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Parents and community leaders at the “Parents for the Promise” luncheon on May 23 were in for a treat when students from the Barack Obama Academy of International Studies opened the program with a selection from their musical “Footloose.” When the Obama High School students finished their performance, the room erupted in applause as the crowd looked into the faces of future Pittsburgh Promise scholarship recipients.

CUT LOOSE—Students from Pittsburgh Obama perform a selection from the musical “Footloose.” (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

The nationally recognized Pittsburgh Promise is a scholarship program for students attending the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The luncheon served as both an awareness event for parents and a chance to fundraise.

“For all of us, at the end of the day, each data point has a face, and a name, and a story,” said Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise. “Money is important and we couldn’t do this without it, but that’s not the story. The story is about making sure kids go to college.”

Despite Pittsburgh’s declining enrollment, which Ghubril believes the city has seen the last of, to date, 3200 students have received the Pittsburgh Promise. And despite the current budgetary challenges facing the Pittsburgh Public School District, their graduation rate has increased from 65 to 70 percent, since the Promise was created five years ago,

“Right now (the story) happens to be about budget cuts, but that’s not the main story. We’re graduating more kids than before. I’m convinced that we’re better today than we were five years ago. The right results are beginning to make an appearance,” Guhbril said. “The story is now completing itself and new chapters are being written and it includes students who are graduating and coming back to Pittsburgh to join the workforce.”

Among those graduates joining the Pittsburgh workforce is Briana Smith, a recent Robert Morris University graduate. Smith is one of the first PPS students to graduate from college on the Pittsburgh Promise.

“Going into Robert Morris, I came in really shy; I came in really nervous. I would never have been able to stand in this room and talk to all of you,” said Smith, who now works as a business systems analyst at PNC. “Robert Morris prepared me for a lot of things, but there would not have been a Robert Morris, without a Pittsburgh Promise scholarship.”

Serving as the event’s main speaker was Kiya Tomlin, a Pittsburgh Promise board member, PPS parent, and the wife of Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin shared with guests the story of her mom who as a single mother, struggled to ensure her children had a quality education. She also said she continues to be inspired by the “hope” the Pittsburgh Promise gives to disadvantaged children.

“When I first heard about the Pittsburgh Promise, I thought it was the most amazing thing,” Tomlin said. “When I was asked to join, I jumped at the opportunity to help parents like my mom.”

The Pittsburgh Promise provides qualifying students with a $40,000 scholarship to pursue higher education. Beyond the financial commitment, the Pittsburgh Promise is also engaged in reforming the PPS and improving urban neighborhoods.

Upcoming events include a day of service for PPS students with the city’s nonprofit organizations on June 1, career fair for Promise scholars on June and June 8, and a gala charity fundraising event at Stage AE on June 14. For more information please visit celebratingthepromise.org.

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