The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program will employ what it calls “Promise Coaches” next fall in three Pittsburgh Public high schools in an effort to increase the number of students who are eligible for and take advantage of the post-secondary funding program.
Perry in the North Side, Milliones – or University Prep – in the Hill District, and Carrick were selected for the pilot program because of low usage rates. All schools have high levels of what the state defines as economic disadvantage.
Over the next four years Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril wants Carrick’s use of the program to grow by two-thirds, Milliones to double and Perry’s to triple. Those goals were set based on research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center.
“In some high schools, even with the availability of significant scholarships, too few 9th graders graduate from high school, enroll in post-secondary education, and earn a credential,” Ghubril said. “This deprives low income students of the ability to compete in today's marketplace, perpetuates inequities and widens gaps between varying segments of our population...”
He said the coaches will not be counselors, social workers or educators but rather will target students who are below or at risk of falling below Promise eligibility.
To be eligible for the $5,000 a year scholarship (for up to four years), students must have been enrolled since 9th grade in a Pittsburgh Public School or a charter school chartered by PPS. They must have a 2.5 Grade Point Average and a 90 percent attendance rate.
Ghubril said the coaches will undergo three months of intensive training before the fall semester. He describes the role of the coach as “a lot of hand holding.”
“Asking ‘what’s keeping you from being in school? And what do I need to do to help you get to school more often? We know of this agency in the Hill, this agency in the North Side picking kids up, can we connect you to that?’” he said.
The pilot is funded with a $2 million RK Mellon investment.
When asked what these coaches will provide that the three schools don’t already have,
Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said having more people focus on those who aren’t eligible for the Promise is a good thing. Currently the district’s ratio of counselor to student is 1 to 350. The national best practice standard is 1 to 250.
“If we had infinite coffers we would probably have 100 to one if we could,” he said. “But unfortunately we don’t have that so we make due, we create opportunities for our students where we see fit and also leverage our partners who want to work with us and support our children.”
He said the additional staff won’t necessarily ensure 100 percent eligibility, but he said it’s a step in the right direction.
WESA receives funding from the RK Mellon Foundation.