Learning About Pittsburgh (and Myself) From a New Perspective

One of the things I most appreciate about my job at Ellis is the curiosity of my students. Even with lessons where I feel like I know the subject inside and out, I’m no longer surprised when a student raises a new thought or idea. Often, their questions are ones I’ve never thought about and require us to learn together. Learning with my students makes me a better teacher, Spanish speaker, and, surprisingly, a more knowledgeable Pittsburgher.
As a native of Pittsburgh, I thought I understood my city inside and out. I knew the best place for Italian food, why there are pierogi races at the Pirates games, and the hometown pride associated with black and gold. Yet, through the seventh grade capstone project, "Global Pittsburgh," I have realized my knowledge barely scratches the surface.

Every year, our project evolves and changes to meet the needs and curiosity of the seventh grade class. For example, this year I’ve learned about the diversity between the 90 neighborhoods of Pittsburgh through Scratch—a computer science coding application—projects. Additionally, I have been able to delve deeper into the challenges refugees face when they come to our city and help brainstorm ideas for a drive to help refugees acclimate to Western PA. In the new year, I listened alongside my students to the founder and CEO of Hello Neighbor Sloane Davidson, as she told us about how her organization creates mentorships between Pittsburghers and new immigrants. As we end the year, the seventh grade will look at the importance of other parts of their identity, including their family background and immigration stories. After finals, we have the unique opportunity to watch a citizenship ceremony and be among the first people to welcome new citizens to our country.

All of these opportunities not only teach students about Pittsburgh, but also help them to better understand and appreciate the diverse histories and backgrounds of the people that make up our city. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine all of these learning opportunities for myself when I accepted my position at Ellis. It has been amazing to collaborate with my peers and outside organizations to put together these lessons for the seventh grade, but even more amazing to get to see my hometown from a new perspective. I hope these lessons have a lasting impact on our seventh graders, as it helps them to become better Ellis community members, citizens of Pittsburgh, and global changemakers.