News and Spotlights

  • Staff Spotlight: Michelle Stowell

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 7/10/2024

    A woman gestures and talks to three students

    A few years ago, Michelle Stowell recalled undergoing professional development on various coding tools available to teachers at the Duquesne City School District. Stowell and Marcie Yunkun, a fellow teacher, learned about the tools inside and out before creating lessons and presenting them to their fellow teachers.

    That experience – finding a way to leverage technology and making it accessible to her peers — was an especially gratifying one for Stowell. Now as the district’s Verizon Instructional Technology Learning Coach, Stowell will be doing this sort of work on a regular basis.

    “We took the legwork out of it for them and said, ‘here’s a technology tool that you can use in your classroom,’” said Stowell. I’m kind of excited to do that again, except I’ll be doing it for like half of the district.”

    Stowell has worked in the district since 2016, spending almost all of that time as a Math teacher, while also recently helping teach Lego League and head the club over the last few years. Stowell’s new position — which she started in July — became available due to the district  joining Verizon Innovative Learning, Verizon’s award-winning education initiative which addresses barriers to digital inclusion.

    In partnership with Digital Promise, the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program works side-by-side with schools and districts to provide free technology devices, access to the internet and innovative STEM learning programs, giving students in under-resourced schools the technology, education and opportunity they deserve. Additionally, the district received 4G LTE capable iPads for its 5th-8th grade students. 

    Stowell will be heading the operation as the Verizon Instructional Technology Learning Coach.

    “I’m going to learn the different frameworks that they have centering around innovative learning, and I’m going to help teachers implement that in their classrooms,” said Stowell. “And along with that, I will have a student tech team, and those students will also assist their peers with utilizing technology.”

    The role just makes sense for Stowell, a passionate educator who adores STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) learning, and sees great value in leveraging technology in the classroom. Stowell recalls many times that she’s creatively used technology in the classroom. On one particular occasion, she pointed to students using a Sphero — a coding robot with a gyroscope — during a project where students use their math and geometry knowledge to create a 3D city. Students coded the Spero to turn like a car throughout their 3D cities.

    “I really enjoy showing people how you can utilize technology and other elements in the classroom,” said Stowell. “I know when it comes to technology that some people might be hesitant or not have the time to learn it. I’m eager just to dive in.”

    While Stowell’s new role will have her not working directly with students quite as much as she’s used to, she’ll still be helping mentor students in the newly created student tech team. She hopes to continue to spread her love of STEM learning not just to those students, but every student and teacher that she interacts with in her new role.

    “I enjoy bringing the STEM component into my work because it makes it relevant and takes it away from just paper and pencil,” said Stowell. “It makes it more engaging and hands on for the students.”

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  • Staff Spotlight: Erica Slobodnik

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 6/25/2024

    A teacher holds out a marker for a student

    Years back, Erica Slobodnik never planned on working in education. A business major at Carlow University, Slobodnik followed that path for several years.

    Over time, Slobodnik decided to try her hand at education, first as a paraprofessional at the West Mifflin Area School District, before starting her journey at Duquesne City as a teacher. 

    A fire was sparked inside her, as she realized her passion was for educating children, and doing everything she could to see them reach their full potential. Slobodnik’s path has now taken another turn. Starting in July, she will become the building principal. It’s a role she once didn’t think of. But for someone with such a feverish passion for education, it only makes sense.

    “It’s been surreal. I’ve worked my way up. I’m definitely excited for the next step, the next journey. I’m very excited and passionate and have a lot of energy. I’m taking the summer to plan and collaborate and learn as much as possible,” said Slobodnik.

    “I always tell my kids that in this classroom we’re family. And now as a principal, in this school and community, we are family. I definitely feel the support going into this, and really feel motivated to make a difference for all of our kids.”

