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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Life Of Learning Panel: Relevance In The Classroom Is Key

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Senior Amma Ababio, second from left, answers a question during a Life of Learning community fourm.
Listen to the shorter broadcast version of the forum.

Applying for college seemed like the next logical step for Senque Little-Poole. The Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy senior said his educational experience has been a push to get a better grade, a better Grade Point Average and to get accepted into a good college.

“When you apply for college the first thing they ask you is why do you want to go here and it’s like, ‘well because everyone told me I’m supposed to go to college.’ You just end up feeling lost around junior and senior year because … I really don’t know what I want to do because all I’ve been taught is how to memorize things,” he said.

Little-Poole said in his educational experience, school became a culture of compliance; assessing how well a student can follow rules and live up to standards. Students fought for better grades but lost sight of what they were learning and why it was relevant to their lives.

Four other Pittsburgh area high school students echoed this sentiment during a WESA Life of Learning community forum on keeping students engaged and the classroom relevant.

Amma Ababio, a senior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, said rather than students fighting for an A without understanding the material, she wants her teachers to ask early on what the students want out of the class.

“So much of school is because of GPA, because you want to get into a good college from your GPA, because of the SAT test, it detracts from learning, it detracts from learning the material and becomes how well can you memorize something in 45 minutes? How well can you memorize something in two months? I have an AP test next week and it becomes how well can I do on that so my school can get funding so that we can keep the program running?” she said.

Ababio said she doesn’t think about what she is supposed to be getting out of her education; she just tries to get through it.

Alex Popichak, a senior at Carlynton High School, said in an ideal world he thinks the point of his education is to develop him into a well-rounded person and a productive, thoughtful member of society.

And while Alleah Rose, a junior at Barack Obama Academy – International, agrees, she said she is being taught to survive, not figure out what she enjoys and wants to pursue.

Rose said the difference between an engaging class and one where she doesn’t feel worthwhile is the teacher. Popichak agreed saying a teacher’s enthusiasm for the subject can make a student want to learn.

As for advice for their younger siblings or peers, the panelists agreed the biggest motivator had to be themselves.

Jordyn Adams a junior at Penn Hills High School said she would tell younger students to be aware of their learning style and speak up.

“If you have a question and you don’t understand, make that known. And you need to take the time to understand. Talk to people. If I don’t understand, you better know that my teacher is going to know it,” she said.

Popichak said never stop asking why and find a way to keep yourself motivated. Rose said to always question what is being taught and to, “never let anyone marginalize you or make you feel like your question isn’t important.”

A group of students, educators, community members and activists joined the discussion with:

Amma Ababio, a senior at Allderdice High School

Jordyn Adams, a junior at Penn Hills High School

Senqué Little-Poole, a senior at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy

Alex Popichak, a senior at Carlynton High School

Alleah Rose, a junior at Barack Obama Academy – International