Oakland Catholic High School A World-Class Education in the Heart of Pittsburgh

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OAKLAND CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL’s campus sits in the educational heart of Pittsburgh, just steps from Saint Paul Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  With the region’s top universities and cultural institutions only blocks away, the young women of this all girls Catholic high school have easy access to incredible educational opportunities.  And the culture of Oakland Catholic High School promotes this type of exploration and collaboration.

The school’s mission statement emphasizes the development of the whole person in a nurturing, academic “environment that promotes spiritual formation, excellence in education, a wide range of activities and athletics, and service to others.”  The all girls atmosphere permits numerous outlets for leadership, engaging students directly in their own formation as responsible, ethical leaders who are globally aware and motivated to become agents of change in whatever fields they pursue.  Named a top 20 Catholic high school for academics and top 50 overall by the Cardinal Newman Society, Oakland Catholic High School serves an ethnically, socio-economically, and geographically diverse population.  Students hail from the city, the suburbs, three counties, and numerous foreign nations.  The 550 dynamic student body goes on to pursue higher education at numerous outstanding colleges and universities around the nation.  And OC graduates frequently prove the value of an all girls high school education by demonstrating their competence and confidence as leaders in non-profits, businesses, universities, law firms and hospitals, both in and outside Western Pennsylvania.

With 16 sports, more than twice that many clubs, and an array of Advanced Placement, College-Equivalency, and Honors level courses, there truly is something for everyone at Oakland Catholic High School.  Two relatively new initiatives highlight the culture of academic rigor within a supportive and collaborative all girls environment:  Global Competence Initiative (GCI) and the Collaboration Center.  Outgrowths of both the school’s mission statement and commitment to technology and STEM, these two additions to the Oakland Catholic curriculum are catapulting the students to a higher level engagement in their development, rivaled only by last year’s school-wide transition to a 1:1 laptop program called Mission Forward.

GCI is Oakland Catholic’s Global Competence Initiative certificate program.  A four-year program to which a student recommits each year, it requires involvement in a certain number of “encounters” and “engagements” in order to earn a certificate that will be presented at graduation.  Competence in foreign languages, participation in events and workshops with the World Affairs Council, Skype interviews with global counterparts, study abroad, travel with mission trips, and numerous lecture and guest speaker events occurring at nearby universities or organized by the school are just some examples of the types of “encounters and engagements” documented for certification.  Designed with the goal of not only increasing a student’s global awareness, but exposing her to ways in which her awareness of a global issue can be translated into pragmatic and positive action, GCI broadens minds and develops global competency in a world that demands it.

Chair of the English Department, long-time Social Studies and Literature instructor, and Director of GCI, Cindy McNulty is excited about developing this innovative program.  “We are one of the few schools in the nation to offer a certificate program in global competence, not just exposure but a certificate indicating competence via well-defined requirements and criteria.  And of those schools, most are universities and colleges.  We are one of the very few high schools that offer a certificate.  This type of program will eventually become the standard in our rapidly shrinking world…and I’m always grateful to be part of an educational community that is forward-thinking in its program development.”

The Global Competence Initiative certificate program is only one of the incredible opportunities available at Oakland Catholic High School.  A strong curriculum in the humanities is mirrored in the school’s commitment to STEM, an area of particular importance to its all female student population since women are frequently underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics and fields.

Courses in Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Bioinformatics, and Computer Science are challenging but inclusive, and offered at various levels, from college-preparatory to honors to A.P. to College-Equivalency.  A College-Equivalency course underscores the significance of the collaboration between Oakland Catholic High School and major universities.  The University of Pittsburgh’s College in High School program affords Oakland Catholic students the opportunity to receive college credit for specific courses across the sciences and humanities right from their high school classroom.  Oakland Catholic teachers who are approved by the University to offer a particular curriculum engage in specific professional development and fulfill all criteria in order to serve as adjunct professors for certain courses offered by the university.  The students benefit tremendously by being exposed to college-level work and frequently attend labs, lectures, and other events associated with either the department or University as a whole given Oakland Catholic’s proximity to Pitt’s campus and our strong participation in the program.

