Sto-Rox High School

Sto-Rox faces many of the challenges of an urban school in a highly diverse community. These conditions have been exacerbated by a leadership vacuum--the school has had five principals in six years. Through a variety of initiatives aimed at climate improvement and student achievement, faculty and students are looking to the future with a genuine sense of optimism.
Sto-Rox faces many of the challenges of an urban school in a highly diverse community. These conditions have been exacerbated by a leadership vacuum–the school has had five principals in six years. Through a variety of initiatives aimed at climate improvement and student achievement, faculty and students are looking to the future with a genuine sense of optimism.

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Changing the School Atmosphere

Prinicipal Melanie Kerber advocates for change in the school community.

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Sto-Rox serves the urban neighborhood of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.

Located near inner-city Pittsburgh, Sto-Rox High School was a troubled school when Dr. Melanie Kerber arrived just a year ago.  The surrounding community is economically depressed. The school draws from four public housing developments—projects that seem to their inhabitants to have more than their fair share of problems with drugs and violence. Sto-Rox students face many obstacles that make academic achievement not simply difficult, but laudable.



For Kerber the first task has been to reinvigorate the school climate. In the absence of an ethos of trust, Kerber reasons, any effort to boost student achievement is futile. She is relying on her own persistence to engage teachers and to bring professional cohesiveness to the faculty.




The principal plays a crucial role in the development of school climate.  Kerber has introduced several initiatives, including a mentoring program for failing students. According to both teachers and students, the program draws community members closer to one another and boosts morale. Problems, however, have not disappeared. For example, because of a brawl at a basketball game, school authorities have closed some games to the general public. They even deny attendance to cheerleaders. Failing grades keep students from playing sports in the first place.

 

Using Technology to Support Climate and Achievement

Teachers at Sto-Rox use hands-on technology to engage students.

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Technology initiatives are underway at Sto-Rox.

Technology influences almost every aspect of life at Sto-Rox from curriculum-based hardware and software used in classrooms to specialized commercial applications used in extracurricular programs.   Kerber believes technology should be used to transform teaching and learning by making the processes more engaging for students.  In addition to recognizing technology’s potential for supporting differentiation of instruction, she wants to offer students access to technical training in hopes it will increase their competitiveness.

One way technology can engage students is by offering hands-on or experiential learning opportunities.  For instance, Joe Krajcovic, a biology teacher at Sto-Rox, understands this and believes that technology extends students’ experiences. By integrating digital microscopes into a unit on invertebrates, he gives his students a chance to “be” scientists—an experience traditional text-based science classes do not provide.



Sometimes students can be engaged in learning via the use of technology in extracurricular programs.  Grant support allows Sto-Rox to offer students an after-school music production program in which they use industry-standard equipment to record and publish music.  The program attracts a diverse group of students. Teachers hope in particular to engage students who are disinterested in school, by using the extracurricular program to bring them intellectually and socially closer to the school community.  An added bonus is that students learn valuable, real-world music production skills.


Extracurricular Programs [dial-up OR broadband]

Sustaining New Programs

Grant money allows teachers to develop new programs in art and music.

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Committed teachers introduce new programs.

The music program is not the only grant-funded initiative at Sto-Rox.   Kerber’s Great Ideas grant, which allows teachers to apply for some of the Project 720 money awarded to the school, supports a variety of programs.  This application option allows teachers to exert real input into important educational decisions.

Art teacher LuAnn Prill used her Great Idea grant money to expand the art program to include beading and jewelry making.  She also works with students using digital cameras to create electronic portfolios of their work. Students learn technical skills as they develop an artistic sense of what constitutes creative photographic design.