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PittEnrich tutoring program expands reach with new funding boost

Elementary school students sit on a floor and listen to an instructor.
Tom Altany
University of Pittsburgh
Saturday morning elementary-school students listening to Pitt students introduce their Roller Coaster game.

A tutoring program piloted over the last four years that matches University of Pittsburgh students with local community children is set to expand with a $750,000 fund from Pittsburgh attorney and University of Pittsburgh Board trustee John Gismondi and his family.

PittEnrich was developed in 2019 with a $325,000 donation from the Gismondi Foundation. The educational program combines in-school tutoring and Saturday learning-through-play sessions to help first through fifth grade Homewood students improve their reading and math skills.

On a recent Saturday, students like Harmony Rupel delved into the world of roller coasters, learning about the science behind the winding rides while also engaging in a hands-on activity: building their own cardboard roller coasters.

“My mom signs me up for it because I like it and also because I have nothing to do with my Saturdays,” said Rupel, one of about 50 kids participating in PittEnrich.

The program places Pitt's undergraduate and graduate education students in classrooms at local elementary schools and holds Saturday sessions at the university’s Community Engagement Center in Homewood. These sessions aim to provide an interactive and educational experience outside the traditional classroom environment.

“It’s also a chance to improve my reading," Rupel added. “I also learned fractions here and I’m actually ahead of my class in fractions.”

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Sierra Russell, the outreach coordinator at the Homewood Community Engagement Center, enrolled her daughter in the program. Russell helps recruit kids and families from local schools to participate as well because she says she’s seen the impact the program can have.

“When you’re a parent and you’re frustrated because your kid needs help with different things and you feel like you’re not able to help them, PittEnrich is that. It’s here to help the kids,” Russell said.

Keith Caldwell, executive director of place-based initiatives for the University of Pittsburgh's office of engagement and community affairs, has played a key role in the development of the program — particularly the Saturday sessions.

“Early on, conversations around youth programming all really geared towards how we can bring educational opportunities into an area that isn't well covered — which is Saturdays,” said Caldwell. “Saturday programs were an area that we knew would be helpful in the community, and so that’s where PittEnrich came from.”

A man with grey hair stands and speaks to a group of elementary school students sitting on the floor.
Tom Altany
University of Pittsburgh
John Gismondi addressing the PittEnrich group during their Roller Coaster game, where the students constructing them out of paper plates and paper-towel tubes. "I invested in this because it's hard for me to think of something that would be more important to invest in than the education of young kids," Gosmondi said.

Gismondi’s investment establishes the Gismondi Neighborhood Education Program, building on the pilot PittEnrich program. In-school tutoring and reading activities in partnership with local elementary schools will be expanded to include Saturday STEAM and digital equity in the Hill District and life science education in Greater Hazelwood, as well as tutoring in the schools serving those communities — tripling the number of students served. The Gismondi Neighborhood Education Program will coordinate efforts across the neighborhoods.

In a news release, Lina Dostilio, vice chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh’s office of engagement and community affairs called the fund “transformative” saying it would establish a sustainable approach to the university’s support for community elementary and middle-school kids.

“Across all of our Neighborhood Commitments, our neighbors have asked Pitt to invest in our young people and support our schools and community-based organizations,” Dostilio said. “We have developed creative programming to meet these requests and the Gismondi Neighborhood Education Program is the latest and most robust of those efforts.”