The Pittsburgh Public Truth

COVID-19 has taken a huge toll public education, but some districts are suffering more than others.

Students+in+prosperous+suburban+schools+can+take+for+granted+their+technological+advantages.

montage from northallegheny.org and pghschools.org

Students in prosperous suburban schools can take for granted their technological advantages.

Something most of my peers do not know about me is where I grew up. Before my move to North Allegheny, I was a Pittsburgh Public Schools student. I had lived in the city for the first seven years of my life and had never known why I had to suddenly leave my school, my neighborhood, and my home.

It was not until I got older that I realized the reason for my move was to better my education.

My parents, Amy and Brett Stana, still work for the Pittsburgh Public School District and have always loved what they have done. As I grew older,  became clear to me was the difference between where they are and where I am. It was not until this year that I truly noticed how different our two districts were. 

My mother was a 5th-grade reading teacher at John Minadeo Elementary and now is a reading coach for her school. My father, on the other hand, is a school nurse at Clayton Academy. My mom has been in the district for 29-30 years, and my dad 5-6 years. Both have been inspired to continue their jobs to better their students’ lives every day.

As hard as their jobs are, it was not until when COVID-19 hit that they could sense a colossal challenge rising around them. 

Unlike North Allegheny and other prosperous suburban districts, Pittsburgh Public did not have the technology to be able to teach all students online at home.”

When the city schools announced late in the summer that they would not be able to start in person, it was time to come up with a plan. Unlike North Allegheny and other prosperous suburban districts, Pittsburgh Public did not have the technology to be able to teach all students online at home.

Before the start of this school year, the district tried to obtain enough Chromebooks and laptops for their 23,000 students. Their technology from last year had become so outdated that many items needed to be returned. The district was able to order 26,000 devices, but too much of it was coming in too slowly. 

Julie Love, a learning support teacher for John Minadeo Elementary, spoke to The Uproar about the difficulties the district had trying to obtain the correct materials for their students. 

Computers have been a struggle to get for students and staff, while curriculum and extra resources have been fairly easy,” Love said. “All of the district’s curriculum is available online and there are plenty of free websites we can use to enhance our teaching and increase student engagement. However, it takes a lot of extra time to find all of these resources to use.”

Another daunting issue has been student interaction and involvement. As some students may feel better in the comforts of their own homes, it is also harder for them to want to sit and listen to their teachers. Marybeth Mongelluzzo, a 5th-grade language arts teacher for John Minadeo Elementary, gave insight on trying to engage students during this time. 

“Engagement is a challenge. I try to randomly call on students, give participation points, praise and recognize participation, and give free time or downtime,” Mongelluzzo said.

She added, “Another big struggle is really getting to see what all students know and can do with the assignments and work we are completing. Writing is a challenge because it is harder to give that immediate feedback and the back-and-forth discussions that typically take place when working through a writing piece with a student.” 

For many city teachers during remote learning, the main challenge to simply get their students to want to learn. No doubt North Allegheny and other suburban teachers have also had to struggle to get their year planned, but for teachers in Pittsburgh Public School District it is much harder. Shari Sacca, a 4th grade ELA teacher at John Minadeo, sees a stark difference between her district and more affluent ones. 

Teachers and kids who are a part of the Pittsburgh Public community have always been fighting this battle — but now it has gotten harder.”

“Many of our kids do not have the same access to technology, internet, assistance at home, and general resources that other districts or communities may have,” Sacca said. “Many students are new at using technology and the programs. This has been their first experience and that has made it frustrating and difficult at times.”

To my peers, my teachers, and other members of our community, I agree that we are struggling to figure out our next steps, but the challenge is much greater in some other communities. Teachers and kids who are a part of the Pittsburgh Public community have always been fighting this battle — but now it has gotten harder.

My mom looked at me the other day while helping a student online. The student was having a difficult time reading, and my mom was able to help them better understand what they were doing. The student ended up being able to read much more of the story than they ever thought they could. My mom congratulated the student on their accomplishment, looked at me, and said, “This is why I do what I do — because of little moments like these.”

And that is what inspires me to stay positive during these times.