    After working at West Mifflin as a paraprofessional, Slobodnik went back to school to get her master’s degree in education. In 2019, she started at the Duquesne City School District as a long-term substitute, before being moved to a full-time position as a 5th grade math and science teacher. After that, she spent four years as a 2nd grade teacher.

    Over that period of time, Slobodnik became a key figure in the school, serving in multiple leadership roles and committees, as well as helping spearhead the Dukes Showcase over the past two years. Beyond her skills in the classroom, she became known as someone who was always willing to help out, and to go the extra mile to see both her students and coworkers succeed.

    “I definitely like to think outside the box and be involved as much as possible, as far as building relationships and having a say in the different committees I’ve been involved in,” said Slobodnik.

    “It’s just second nature. I always want to help out. I love to collaborate and talk. I’m just always looking to be a part of something. It’s just who I am. I love being highly involved in our school and community.”

    In 2023, Slobodnik started thinking about what was possible outside her classroom. She went back to Carlow and got her certificate in educational leadership with a principal certification. A year later, the principal’s position opened up, and Slobodnik jumped at the opportunity to broaden her impact.

    “I definitely always think about making an impact, getting to know the kids and finding out what their strengths and interests are. I love getting to know the whole child and the small little successes and growth and seeing the difference that you do make,” Slobodnik said.

    “And now thinking as a principal and a leader, I’ll be able to not only do that within the four walls of my classroom, but I’ll be able to make a difference throughout the school and get to know all the kids from K-8. I’m really looking forward to building those relationships with not just the students, but the teachers, families, and the community.”

    When talking about attacking her new role, Slobodnik stresses the importance of building relationships. As a teacher, Slobodnik thrived because of her strong relationships with students. As a principal, she hopes to build similar relationships, all while always seeking out staff, student, and community input. With strong bonds, she hopes to see every Duquesne City student thrive.

    “There’s no limits. All of our kids can do anything. They can all achieve their goals and their dreams,” Slobodnik said.

    “I’m not of that mindset that a kid can’t do this or that. I believe they can. And I feel like I can bring that aspect into the other classrooms.”

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  • Staff Spotlight: Brandon Kash

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 6/13/2024

    A teacher and student sit across from each other

    As Brandon Kash went through his first year teaching at the Duquesne City School District, he couldn’t help but be inspired.

    Teaching U.S. History, as well as a leadership elective, Kash saw just how impactful an innovative, non-traditional approach to teaching could be. When the Director of Technology position opened up in the district’s administration, Kash jumped at the opportunity, knowing that this was an opportunity for him to affect learning at a different level, and to further push along the district’s innovative approach.

    “I love being in a position where I can help people, whether that’s me as a teacher helping students or me as a dad helping my kids. Ultimately, I always saw myself wanting to get into administration so that I can not only help students, but help students and staff with big picture thinking,” said Kash.

    “Since coming here and working with everybody and seeing all that Duquesne has to offer to the students and the staff, it’s definitely opened up my eyes. And I’m honored and happy to be able to be in this position and to fill that role.”

    Kash is taking over the Director of Technology position for Alison DeMarco in July. Kash said his first year in the district was quite impactful — not just personally in his classroom — but also from a big picture perspective, seeing how DeMarco and the district’s administration have collectively laid some strong pieces to be built off of.

    “I loved it. There’s a lot of moving pieces here at Duquesne. It was my first time truly seeing a non-traditional approach to education. It was very eye-opening. It was exciting,” said Kash.

    “There’s a lot already happening, and the district is moving in a wonderful direction. I’m just going to step in and build on the framework that was already laid for me.”

    Kash recently finished up earning his master’s degree at Lamar University in Education Administration and Leadership. Before coming to Duquesne City, Kash worked as a teacher at Katy Independent School District in Katy, Texas for five years. Previous to teaching, Kash served in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army for nearly seven years.

    “I want to be in a position where I can help people become the best versions of themselves. I know as a young kid I lacked having a role model in my life. When I joined the military and I had sergeants — or role models — it truly helped mold me and mentor me into becoming the best version of myself,” said Kash. “So I knew that when I left the military, I wanted to be able to be that for as many people as possible.”

