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Homestead educator finds new ways to reach kids in Propel teaching program

| Friday, May 15, 2015, 7:38 a.m.
Sonia Ewell of Duquesne (left) and other candidates for the Urban Teaching Corps collaborated on projects that challenged them individually and in teams.
photo courtesy Propel Schools
Sonia Ewell of Duquesne (left) and other candidates for the Urban Teaching Corps collaborated on projects that challenged them individually and in teams.
Sonia Ewell was asked describe herself in one word.
photo courtesy Propel Schools
Sonia Ewell was asked describe herself in one word.

In Clairton, many grow up hoping to follow the example of the city's sports heroes.

Sonia Ewell grew up hoping to follow the example her mother was setting as a teacher, an example Linda Galloway still sets working for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in MonView Heights in West Mifflin.

“Education was a very important way for me to see beyond where I was,” Ewell said.

She's hoping she can lead youngsters beyond where they are in a new role, in the inaugural year of Propel Schools' Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps.

“This initiative, in partnership with Chatham University, will further Propel's goal of transforming the region's educational landscape,” said Propel spokeswoman Maura DeRiggi.

“It will be the beginning of a regional change,” predicted Propel Superintendent Tina Chekan.

Ewell is a paraeducator at Propel Homestead.

“It is more like a teacher's aide or a teaching assistant,” Ewell said. “I am a special education paraeducator. I mostly am working with students who have some special ed need … but I am also (providing) classroom support.”

Ewell eventually will be a teacher in the course of a process that attracted a pool of 79 applicants.

She will move on from paraeducator duties for kindergarten through second grade at Propel Homestead to an apprenticeship this fall working on English language arts with fifth- and sixth-graders at Propel Braddock Hills.

There she hopes to attain her teaching certificate, and then she will teach for the next two years somewhere in the Propel system.

“It will lead to a master of arts in teaching (from Chatham) and a mid-level certification for teaching, that is, in grades 4-8,” Ewell said.

“Twenty semi-finalists were chosen after a series of interviews and activities,” DeRiggi said. “Semi-finalists took part in a two-day experience designed to challenge them in both interview situations and supervised classroom teaching experiences.”

“It was a very intense process,” Ewell recalled.

In the end, she was chosen along with Simon Ainsworth of Glenshaw; Adam Bailey of Berea, Ky.; Jordan Kepner of Harrisburg; LaShawn Neal of Export; Estaban Sagastume of Monroeville; Mayada Mansour of Bellevue; and Maya Savage, LaVaughn Wesley and Emily Ecker of Pittsburgh.

“These corps members are currently professionals in a variety of fields, but are now ‘career changers,' excited to begin and committed to working with urban youth,” DeRiggi said.

Ewell is pleased to get an assignment at one of Propel's Mon-Yough area charter schools.

“Sometimes some of the places in our area don't have the best reputation,” Ewell acknowledged, but insisted, “There are good things that come out of these neighborhoods, and good people.”

She sees the good in a number of ways, as Propel officials acknowledged on the charter school network's website about Ewell, “She believes in limitless possibilities for all students.”

The website notes her work as the wife of the Rev. Eric Ewell, pastor of Divine Revelation Church in Duquesne, and as a mother of four, a 13-year-old in Propel McKeesport, two younger children in Propel Hazelwood and a child still in preschool.

Ewell earned her undergraduate degree in Africana studies at Youngstown State University in 2003 and a master's degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh in 2009.

After that, Ewell said, “I ran a day care from my home. I have also done family support for the (Urban League's) Duquesne Family Support Center and was a preschool teacher at Schenley Heights in Pittsburgh.”

Ewell joined Propel Homestead in September. Her husband's job during the week is as a community engagement specialist at Propel.

“I hope to accomplish not just making a difference but making sure a child who may have been left behind can recognize their own potential and go further than they may have felt they could,” she said.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or

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