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Program pairs Western Pa. students with businesses to solve real problems

| Thursday, April 2, 2015, 12:22 a.m.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Benjamin Wilke, 17, of Oakdale and Sydney Dorley, 16 of Bridgeville, (far left) who are both students at South Fayette High School make their presentation for Global Passport Project, at CCAC on the North Side, Tuesday, March 31, 2015. Global Passport Project is a collaboration between regional school districts, local, national and international businesses, the Community College of Allegheny County, the World Affairs Council, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and the Arts Education Collaborative.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Benjamin Wilke, 17, of Oakdale and Sydney Dorley, 16 of Bridgeville, (far right) who are both students at South Fayette High School make their presentation for Global Passport Project, at CCAC on the North Side, Tuesday, March 31, 2015. Global Passport Project is a collaboration between regional school districts, local, national and international businesses, the Community College of Allegheny County, the World Affairs Council, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and the Arts Education Collaborative.

A school-to-business partnership in which students work with executives to solve complex problems is on a growth track.

About 70 South Fayette and North Allegheny Intermediate high school students in the Global Passport Project were asked to come up with a communication plan for the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority as it informs the public about combined sewer overflows.

Teams of students made presentations Tuesday to Alcosan officials at Community College of Allegheny County's Allegheny Campus in the North Side.

Global Passport was founded by Dewayne Rideout, former vice president of human resources for Canonsburg-based All-Clad Metalcrafters LLC, which partnered with South Fayette High School on projects for several years.

South Fayette students began after-school, school-to-business collaborations in 2008, and Global Passport brought the program into classrooms in the 2013-14 school year, said Maureen Pedzwater, program coordinator for the project and former career coordinator for the high school.

North Allegheny participated for the first time last year, and the program added Blackhawk High School in Chippewa this year. Blackhawk is partnering with FirstEnergy Corp. on a project, she said.

The Consortium for Public Education, a McKeesport-based nonprofit that works with school districts on strengthening school leadership and empowering students, recently contacted Pedzwater about expanding Global Passport to some of the 40 schools it works with in six counties.

“We think that opportunities for kids to work with business leaders, especially in real-world situations … is really important,” said Jackie Foor, director of development and data for the consortium.

“It gives them a great opportunity to experience careers, helps them to learn what their skills and strengths are and how they can use those in their own careers someday.”

Also, the Beaver Valley Intermediate Unit has expressed interest in expanding the program to its schools, Pedzwater said.

She hopes to have five schools participating in Global Passport in 2016.

Participating school districts incur small costs, such as transportation expenses for students to visit companies, she said.

Global Passport is seeking grant funding, she said.

Alcosan representatives say they turned to the students because teens think from a unique perspective.

“Going into this project, we weren't sure what the outcome would be … but we are very, very pleased with what the students came up with,” said Twila Simmons-Walker, manager of scholastic outreach and education at Alcosan.

The South Fayette students, who participated through their economics or science seminar classes, broke into teams to present an eight-point communication plan with two videos.

One was comedic with a “Toilet Monster” and one was educational, but both illustrated effects of storm water overflows.

They suggested Alcosan hire an ad agency and a health care outreach expert, and devise a “Think Outside the Sink” campaign with rubber wristbands bearing the slogan.

The North Allegheny Intermediate students presented a four-point social media communication plan that suggested Alcosan focus more on using Facebook and Twitter and increase visibility by “tagging” media outlets and local sports teams in posts before and after storms and other weather events that could affect sewer lines.

Sydney Dorley, 16, a South Fayette junior, oversaw the South Fayette students' project.

“I think I'm taking away from this the most just how to be a leader in a classroom situation with my fellow peers,” she said.

A combined sewer overflow occurs when storm water and sewage, carried in a single pipe, overload the sewer system and flow untreated into rivers and streams. Alcosan is under a federal consent decree, and is negotiating with federal officials to spend $2 billion to reduce sewage overflows, Alcosan spokeswoman Jeanne Clark said.

Alcosan took the Global Passport students' printed materials, and it wants to establish an ongoing partnership with Global Passport, Pedzwater said.

CCAC provides a college credit to every qualifying 11th- and 12th-grader who completes the project, she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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