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Penn Hills

Penn Hills School District could have a new free educational program through an international fraternity

| Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, 6:30 p.m.

A historically black international fraternity wants to bring a free educational program to Penn Hills School District.

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity’s Adopt-a-School program has been offered through its Washington, D.C., headquarters for at least 20 years.

It includes spelling bees, essay and reading contests, oratory competitions and other interactive activities designed to build academic skills and student literacy through fraternity volunteers at no cost to a school district.

“The goal is to go to school districts that could use a little help, or could be doing better and supplement the curriculum without putting a burden on teachers,” said Daniel Williams, Braddock Hills resident and Sigma’s Pennsylvania vice state director. “We brainstorm our programs with the help of volunteers. Hopefully, it comes together and everyone comes out of it better.”

The fraternity’s Gamma Lambda Sigma chapter wants to adopt Linton Middle School.

Williams recently presented the program at a curriculum committee meeting. He said Penn Hills would be the first district in the Pittsburgh area to have the program if it’s approved at this month’s board meeting.

“It’s exciting,” Williams said of the opportunity. “We want to find and do programs that actually do impact the kids. We’re excited to find a school district that seems to have an area of need and is excited to have us.”

School Director Yusef Thompson Sr., a fraternity member, brought the adopt-a-school idea to the board.

He must abstain from voting on its potential approval due to his connection with the organization. The decision will be up to the eight other board members.

“I believe that it will work,” Thompson said. “It is still a work in progress. We still have to get the board to approve it. No kids will be pulled out (of classes). We won’t take anything away from the teachers. We’re not adding anything to the teachers. This is to boost the reading levels of the students, boost test scores and overall, boost the desire for learning. Anything that is going to help our kids reach the potential that they need to reach is a good thing, especially when it’s at no cost to the district.”

Williams, a 2012 University of Pittsburgh graduate, said his chapter researched several districts before selecting Penn Hills.

“I saw a lot of areas that kind of need help, and the help isn’t being budgeted for at this time,” he said. “That motivated me to get the program past the talking phase. We evaluated Penn Hills to be the best starting point. As it grows, we can expand to different school districts.”

All volunteers working in the district will have proper clearances.

Superintendent Nancy Hines supports the initiative.

“We see extreme value in having access to professionals who are willing to help organize and host spelling bees, debates, or even field trips that will enrich the school experience for our middle school students,” she said.

The next school board voting meeting is set for 7 p.m. Sept. 24, at Linton Middle School, 250 Aster St.

More information about the fraternity is available at phibetasigma1914.org.

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