Five southwestern Pennsylvania counties are poised to tackle head-on the dual crises of a growing teacher workforce shortage and student learning loss, thanks to $80,000 in planning grants awarded to educational improvement nonprofit ASSET Inc. by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the Benedum Foundation and EQT Foundation.
The new funding, nearly $50,000 of which comes from ARC with matching grants from Benedum and EQT, will enable ASSET to develop plans to expand its innovative pre-service teacher education and K-12 student tutoring initiative called PALS (Partnerships to Advance Learning in STEM) to additional communities in Allegheny County, as well as establish it in Greene, Indiana, Cambria and Lawrence Counties.
Currently, PALS provides free, high-impact tutoring in a virtual setting to Pittsburgh students in under-resourced communities. The tutors are preservice teachers from partner colleges and universities who are gaining valuable field experiences and professional development opportunities that bolster self-confidence and hone effective teaching approaches for the 21st century classroom.
“As the PALS program continues to positively impact student learning outcomes, deepen partnerships, and give future teachers critical one-on-one experience with students, we’ve been aiming to scale the project regionally and then statewide,” said Sarah Toulouse, Executive Director, ASSET Inc. “Through the generosity of ARC, the Benedum Foundation and EQT, ASSET is now taking its first steps toward that goal.”
This ARC award is part of a recently announced nearly $47 million package supporting 52 projects in 181 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative, which directs federal resources to economic diversification projects in Appalachian communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries. This is the largest single POWER awards package to date since the initiative launched in 2015.
“Our coal-impacted communities are a vital part of Appalachia’s 13 states and 423 counties—when our coal communities thrive, our entire region is uplifted,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “This latest round of POWER grant funding will not only help struggling coal communities to once again compete in a global marketplace, but also expand support for the creation of new jobs through growing Appalachia’s food economy.”
To address ARC’s strategic investment objective of building Appalachia's workforce ecosystem, while also growing a robust teacher pipeline and supporting Pennsylvania’s education improvement priorities in the region, ASSET and three of its current PALS partners – Carlow University, The University of Pittsburgh Johnstown and The Pittsburgh Project – will support the four new county regional teams to develop action plans to implement PALS in their communities.
Over the next year, these regional teams will engage in virtual Strategic Planning Institutes, conduct outreach to local stakeholders and attend a virtual PALS Summit. In the end, they will have created customized plans and built out networks of committed community partners, positioning them to roll out PALS throughout the 2023-2024 school year.
According to Toulouse, in adopting their own PALS programs, these Appalachian communities are setting themselves up for long-term economic stability by investing in their young people and the next generation of teachers, equipping both with the skills needed for success.
About ASSET Inc.
Founded in 1994, ASSET, Inc. is an educational improvement organization headquartered in Pennsylvania that provides rigorous professional learning services for educators nationally. Originally established to drive science literacy and science education reform first in the Pittsburgh region and then throughout Pennsylvania, ASSET provides teacher training, coaching and project-based learning that translates into student academic achievement. ASSET’s specialized approach has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and other leading STEM organizations as a model for achieving student success through excellence in teaching. For more information visit, www.assetinc.org.
About the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)
The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development partnership agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 423 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.