Winchester Thurston raises an esteemed culture

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by Malik Vincent
For New Pittsburgh Courier

Nestled in the corner of Pittsburgh’s ever-evolving East End, Winchester Thurston—as it has for 125 years—strives to serve as a platform that catapults its students to their individual goals.

The institution, holistically, is comprised of three levels: the lower school (grades Pre-K which also has a second facility in the North Hills), the middle school (6 to 8), and high school (9-12).

DeVaughn-from-Donor-Luncheon
LENDING SUPPORT —Winchester sophomore DeVaughn Robinson at a luncheon where donors gathered to support the institution.

“We’re a different community,” Winchester senior Michael Booker said. “At Winchester, you always have your opportunity to lead. I think that’s huge because that gives you the courage and support to be your own person.”

Booker, 17, who applied to 26 colleges and universities in total, chose Carnegie Mellon University where he plans to dual-major in chemical and biomedical engineering in the fall.

“Possibly, I will triple-major, by adding on mechanical engineering,” he said.

Innovative

programming

As a part of the school’s many groundbreaking programs in the upper school, Winchester, in particular, has established something that they call their “City as our campus” initiative.

It’s designed to forge partnerships that transform institutions and businesses into co-educators, resulting in relevant experiential learning opportunities for their students.

Patrice Alexander, a 2006 graduate of the school, created a fellowship with the nearby Hip-Hop on Lock program. The class tracks the evolution of hip-hop’s elements into mainstream America by studying its rhetoric.

Her feelings of currently being the educator, after being a student at Winchester, were something that she described as “surreal.”

“Honestly, sometimes I stand in front of that classroom and I have to pinch myself,” she said. “It’s already been two years and I still can’t believe this is real.”

The class covers the four elements of hip-hop (deejaying, emceeing, breakdancing, and graffiti writing) through a combination of engaging readings, class discussions, and dynamic guest speakers and performers. Some homework assignments have included comparing literary devices in classic poems to devices found in rap songs.

Their final project will be a CD that is set to be released, May 23.

Winchester’s Urban Research and Design course is another component of the “City as our campus” initiative. Booker has coordinated an effort to perform various community endeavors in Braddock.

“If you want to come to a school and just study and get good grades, (this school) will just encourage you to go outside of that and do something to get involved,” Booker said.

He’ll lead 40 Winchester students during a weeklong process in their service efforts, next term.

The Winchester Thurston Android App Lab 2012 kicked off when students met with Google-Pittsburgh engineers and discussed many computer science related issues.

Not only are these youth studying how to develop mobile technology on the widespread Android system, they are bringing students together.

“We first began our outreach with this with the South Fayette school district,” Winchester computer science teacher David Nassar said. “They learned from us and decided that they would expand the knowledge. So, they took it to Quaker Valley.”

Nassar oversees the App Lab.

Recently, Winchester teamed up with Obama Academy which is the first of Pittsburgh Public Schools to participate.

David Nicholson, a 2011 grad, chose that field of study and is wrapping up his first year at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. He was shown on CBS News’ TV magazine program ‘60 Minutes’ when they did a special on the schools’ president, Freeman Hrabowski.

It focused on Hrabowski’s dedication to math, science, and engineering. Also his struggles growing up as a Black scholar in the thick of race issues in the south as well as his steadfast belief that it takes true “hard work” to achieve one’s dreams.

Forty-one percent of the university’s graduates receive degrees related to those subject matters. Nicholson credits his high school alma mater with preparing him for his current experience at UMBC.

“Their rigorous curriculum always kept me striving,” he said. “It was tough, but I really enjoyed my experience (at Winchester). I feel like if I wasn’t challenged so much, I wouldn’t have been prepared enough to deal with all of my challenges here.”

Alexander is a graduate of the University of Chicago, one of the finest academic institutions’ in the country. But, Winchester is no stranger to sending their graduates to the upper escalate of academia.

According to their latest literature, Winchester has sent its graduates from the past five years to several Ivy League schools such as Brown, Bucknell, Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, and others.

They hail great results from their advanced placement exit exams. Of all students in the upper school, 74 percent scored a three or higher (which is usually the number that qualifies college credit for the course taken). Fifty six percent earned a four or a five.

Winchester has 642 total students and 52 are Black, which accounts for around 8 percent of the population.

In the upper school there’s 240 students and 23 are Black (nearly 10 percent).

Winchester Thurston School, What is the Cost.

Tuition rates rise as the students age.

Pre-kindergarten tuition ranges, depending on how long the pupil stays in school, and cost anywhere from $7,400-$14,200 per year.

By the sixth grade, tuition rates rise to $21,250 and stay there until students reach the upper school.

The cost goes up $2,000 from the middle school rate and increases again the next year to $24,350. Seniors, in their final year, pay an additional $1,100.

However, there is a scholarship program called FAME (Fund for Advancement of Minorities through Education) that assists Blacks with the steep costs of an independent school education.

The scholarship was established in 1995 to help Black youth in Pittsburgh who attend, not only Winchester, but each of the area’s six independent schools.

Specifically, at Winchester Thurston, up to $8,500 of a qualified student’s tuition comes from the FAME scholarship. If applicable, the institution grants all other financial aid.

Sophomore DeVaughn Robinson previously attended Manchester Academic Charter School on the North Side. Before arriving to Winchester last year, he felt very out of place. He and his family knew it wasn’t a place that would help him grow.

“I had a hard time there,” Robinson said. “People made fun of the way I dressed. They said I dressed too much like a White boy. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel like I could be myself.”

Robinson and his family receive funding from FAME to cover most of his tuition costs at Winchester.

“I’d say in between FAME and the school, my family only pays ar
ound 5 percent of my whole tuition,” he said.

A relief that can lead to a lifetime of benefits.

(For more information on Winchester Thurston School, go to their website at http://www.winchesterthurston.org.)

(Malik Vincent can be reached at mvincent@newpittsburghcourier.com or on Twitter @malikvincent.)

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