SHARING KNOWLEDGE—Thomas Johnson teaching a 10th grade class. (Photos by J.L. Martello)
PITTSBURGH–Faculty at The Neighborhood Academy is committed to educating inner-city students and putting them on the path to college and a successful career by breaking the cycle of generational poverty.
Located on the border of East Liberty and Stanton Heights on North Aiken Avenue, the school reaches that goal by providing college preparatory courses to their 89 students. The school’s capacity is 100 to 110 students. The school began in 1993 as an innovative summer program for at-risk youth. Drawing upon her work with the Larimer Avenue Youth Club, a youth ministry that met urban youth in their own neighborhoods, Jodie Moore and Rev. Thomas Johnson designed the Neighborhood Academy Summer School and intensive, five-week skill building program for seventh through eleventh graders.
In response to the success of that program, the Neighborhood Academy opened as a full year school in September of 2001. It is fully accredited by the PA Association of Independent Schools and is a member of the Pittsburgh Consortium of Independent Schools.
“There was a need for college prep education for inner-city youth,” said Sheila L. Rawlings, senior development officer at the Neighborhood Academy.
“There was a lack of support services that students uniquely needed to put them on the path to excel,” she said.
The Neighborhood Academy provides students in grades 8-12 with small, intimate classes, three meals a day and an extended school day—which begins with worship services and includes season-based extra-curricular activities like dance, drumming, basketball, track and field, flag football—and concludes with evening study and dinner.
“Our students continue school in the summer so that they don’t lose any ground academically and fall behind. Instead they are one step ahead,” Rawlings said. “They spend about four weeks learning on college campuses. They spend three to four weeks on Duquesne University campus and one week at Bethany College and then during the final week they go on a college run, seeing about 9-10 colleges. By the time they graduate they have visited 60 colleges.”
In addition, the school provides transportation and counseling services as well as support once the student enters college. Tuition for the school is income based.
The path to excellence for students at Neighborhood Academy was almost thwarted when residents of the community balked at the idea of putting a school there. Kids from about 15 Pittsburgh areas—including Penn Hills, South Side and Woodland Hills—make up Neighborhood Academy’s student body, which is about 97 percent African-American.
“The community did know about the school ahead of time and all of the paper work had been done properly,” Rawlings said. “There was a concern about the school bringing in students who could cause violence in the community, but there hasn’t been any violence or problems. We have a wonderful relationship with the community. People in the community use our facility to take walks because it is very picturesque. We have eight acres of land and a state of-the-art school. We also lease our building for community activities. We are anchored in the community.”
The Neighborhood Academy’s girls basketball team won the Tri-county Christian League Championships in 2008, 2009 and 2011, while the boys basketball team earned the honor in 2009.
‘89% of our students have graduated from college in five years or less or are still in college and 94% of our alumni are in the workforce.’ The administration is working on collaborating with corporations to create paid internships for its students who are still enrolled at the Neighborhood Academy.
“When students graduate from college and have support services in college, our students can find jobs. That’s the goal,” Rawlings said. “We want to ensure a stable work history for our students and they need resources to be able to do that.”