Leadership Group steps up to support school district with virtual learning

PITTSBURGH — Virtual schooling has not been easy. Some lower-income school districts are still working on getting the needed technology into their students’ hands. Already halfway through the school year, Sto-Rox and Brentwood School Districts, both located in Allegheny County, are still working on getting their devices and accessories into every student’s hands for virtual education.

Brentwood School District Superintendent Amy Burch said their district is made up of 1,200 students and offers no busing. Students must walk to school with their devices.

“Believe it or not, we didn’t become one-to-one until last week, we had enough devices arrive for us to be able to provide one-on-one for every student,” said Burch.

At the December 10, 2020 Reorganization and Legislative Voting Meeting, the Sto-Rox School Board of Directors voted...

Posted by Sto Rox School District on Friday, December 11, 2020

Burch said the district had to lease the Chromebooks and could not afford to purchase them outright, so they must be returned in good working order.

Sto-Rox was able to get the Chromebook laptops into their students’ hands in August, but since then, they’ve struggled with accessories for students, like laptop cases.

“We distributed them to the kids, but just like textbooks, if you give textbooks to a kid, you know after a week or two, they look like they’re a year old already,” said Sto-Rox School District Superintendent Frank Dalmas. “You know, they get beat up, they get dropped, and they get broken.”

Dalmas said they have no real replacements for students if they break or lose their laptops. While some people think a case should be the student’s and family’s responsibility, Dalmas explains in his district and Brentwood that have more than half their students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

“We have a lot of families that struggle financially,” said Dalmas, “So being able to provide a case, maybe in a store, this case would cost $35 or $40, that’s grocery money for the week for our families. So it’s grocery money or the case. Our kids go without the case.”

On Friday, a U-Haul delivered more than 30 boxes containing 2,000 black and gray laptop cases to the districts. The delivery would not be possible without a group of 25 people from the recent graduating class of Leadership Pittsburgh.

Leadership Pittsburgh is a nonprofit which helps business leaders build bridges to civic leaders. The group selects people to join their class and learn skills to serve the community. Pam Selker Rak was in a class of 60 people.

“Everything was rolling around, the pandemic hit, and we got pulled out, and we had to do the remainder of the class virtually, which presented some challenges,” said Selker Rak.

After the class graduated, the group decided they weren’t done.

“We wanted to keep working together to benefit our community, so we brainstormed on what we thought was some of the most critical issues that the region was facing,” said Selker Rak. “The school issue was a priority for some of us.”

Dave Weber is the Senior Vice President of Commercial Banking for Dollar Bank, and was part of the Leadership Pittsburgh Group who helped coordinate the funding.

“Leadership Pittsburgh and being a part of their program had a major impact on me, and Dollar Bank is a community-based bank,” said Weber. “We’ve been in Pittsburgh since 1855, so they saw the first pandemic in 1918 as well. And I just felt like we could help. And so I ended up going to our contributions committee.”

Weber asked his employer to donate to the project, and Dollar Bank agreed and decided to pick up the entire cost of $22,000.

“I encourage all of the people I work with and other companies to step up and to help,” said Weber. “Because there are inequities, and sometimes we don’t always see those.”

Weber and Selker Rak said this is the first of three phases they plan to do. The second includes helping the district with its warranty plans, and the third is starting a mentor program.

Proud to be from Pittsburgh is a program designed to highlight people who are doing good in our communities. If you know someone who fits this description, CLICK HERE to complete the form to nominate him/her.

“It’s just one of the reasons I am proud to be from Pittsburgh,” said Selker Rak. “I just feel we are a big city of neighbors, and we are people who are going to step up for each other whenever we need help.”

For the superintendents, these actions leave them in awe, as no one had a connection to the either school district.

“We get a lot of people wanting to donate, we get a lot of people wanting to help, but Pam and Leadership Pittsburgh, they’re some of the few that followed through,” said Dalmas.

“Even though they didn’t have a direct connection to Brentwood,” said Burch. “They still wanted to help, and they wanted to be there for the students.”

Leadership Pittsburgh’s 36th graduating class is making us Proud to Be From Pittsburgh.