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Exclusive scholarship for Black Pittsburgh students opens up to city's Black private school

Courtesy of The Neighborhood Academy
The Neighborhood Academy in Stanton Heights routinely sends nearly all of its students to college, and according to the school, 75% of them graduate within five years.

A scholarship fund that helps send Black Pittsburghers to private schools announced on Wednesday that it is adding one additional partner school: The Neighborhood Academy.

The Fund for Advancement of Minorities through Education [FAME] provides scholarships and enrichment to more than 50 Black Pittsburgh students per year. The Neighborhood Academy in Stanton Heights is the first predominantly Black private school that FAME scholars can attend.

This provides more options for students and parents, said Darryl Wiley, the CEO of FAME.

“The reality is that when you're at Winchester [Thurston] or Ellis or any of the other schools, you're going to be one of a few African American students,” he said. “At The Neighborhood Academy, you won't feel that challenge.”

Wiley said that some parents also have trouble with the transportation needed to attend some of the other private schools. Or they sometimes may struggle to come up with a parental contribution toward tuition, which Wiley said can be $0 but can vary between $2,000 to more than $5,000 per year, depending on the school. The Neighborhood Academy charges tuition for all of its students on a sliding scale based on income.

The Neighborhood Academy routinely sends nearly all of its students to college, and according to the school, 75% of them graduate within five years. That focus on preparing Black students for college is what led FAME to seek out the more formal partnership, Wiley said.

FAME offered scholarships to 56 students this year, and Wiley said he expects the number will be similar next year. Two of this year’s scholars have chosen to attend The Neighborhood Academy.

Sheila Rawlings, director of development at The Neighborhood Academy, said 99% percent of the students served by the school in grades six-12 are Black. The majority of them are low-income, she said. The school currently has 127 students enrolled, but she estimates 155 will enroll next year.

The two organizations have been loosely connected since 2016 when they, along with two other local organizations, started putting on events to help local Black students attend college.

Wiley at times has told FAME scholars about The Neighborhood Academy, including one student last year. But in the past, those students attended the school without FAME’s financial assistance, and they weren’t able to attend many of the enrichment opportunities available to them.

That’s because in previous years the calendars for the two programs didn’t align well, Wiley said. But The Neighborhood Academy has changed its admissions program to align with other private schools in the area. FAME also has changed its summer requirements to enable students to attend the Neighborhood Academy.

Wiley said the three private schools with the most FAME scholars last year were Winchester Thurston School, St. Edmunds Academy and Shadyside Academy. A handful of FAME scholars attended boarding schools outside the Pittsburgh area, including Phillips Exeter Academy and St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire.

The Neighborhood Academy is as elite as these schools but with a different purpose, Wiley said.

“These other schools are this kind of classic, so to speak, elite-school model. But they've also been around for 100-plus years,” he said. “Those other independent schools were not built for African American children. That's not why they opened their doors. [The Neighborhood Academy] was deliberate in opening its doors to the benefit of African American children and families.

Corrected: June 9, 2022 at 10:42 AM EDT
This story was revised to correct the neighborhood in which The Neighborhood Academy is located.
Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.