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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.

Hill District School Uses Student Leaders For Positive Change

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

About 50 of the 550 students at University Preparatory School in the Hill District are learning the skills of effective leaders.

Teachers at the school selected students they felt were listened to by their peers. Now they're aiming to have those students lead the way toward a more positive school climate.

Massachusetts-based Efficacy Institute is leading the program. It taught a four-day camp in the summer, one before winter break and a one-day training Friday.

Sharae Curd, coordinator of Environments that Support Teaching and Learning at Pittsburgh Public Schools, said the goal is to teach the students strategies they can use to have more positive interactions with peers and teachers.

One strategy is the concept of feeding a student’s strong side of their personality and controlling their weak side.  

“Are my friends, are the people I’m around, are they using their strong side or weak side right now? And how can I have my strong side show up in this situation to make a better choice?” Curd said.

The students said it’s easier to give into weakness and collectively pick on a teacher or student, but if one of them stops the behavior, other students will follow.  

They played a ring-toss game as a way to talk about failure and its role in academic improvement.

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Students track how many rings they made during a leadership training exercise.

One student said he wasn’t doing well in a science classes. Curd said based on methods the student learned in training, he developed a strategy.

“So changing where he was sitting, changing the way he was looking at his test scores, getting a tutor. That actually allowed him to do better in the class,” she said.

Curd says the students will meet weekly at school to decide how they can use the training to benefit the school.