The Power of Elective Choice

Since we started Higher Achievement in Pittsburgh in June 2012, we have focused on the rigor part of our equation, striving to offer all the academic acceleration that Summer Academy is meant to provide. But this year, with our new West End Achievement Center, we felt we had reached a place where we could use our electives to both support scholars’ development broadly and to promote scholar voice and choice.

This shift happened, in part, because with the West End Achievement Center we are taking over a program run by Citiparks that had emphasized elective choices and experiences. We didn’t want to let students down who were used to that approach, but we wanted to blend it with our academic rigor. And it made sense to do this for all sites.

This has been the summer of electives and rigorous academics. We offered our most exciting array of artistic, cultural, leadership, and athletic options to date. Previously, scholars only had one elective per day, but we reworked the schedule to allow two electives per day.

Another key addition was having our teachers run an elective. Why? Because we wanted them to have time to build more relaxed relationships with the scholars, sharing their hobbies and passions, which would lead to enhanced classroom experiences during the English/language arts, math, science, and social studies classes.

pgh1What are scholars experiencing in electives now? Partnership with Gateway to the Arts has brought Repurposed Art, 3D Art, African Drumming, and Theatre electives. Partnership with Citizen Science Lab has led to scholars creating Oobloc, slime, and Gobstoppers dissolved in different materials such as oil, water, and vinegar. Scholars are participating in the Black Male and Female Leadership Development Initiatives run by the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Finally, scholars are fencing and learning entrepreneurship skills.

What do our scholars say? Homewood Scholar Ambassador Samari says, “It’s the best Summer Academy ever!”