The University of Pittsburgh is not the only major university with which Oakland Catholic High School collaborates.  Carnegie Mellon University has consistently served as a tremendous resource for OC students.  Last year, the Electrical Engineering Department brought several “mobile labs” to a group of 20-25 students after school.  The Society of Women Engineers offers multiple events to expose Oakland Catholic High School’s all female student body to the field.  The vast array of public lectures and direct invitations to Oakland Catholic students for special events coordinated by CMU’s University Lecture Series and their Center for International Relations and Politics have been staples for members of Oakland Catholic’s scholars program, the Joan of Arc Society of Scholars, who must attend a certain number of intellectual events each semester, and now provide opportunities for encounters required of GCI members.  Another area of collaboration between OC and CMU is in the field of robotics.  Carnegie Mellon University has long supported the Girls of Steel Robotics program that engages girls from the surrounding region in an all girls robotics team that competes regionally and nationally.  Oakland Catholic High School students have increasingly taken advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the growing field of robotics by attending events, competitions, and applying to be members of the team itself.  *At the time this article was written, applicants to the Girls of Steel program had not yet been notified of their acceptance.

The Faculty and Administration of Oakland Catholic High School set high standards for their students, but expect no less of themselves.  Professional development is pursued consistently and regularly, and the concept of summers off does not hold much water in the Oakland Catholic High School professional culture!  This past summer alone, instructors across disciplines reported on intense course work and daily workshops on the teaching of Advanced Placement courses in Latin, French, Literature, and Computer Science.  Chair of the Foreign Languages Department Melissa Toncini presented for the second year in a row at the Annual AP Conference in Texas.  Trips abroad either with students or for professional development were varied and numerous.  Latin instructor Heather Day traveled to Italy and Greece with students.  English Chair and Director of GCI Cindy McNulty traveled to Cuba as part of the Tulane Summer Teacher Institute.  The goal of this program is for American educators to engage with Cuba in order to enhance their understanding of Cuban culture and to develop new ways of teaching about US/Cuba relations.  Social Studies Co-Chairs Dennis DeFilippo and Patrick Finnegan traveled to Greece to research first-hand the foundations of democracy with Classrooms Without Borders, an organization partially funded by the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Federation.  Social Studies instructor Dan Kornosky traveled to China and Japan with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia in order to better understand East Asian cultures.

And the learning process continues at all levels, and even now with school back in session.  Chair of the Religion Department Jeff Patrizio will attend the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia from September 22nd-25th. The theme for the conference is “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive” and will include a series of keynote addresses and breakout sessions with theologians from all over the world.  A group of 35 students, seven Oakland Catholic teachers and Administrators, and three parents will follow him to Philadelphia as they make a papal pilgrimage to be members of the welcoming committee for Pope Francis.  Spirituality permeates all aspects of Oakland Catholic High School.  A Catholic high school composed of both Catholic and non-Catholic students, Oakland Catholic puts Religion classes on the same level as all academic courses.  The values and traditions of the Catholic Church flow naturally through all elements of the school’s programs, whether visibly in the presence of the school Chapel, at morning Mass, or in the Seniors who choose to become Eucharistic Ministers during their final year at OC. These Catholic values and traditions are also invisible but still apparent in the nurturing atmosphere, caring interactions with faculty, or many service and mission trips coordinated by Campus Minister Amy Farrell and Director of Mission Integration Dorrie Donahue.  Each year, Oakland Catholic students participate regularly in demonstrating the gospel values through volunteer service and mission work.  They run an after-school program for St. Maria Goretti in Bloomfield.  They travel to Washington, DC, New York City, Appalachia, Jamaica, and Guatemala for more extensive and demanding service on mission trips.  They volunteer regularly and consistently for area hospitals, Family House, Bethlehem Haven, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania, and in numerous churches, parishes, camps, and programs in their neighborhoods.  To be an Oakland Catholic student means that you work to grow in Spirituality, Scholarship, and Service.  One is not separate from the other.

Oakland Catholic High School has a very diverse population of students, all eager to experience the opportunities that Oakland Catholic offers to young women who value education and want to contribute to the greater good.  If you have an 8th grade daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, or neighbor who falls into this category, she can explore Oakland Catholic High School by registering online for Eagle for a Day on Friday, October 9, or attending Open House on October 25 from 11am-2pm.  For more information, to schedule a tour, or to register to be a part of this amazing high school, visit www.oaklandcatholic.org.