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Students Struggling Virtually Return To PPS Classrooms

Francisco Seco
Pittsburgh Public School District is bringing 4,786 students back to in-person classes two days a week, including preK and kindergarten students.

On today's program: Pittsburgh Public School District superintendent Anthony Hamlet says schools will use afterschool and summer programs to make up for lost learning; and exploring Pittsburgh’s public stairways is a COVID-safe excursion as the weather warms.

 PPS students are coming back into classrooms

(0:00 — 10:05) 

The Pittsburgh Public School District phased about 4,800 students back to in-person classes today. Another 5,200 are to return April 26, and the remaining will return a week later.

“Our board wanted to make sure that we reached some of those students who were not accessing remote learning and who were not doing well,” says PPS superintendent Anthony Hamlet. “The board voted in a resolution to come up with a model to begin to phase in kids based on need.”

Hamlet says the criteria for who can return starts with assessing grades and attendance from the first two quarters, social and emotional learning, and took into consideration students with individual education plans (IEPs), disabilities, English Language Learners, and those experiencing housing insecurity who qualify for McKinney Vento resources.

The 4,800 students returning today are those who need the most support, as well as PreK and kindergarten students. 

Most will attend in a hybrid model, attending in-person lessons two days a week until the year ends June 11. 

“Extending the school year is not up for an option at this point because it’s so late in the game right now and that would be a contract issue that we have to bargain with the [teacher’s] union,” says Hamlet.

“Now we have the COVID slide, right?” says Hamlet. By “slide,” he means the learning loss that typically comes when students are out of the classroom, like during summer. 

“We understand we need to put summer school in place [to combat learning loss] and we’re trying to reach about 5 to 6,000 students in that summer school programming.” 

Pittsburgh has the most staircases in the country
(10:09 — 18:00)  

Walk around Pittsburgh and you’re bound to spot public stairways, including hundreds of sets of steps built into sidewalks.

More than 20 years ago University of Pittsburgh professor Bob Regan documented 739 unique public stairways, and for the last three years, Laura Zurowski has been visiting, walking, and writing about these Pittsburgh connections in her series “Mis.Steps.”

“Pittsburgh, ‘City of Bridges,’ that’s for certain, but really Pittsburgh has the most public stairways in the entire country,” says Zurowski.  “With the public stairs, because they’re scattered throughout the city, almost all of the 90 neighborhoods will have some form of a public stair in it and some neighborhoods have dozens and dozens of them.”

Zurowski calls the stairs an underrated, underappreciated form of transportation. So far, she’s visited 560 sets of stairs over the last three years and estimates she has another year to go until she visits all of them. 

“The city steps were the first mass transportation system here in Pittsburgh. The city steps date back to the late 1800s,” says Zurowski. Those original stairs have since deteriorated, and Zurowski says many of those used today were built in the 1940s. 

She encourages people to explore the city’s staircases on their own now that the weather has warmed, and says notable stairs to visit are the Gladstone Street stairs that connect Hazelwood and Greenwood, and those in the Southside Slopes, which Zurowski says has the most city stairs at 68 sets. 

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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