In January, the Ivy Charitable Endowment, a nonprofit affiliate of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority’s Pittsburgh chapter, received a $50,000 grant to benefit their mentoring program. Now, they are already predicting the positive effects the Heinz Endowment grant will have on Pearl Academy, their initiative aimed at middle school girls.

“Pearl Academy models the connection between academics and leadership by challenging students to collaboratively organize community service projects throughout the school year,” said Headmistress Yarra Howze, member of AKA.

Established in October 2009, the Pearl Academy initiative focuses on the areas of academic achievement, life skills, leadership development and service learning. With the infusion of the Heinz Grant, ICE hopes to be able mentor participants from sixth grade through high school.

“Our mission was to assist African-American organizations in the kinds of programs that were geared toward helping others and also we look for programs that help youth,” said Delphina Briscoe, president of the ICE board of directors. “We want to enhance the program activities we currently offer to the young ladies. We will now be able to offer a more complete curriculum.”

The program requires participants to complete a series of service projects, along with sessions in creative writing, photography, and cultural field trips. In addition to their non-academic guidance, the girls are tutored in math and language arts.

“We correlate with the Pittsburgh Public Schools curriculum. This is just the beginning of our third year and we found (our participants) increased their scores, based on the achievement data that’s used in the Pittsburgh Public Schools,” Briscoe said. “We also use our own data through teacher observation and other exams we have administered through the program. We’re looking at positive results; we’re looking at girls who will eventually become leaders.

The 18-week program is currently made up of 35 seventh and eighth graders, who meet every Saturday morning at St. Benedict the Moor School in the Hill District. The program features students from Woodland Hills, Wilkinsburg, the Catholic Diocese, and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

“We want to double whatever it is they are doing and let them excel at their greatest potential and make sure they are able to meet whatever’s expected of them in life today, because today there’s so much required of our young people,” Briscoe said.

Pearl Academy’s instructors are made up of volunteers from the AKAs and the community. Parent’s are also invited to participate in the program and can receive a stipend for attending the three parent engagement sessions throughout the year.

“One of the fraternities said we need to have something like this for our young men and that’s true and we hope to one day offer our support to them,” Briscoe said. “I devoted the majority of my life to middle school kids and this is a very crucial time. Middle school kids are sensitive and they need all the support in the world they can possibly get. The direction we give them at this point in their life is crucial.”

AKA is the oldest sorority established by African-American college-trained women. The Pittsburgh chapter created ICE in 1997 to foster educational, cultural and community-based activities that benefit the Black community.

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