How did Sean Russell become one of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ great hopes

Sean Russell takes notes on his computer after a scholarship interview over Zoom in his bedroom. (Photo by Oliver Morrison / PublicSource)

The high school senior’s success is drawing attention to a program pushing students to achieve at the highest levels — outside of the district’s magnet programs.

by Oliver Morrison, PublicSource

Sean Russell lined up for the 200-meter dash in the outside lane.

That meant that Sean, a senior at Westinghouse Academy, stood a few meters in front of the next runner to account for the track’s curve. 

His position in the April 7 race is an apt metaphor for the position in life Sean finds himself in. At a school known for its low rate of alumni going on to graduate college, Sean has been accepted to Yale, Harvard and Stanford. He’s one of only 300 students across the country to win a full-tuition Gates Scholarship to a school of his choosing. 

News of Sean’s college acceptances was shared on Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Facebook page 1,500 times, more than any other post this year. He didn’t celebrate right away because of his track meet. But after posting some good times on the track, his coach bought him pizza — the kind of indulgence Sean might not have allowed himself if that week hadn’t turned into such a victory lap.

Extra credit

Antawn James, Sean’s best friend at Westinghouse, said Sean will ask for extra credit work in classes where he’s already earning 100%. In track practices, Antawn and Sean often run at a pace much faster than their coach would like because they get so competitive. Sean pushed Antawn in the offseason to run workouts up a steep hill in Frick Park, even on days Antawn felt lazy. 

Sean’s effort has had a similar impact at school, according to social studies teacher Sean Means, pushing teachers to work even harder to find new challenges. Sean’s hard work, Means said, pushes other students to think more deeply and stay focused.

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