North Hills students show their hunger for learning

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Thirteen districts made up of about 360 students played to a brilliant finish by Allina Molinaro, 14, an eighth-grader from North Hills Junior High School, in the first “The Hunger Games” competition there.

There was no violence in this academic exercise, held last month.

“I felt confident but didn't know how anyone else was doing,” she said, as she tallied her points as a member of District 6.

Even as an “A” student, she was surprised to hear her name called and to receive the Kindle Fire tablet as her prize.

Another bonus of the activity was the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, tests seemed easier to her this year.

“I think it helped everyone overall,” said Allina, of Ross Township. “I think they should do it in the future.”

Teachers Vicki Truchan and Nate Wilkinson designed the full-day activity for the eighth-graders, based on the popular book and movie, to help students prepare for the PSSA tests the next week.

The teachers used a $300 Alpha Delta Kappa Support Learning Grant for the program.

“We've been working on this since October,” said Truchan, 39, of Sewickley.

They began with the students' scores on the Standard Testing and Reporting, or STAR, assessment tests and looked at the 10 skills that were most difficult.

“We targeted lessons to those areas, so the students could brush up on the skills,” she said.

Excitement had grown for weeks as the students decorated their districts' doors

“The movie was immensely popular,” said Wilkinson, 32, of Ross. “We thought we'd piggyback on it. Kids love to compete at this age.”

Throughout the day, students, wearing their districts' colors, traveled from classroom to classroom hearing an 18-minute lesson on a reading or math skill, taking a brief quiz on what they learned and accumulating points.

Each district, made up of members of homerooms, rotated through the same lessons.

Wilkinson reviewed the skill of sorting important from unimportant information when reading. His interactive whiteboard showed examples of extracting key ideas from paragraphs by asking who, what, when, where, how and why.

“We're looking for the big picture,” he said, and as he gestured, words and phrases were highlighted in yellow.

At the end of his presentation, students took a three-paragraph quiz and answered a tiebreaker question.

After a tally of the final classrooms' scores, students rallied in the auditorium for the announcement of the winner.

“The teachers are awesome,” Wilkinson said, “teaching 13 lessons to 300-plus kids and glad to do it.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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