. They don’t have to be here but they see the dropout rate reaching down to eighth grade and they want to do something about it,” she said. “Ever since I came, it’s been awesome. I just love this school.”
The HHPACS, housed in the remodeled lower floors of the Kaufmann Auditorium, is specifically designed for students like Burton—kids aged 16-21 who for whatever reason dropped out of school, but have made the decision to get their high school diploma. The educational plans are individualized for each student because said Board Chair Phil Parr, they have to be.
“You have to meet the students where they are,” he said. “Some students are reading at a third-grade level, so it can’t be one-size-fits-all. Education equity programs need to put students first, and that’s what we’ve done. We find where they are, what they need next, and they don’t move on until they’ve gotten it.”
To achieve that, students follow an intensive online curriculum of core courses and electives designed by K12 Inc. They use personal computers onsite, and receive textbooks for work offline and at home. They also receive support services to deal with the issues that thwarted their success the first time.
“Students receive counseling, mentoring childcare services and can take courses that qualify for credit at Community College of Allegheny County,” Parr said. “And we are building partnerships to provide meaningful internship so our students leave here with not only a diploma, but with an achievable career plan.”
Students spend three hours a day with Pennsylvania-certified teachers and two hours of independent online instruction. The HHPACS currently has 100 students enrolled but can serve a maximum of 150 students. The school is tuition free.
“For me this is the culmination of a dream,” said Hill House Association President and CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell. “So while this is a small celebration, it is a huge event.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who also took part in the ribbon cutting, praised the students for their courage.
“I was not a good student. I barely made it through college,” he said. “So when I went back to get my masters degree—in my 40s—it was tough. But that was nothing compared to what you guys are doing. You’ve got the spark, and it will light up the world.”
To learn more about the HHPACS and for enrollment information visit https://hhpa.k12.com or call 412-376-3724.
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