Tube City Almanac

March 25, 2009

Propel Students Gather Gifts for Troops

Category: News || By

Students from a city charter school last month "adopted" a U.S. Army platoon based in Bagram, Afghanistan, sending soldiers about 15 boxes filled with toiletries, books and magazines, and "comfort" items like hot chocolate and instant coffee.

Teachers and staff at Propel Schools McKeesport contributed another five boxes.

The program at Propel McKeesport, located in the former St. Mary of Czestochowa elementary school on Versailles Avenue, was organized through the Adopt-a-Platoon website by two AmeriCorps volunteers, Steve Hussar of Bethel Park and Gracie León of Tuscon, Ariz.

The two are serving as tutors and classroom aides at Propel during the 2008-09 school year.

. . .

Propel McKeesport serves a population of students whose families are often struggling to make ends meet.

About half of all children in McKeesport are living below the poverty level, according to a recent U.S. Census estimate.

In 2007, out of 161 Propel McKeesport students in grades K-6, 143 were considered "economically disadvantaged," state Department of Education statistics indicate.

That makes their generosity especially noteworthy, says Hussar, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

"The fact that they would sacrifice and their parents would sacrifice is impressive," he says. "I'm really thrilled by the results of the entire project. It's gone better than I anticipated."

. . .

Hussar and León, a graduate of Virginia's Lynchburg College, were looking for a service project for students that would emphasize ways that they could help their communities or their countries.

Volunteers from Sonshine Community Ministries on Evans Avenue and two Iraq War veterans visited the school to talk about their different types of service.

The idea of adopting a platoon took off after the veterans visited, Hussar says.

For security reasons, neither Hussar or León knows the names or exact locations of the men in the unit that Propel McKeesport "adopted," but pupils quickly got excited about the project.

Some contributed Steelers memorabilia, including newspapers documenting the recent Super Bowl victory. One first grader made a poster from felt reading "America the Beautiful."

. . .

At the request of the Adopt-a-Platoon organizers, most students and faculty donated "comfort items" that are difficult to get in the field, including magazines, beef jerky, gum, shampoo, toothpaste and blank greeting cards that soldiers can send back home on birthdays and other occasions. More than 600 items were contributed altogether.

Pupils in second and seventh grade contributed the most items, and will be treated to a party on Friday to celebrate.

. . .

Adopt-a-Platoon warned Propel McKeesport that the soldiers may not be able to write back, but Hussar and León say pupils didn't seem to mind. (They're still hoping for some acknowledgment, or maybe some photos from "over there.")

The service project's success comes as the local school celebrates some more good news; two weeks ago, Propel McKeesport was named one of the top 21 charter schools in the United States by New Leaders for New Schools, a non-profit corporation funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and several other philanthropies.

The Effective Practice Incentive Community --- or "EPIC" --- award recognizes charter schools in poorer communities where students have consistently outscored peers, and where teachers have documented and shared their teaching methods.

. . .

Opened in August 2005, Propel relocated to the Versailles Avenue site in fall 2007 after a brief period at the former St. Nicholas Byzantine School, Downtown.

Currently hosting about 350 students in kindergarten through seventh grade, the school will add eighth grade next year. Besides McKeesport Area School District, students attend from Duquesne, Clairton, Elizabeth Forward, East Allegheny, West Mifflin and West Jefferson Hills.

The school has slated an open house for 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesday. (Reservations are requested. Call 412-325-7305, ext. 105.)

. . .

Hussar and León will wrap up their tours with AmeriCorps in September.

While Hussar will be looking for a teaching job in the Pittsburgh area, León is planning to head back home to Arizona.

She says her time in McKeesport has changed her mind about one thing. "I used to be a little bit scared of working with middle schoolers," León says, "but I found out I love working in a middle school."

Your Comments are Welcome!

That guy standing with his arm up looks very familiar. Anyone I know?
ebtnut - March 26, 2009

As a Vietnam Era veteran I salute the Mckeesport Propel schools for supporting the brave men and women serving overseas! Our area always shows respect and concern for our military because McKeesport has a long history of service by it’s citizens. It is encouraging to read positive news about our youth in these days of shootings, drugs, gangs and desperation.
Donn Nemchick - March 29, 2009

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