Pittsburgh Gets Real

Local non-profit tackling high absence rate for students with ‘Nanas’

PITTSBURGH — On a dark street, a warm glow radiates from Kathryn Sellers’ home. At 83, she’s up before the sun, and serving as a “Nana” from her kitchen table.

“I don’t know them all, they just know my voice,” Sellers said.

She’s part of a program with the non-profit Brashear Association and Arlington PreK-8 School addressing the high absence rate for students.

“I had nine children and they all got out of school I would love if I just help one child complete their education I would be more than happy,” Sellers said.

She calls Arlington moms every morning and she’s not the only one with a list.

“You have no idea the kind of energy that goes into helping these moms get themselves together, be together and be ready for the children to be together,” said Gwendalyn Dunn who’s a “Nana”.

But the barrier they face is a lack of transportation. This community school doesn’t offer busing for students who live within a mile and a half of the building.

“They are asking their little children as young as five to walk to school. It is a difficult walk because 1.5 miles is a long trek let’s talk about Pittsburgh weather, the safety of the neighborhood at times,” said Crystal Caldwell who’s the Principal at Arlington PreK-8.

That’s why the non-profit bought two vans. With drivers and nanas, they get 36 families up and on their way to school each day.

“It also addresses tardiness. When children miss their first period class, they miss breakfast, and they are not as prepared for the day. So getting those first period classes in has improved their grades as well,” said Andrea Matthews who’s the Executive Director for the Brashear Association.

When you look at the numbers, chronic absenteeism is trending down at this school, over 15 percent more students in the classroom this year from when the program began two years ago.

“The success of the program comes from feedback that we get from the children. Ma who you talking to, I’m talking to Nana, is that my Nana? The children are involved ‘Mom did the Nana call this morning? ‘No not yet?’ ‘Well call her,’” Dunn said.

With a waiting list of nanas wanting to join and families in need, the hope is to grow the program.

“It’s that beautiful circle of our community filtering into the school and lifting up our future is exactly what this is about,” Caldwell said.

Right now, the Brashear Association has received its funding from PNC Foundation and grants with A+ Schools, but at this point, there is not enough funding for the next year. The non-profit plans to fundraise this summer to get it going, but if you’d like to donate you can find the information by clicking here and mark any donation for the “Nanas Program.”

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