Freshman brainstorming on February 5. Courtesy of City of Bridges High School.

The City of Bridges High School doesn’t officially open until this fall, but students are already at work.

In a series of workshops at this new private, progressive high school‘s planned South Side location over the last several weeks, a committee of students and faculty has voted on everything from the start time to the curriculum to the furniture.

A current topic of discussion: What should be the school’s mascot?

In honor of the birds that continuously roost outside the window of their classroom on the fourth floor of 1212 East Carson Street, “there’s a strong vote right now for a pigeon,” says Dr. Randy Bartlett, head of school and humanities teacher.

Dr. Bartlett has spent his career working in public and charter schools in Vermont and New Hampshire. Since moving to Pittsburgh with his wife and two children, he has worked as the principal for Propel Schools and helped start the Pittsburgh Urban Teacher Corps in collaboration with Chatham University.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Bartlett says that while Pittsburgh has several primary education institutions dedicated to progressive approaches to learning, “there is a growing awareness of a need for secondary education with a community and social justice focus.”

This new school will combine standard, state-mandated academics with project-based learning that will take students out into the wider Pittsburgh community. History lessons will be based around recorded interviews with long-time residents, while science classes will study things like local air quality and remediation efforts.

The curriculum is modeled after progressive, student-led high schools like One Stone in Boise, Idaho and The Putney school in Vermont.

“City of Bridges is not alone,” says Bartlett. “There’s a lot of schools like it, just not in Pittsburgh.”

There are currently eight students enrolled, with 25 being the target for the first freshman class. Standard tuition for students will cost between $14,000 and $15,000 per year, but Bartlett says scholarships and financial aid will also be available.

“We have a strong commitment to making the school financially accessible,” he says.

In addition to Bartlett and his co-founder Paige Wiegman, students will collaborate with local experts in a wide variety of fields on more intensive, short-term projects. The school has already signed on religious scholar and Buddhist Minister Adam Lobel and local attorney Katherine Lovelace for the fall semester.

Bartlett says he and his partners, both student and faculty, are actively seeking partnerships with other professionals and community groups, and hope to announce more faculty and guest teachers in the coming months.

“We’re open to partnerships and collaboration, and finding ways for our students to give back,” says Bartlett. “We really are a school and a community that want to be engaged with all that Pittsburgh has to offer.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.