“Propel is a great school and has been a great learning process for me as a parent,” says Sanford Mark Barnes, whose son recently graduated from Propel Braddock Hills High School. “I think Propel is setting the standard across the board.”
When Propel Schools opened its first school in the basement of a hospital in 2003, the founders dreamed of redefining school and defying expectations with a public school experience where students’ hearts grow as much as their minds under the guidance of dedicated teachers.
Today, Propel sets a standard for creating productive citizens by prioritizing academic excellence and fundamental life skills.
Propel Schools is a network of public charter schools that transforms the lives of children through innovative, student-centered learning. Propel pursues its mission of catalyzing the transformation of public education by operating high performance schools in underserved communities. The schools’ Culture of Dignity is defined by passionate educators who believe in their students and a place where extracurricular activities are part of the curriculum.
Since 2003, Propel Schools has become one of the largest and fastest-expanding charter organizations in the state, serving 3,700 K-12 students in 11 locations in Allegheny County. Propel continues to expand with Propel Braddock Hills Middle School, which welcomed its first students in 2016. In addition to offering new technology and a passionate staff, BHMS focuses on the unique academic, social and emotional needs of sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.
“What first motivated me to come to Propel was the promise to deliver equal education to all children because every child deserves to learn in an environment that is sustainable and is a place where they can each grow academically and socially,” said Tiffany Ward, kindergarten teacher at Propel Northside.
Propel actively pursues staff who are committed to making a difference and approach teaching with a passion. Propel nurtures its teaching staff professionally through targeted guidance and support. In addition, Propel developed Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps, a teacher residency program in partnership with Chatham University in 2014. Applicants selected for PUTC receive a fully funded tuition for a Master of Arts in Teaching degree at Chatham, a monthly stipend, health insurance, professional development and mentorship in exchange for three years as a full-time teacher in a Propel school.
“Propel goes into the community and invites the community to come into their schools. All of the creative artists that they contract into the schools are from the community. Propel knows what these kids need,” Jacquetta Rawlings, Propel parent and educator, said.
Propel’s award-winning Afterschool program is an extension of the Propel school day, allowing more than 700 students to have continuity from school day to afterschool time and assure families that their children have a safe place to continue to learn and grow. Students have access to enrichment activities ranging from cooking and swimming to performance and visual arts. In addition, the rotating curriculum offered by the schools’ Creative Arts program brings visiting artists to the schools throughout the year. Partnerships with science organizations and arts groups like Carnegie Science Center, Grow Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh CLO contribute to the comprehensive programming that fulfills the academic and enrichment needs of each student.
With more than 75 percent of students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, Propel ensures that these students have access to meals through its afterschool supper program and its award-winning backpack feeding program. The backpack program alone provided nutritious meals to more than 550 children in food insecure situations during the 2015-2016 school year—and has now expanded to serve all Propel elementary schools.
Propel gives students the support they need to thrive in school and beyond, including embedded support, technology, committed staff and smaller class sizes. Compared to the districts from which Propel draws most of its students, 34 percent more students from low-income families met or exceeded grade level standards.
By demonstrating its value to students, families and communities as a revitalizing regional asset, Propel has been nationally recognized as a charter model. Recently, it was awarded a $1.35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education reserved for the highest-performing charter schools in the country.
Driven by the belief that the right school can be the difference between a life defined by limitations or by achievement, Propel Schools are free and open to all. The enrollment process guides families in their pursuit of a better school and provides fair access through a blind lottery system, which identifies spots currently open for students in all K-12 grade levels.
For the upcoming school year 2017-18, open enrollment for Propel Schools began on Oct. 3 and ends on Dec.31. All students that apply during that period will be entered into the January lottery drawing. Families that apply after that period will be placed on a waiting list.
“Seeing our schools in action is the best way to truly understand our culture,” advises Tina Chekan, PhD, CEO and superintendent of Propel Schools.
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