    Kash prides himself on his leadership skills and eagerness to embrace technology and new developments in education. He views technology as a paramount piece of education currently, and is excited to continue to push technology forward in the district. His primary goal in administration — just as it was as a teacher — is to give students the tools and necessary skills to be successful in life after school.

    “Technology is the future of the world. It’s not going anywhere. And the more we can incorporate technology to support learning and to teach students how to utilize it effectively, the more successful they’re going to be when they’re older,” said Kash. 

    “I believe incorporating technology to the point that it’s purposeful and fundamental to help set students up for success in the future, it’s imperative, especially in an educational setting. Teachers are charged with preparing students for the real world, and what better way to do that than actually implementing technology within the classroom setting.”

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  • Summer Algebra Tutoring/Enrichment opportunity coming up this Summer

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 6/11/2024

    From July 8- August 2, the district will be offering an Algebra Enrichment program, available for 7th and 8th grade students. The program is virtual, and will take place on Tuesday's, Wednesday's, and Thursday's from 10:30 am-11:00 am. A live tutor will be available throughout the program.

    Registered students will be issued a school device to use for the duration of the program. 

    If you are interested in registering, click here.

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  • Staff Spotlight: Brian Stowell

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 6/7/2024

    Students adults pose for a picture after a Lego League competition

    At any given moment, Brian Stowell might be executing a number of different tasks. During a June morning, Stowell was helping put together several TVs, while also overseeing custodial staff as they worked to deep clean the school. The night before, Stowell was meeting with Leadership Pittsburgh, helping lead discussions about how to ease the transition of refugees into daily American life.

    As the district’s Director of Facilities and Transportation, it is imperative that Stowell is a jack of many trades. In his role, Stowell is mainly tasked with overseeing the district’s facilities and custodial staff, overseeing the security staff, and organizing transportation. 

    In between and after a workday, Stowell always seems to find time to do more. One day, Stowell might be filling in as the K-8 office secretary. Another day, Stowell could be picking up students to drive them to a Lego League practice or competition. What might seem overwhelming is just second nature for Stowell, a detail-oriented, multitasking man who is driven to help students thrive and feel safe.

    “The kids keep me going,” said Stowell. 

    A former member of the United States Armed Forces for over six years, Stowell worked with at-risk youth at Adelphoi Village, before coming to the Duquesne City School district 8 years ago. Coming from a family of educators, working in a school just felt natural. He served as a PCA and then a paraeducator in an emotional support classroom before taking over as the district’s attendance improvement coordinator. Eventually, Stowell’s current role came open and he was hired. 

    Through it all, Stowell found working in a school to have an extremely important purpose— a key factor for him as he navigated his post-military journey.

    “When I left the military, my hardest thing was finding a job that I felt was worth doing and impactful. I didn’t want to do a job just to do a job,” Stowell said.

    “Being here in a school, it’s awesome to see all of the little wins you can get and how many people you can impact. And now I’m impacting the district. We’re impacting lives here.”

    In every task, Stowell always remembers that impact, knowing that every decision — no matter how big or small — can have an impact on a student. Whether it’s making sure a student is walking into a clean classroom, or fine-tuning the district’s security measures, every detail matters for Stowell, as he ultimately pushes to make students feel safe, secure and welcome in school.

    “If kids don’t feel safe in an environment, they’re not going to be able to learn. They have to feel safe and like they’re able to focus on what they need to focus on without there being any external factors affecting that,” Stowell said.

    ”Things as simple as being able to come into a clean classroom is a great start for their day, and knowing that staff are here to protect them. Just making sure that they know that everyone is on the same page and the number one goal is to make sure that they have everything they need to learn.”

