August 20, 2008

Munhall Charter School Puts Eye on Real World

By Bill Zlatos

The name of Allegheny County's newest high school is unique.

And so is the brand of education going on inside Propel Andrew Street High School, administrators said.

Students in the Munhall school, which opened Monday, sit in office-like classrooms at their own cubicle, which they later can decorate with photos and even small plants. And they will work on projects together to prepare them for the work force.

"It's so different from a traditional school," said science teacher Marianna Reino. "Instead of doing textbooks and tests, you're creating projects and learning hands-on and applying it."

Andrew Street is the first high school run by the South Side- based Propel Schools chain of charter schools -- public schools that operate without teacher contracts or some of the state's regulations.

"Our desire is to be a catalyst for the transformation in public education and obviously that's not just elementary schools. It's also high schools," said Jeremy Resnick, founder and executive director of Propel.

Propel runs charter schools in Homestead, Turtle Creek, McKeesport and the Montour School District that serve about 1,500 students. Propel has applied for a charter school in the Woodland Hills School District and eventually hopes to serve between 2,500 and 3,000 children at all of its schools.

Andrew Street offers a ninth and 10th grade now and will add 11th grade next year and 12th grade the following year. The school uses a curriculum designed by Henderson, Minn.-based EdVisions that emphasizes groups of students working on projects that cut across different subjects.

"EdVisions Schools are not a cookie-cutter model," said Andrew Street Principal Randall Bartlett. "They all have a different character and setup based on the needs of the community and the students."

Teachers stay with the same group of students for four years as advisers and develop a plan that addresses their individual needs.

Nathaniel Gerdes, 15, of East Pittsburgh and Sydney Harris, 14, of Monroeville, attended Woodland Hills last year.

"Woodland Hills classrooms were out of control, and I wasn't learning," Harris said. Although her new school reminds her of elementary school, she added, "I'll do what I have to do to go through my four years and better educate myself."

Gerdes likes the fact that the school gives him his own cubicle and a laptop computer and allows him to eat snacks during classes.

"There's a lot of freedom," he said.

(c) 2008 Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.