SENIORS—Senior members of AACAS, standing in back are: from left; Veronica Glaze and Sadik Roberts. Sitting in front, from left; Dani Huggins, Latia Tucker and Laura Brown. (Photos by J.L. Martello)
The Pittsburgh Public School District recently expanded its Centers for Advanced Studies program to provide more African-American students with an opportunity to take advantage of high level courses. For the first time ever, through the Talent Development Initiative, which was implemented district-wide for the 2012-2013 school year, the CAS program now includes non-gifted students who have been identified as talented.
The district’s CAS courses are high-level, accelerated courses that have an additional .5 weight to account for the increased difficulty of the curriculum. In order to participate, students must demonstrate high achievement, meet specific course requirements and demonstrate that they can do the work and are motivated to meet the challenge of CAS courses.
“It’s increased the number of African-American students in these classes,” said Wayne Walters, principal of Obama Academy. “They are standing on the shoulders of others and the hope is that others will stand on their shoulders so that there is a greater representation of African-American students in these classes.”
Walters sponsors the African-American CAS Executive Committee aimed at aiding students in the CAS program. On April 26, the organization held its annual symposium, where there was an increase in student participants because of the recent expansion of the CAS program.
“A study was done of talented people and they realized that some of the most talented people are under achievers,” said Malcolm Thomas, founder of ONE Nation Education and Leadership Training, the event’s keynote speaker. “Talent is not enough. The greatest gift you have is your will. The thing that’s going to make you successful is, are you willing to do the work.”
CAS courses move quickly, have higher level textbooks and students must often work independently. Despite the fact students participating have been identified as gifted or talented, there are still disparities between Black and White students.
“One of the biggest issues this year is eliminating the disparities, and we’re talking about gifted White students vs. gifted Black students,” said Mercedes Howze, an activities coordinator, project assistant and certified tutor with PPS who volunteers for AACAS. “We just try to give the kids the tools to succeed academically and socially. They’re often not exposed to the same resources as their White counterparts.”
One of the ways AACAS aids Black students in excelling is to provide them with inspiration, exposure, support and advocacy. They also provide students with a well-rounded education that includes studies in African-American culture.
“It’s led me to have a more broad outlook on African-American culture and the reasons we are the way we are, but also what we can do to surpass that,” said Sadik Roberts, president of the AACAS executive committee which is run by students. “In our books everything is based on White culture and we sometimes can’t relate to it.”
(For more information on the CAS program visit http://www.pps.k12.pa.us/.)