    Stowell passes that same mentality onto the staff he oversees. The custodial and security staff is very much woven into the fabric of the school — not just in the jobs they execute, but within the relationships they form with students. Like Stowell, they too go above and beyond to make students feel safe and happy.

    “If you’re going to be working with a school, it doesn’t matter what job you have, you’re going to have interactions with students. You have the ability to be a mentor. You never know who the kids in the building are going to find to be their person,” said Stowell. “It could be anybody that they feel comfortable with. So I make it known to them and ask them if they have it in them to be a mentor when a kid comes to them. And our custodians do that on a daily basis.”

    After his work hours, the workday often doesn’t stop for Stowell. In previous years, Stowell helped with putting together three musicals at the school. Nowadays, Stowell helps as a Lego League coach with his wife, Michelle, a teacher in the district. 

    “I don’t look at the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. as the only hours that I’m supposed to do my job. I’m here to donate my time to the kids and make sure they’re getting the influences and experiences that they deserve,” said Stowell.

    “It can be hard to give up time, but when you see them in competitions and being successful, it’s really rewarding.”

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  • 'The Mr. Men and Little Miss Mysteries': A book reading by Ms. Apt and Ms. Forte's classes

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 5/31/2024


    Ms. Apt and Ms. Forte's students are now published authors. This year, the two classes — which are composed of grades 3–6 students — wrote and illustrated 'The Mr. Men and Little Miss Mysteries'. They got the book published through Studentreasures Publishing.

    The rules for composing the book were simple: each student wrote and illustrated a page after seeing only the previous page. On May 30, the two classes got together to read the book. Check out that video below.

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  • Photo Gallery: Eighth Grade Promotion 2024

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 5/30/2024


    Congratulations to the Class of 2024 Duquesne City School District 8th graders, who were promoted to 9th grade during a ceremony on May 30.

    This is just the second class of 8th graders that have been promoted since the district brought back Middle School students. In total, 60 8th grade students were promoted.

    Before accepting their diplomas, the ceremony started off with Molly Means — a Restorative Practice Coordinator for the University of Pittsburgh's Just Discipline Project — giving students recognition for completing her Leaders in Training program (L.I.T) program.

    Afterwards, Brian Johnson and YouthWorks recognized students for completing their career exploration and job readiness program. 

    Students were given a number of awards before a Tech25 representative talked about the work he's done in the district through a Remake Learning Moonshot Grant.

    The momentous day capped off with students walking on stage and receiving their diplomas. Congratulations to the Class of 2024! Plenty of future success and academic achievement is surely ahead.

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  • Photo Gallery: Kindergaten Promotion 2024

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 5/29/2024


    Congratulations to the Duquesne City School District kindergarten students, who celebrated their promotion to 1st grade on May 29.

    In total, 56 students accepted their diplomas for completing the seminal grade level. Before getting their diplomas, students performed four songs.

    Thank you to Ms. Ernst, Ms. Gensler, Ms. Podvasnik, and Ms. Smith for your incredible work in educating these students. Thank you, too, to all the paraprofessionals and staff as a whole that have supported teachers in shepherding these students through their first big year in the district. 

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  • Photo Gallery: Dukes Showcase 2024

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 5/28/2024


    Loads of hard work by students and teachers culminated on May 28 at the Dukes Showcase, a student-led event highlighting classroom work.

    Every grade level had a table at the showcase, which featured multiple, comprehensive projects that demonstrated learning. Additionally, community partners were present at a resource fair.

    The event culminated with the school's band performing numerous songs. The advanced band performed 'We Will Rock You' and 'Shades of Blue', while the combined beginning and advanced bands performed 'Baby Shark', 'First Concert Overture', and 'Let's Go Band'.

    Thank you to everyone who showed up for the event, in addition to the staff and students who made the event possible.

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  • Photo Gallery: PBIS rally

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 5/23/2024


    Students celebrated their good behavior with a PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) rally on May 23. Students were given awards, played games, and had plenty of fun. Check out some pictures above from the event.

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