City foundation to honor Miller Academy
By Anthony Todd Carlisle
Thursday, May 16, 2002
When Miller Academy opened in 1849 as the first black public school in Pittsburgh, slavery still was sanctioned, James Polk was president and the Hill District was in its infancy as a residential community.
As the Hill has evolved, so, too, has Miller African Centered Academy. And because of its longtime presence in the community, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation will present the academy, part of Pittsburgh Public Schools, with an honorary historic landmark plaque during a 2:45 p.m. ceremony at the school, 61 Reed St.
Cathy McCollom, the foundation’s director of marketing and operations, said Miller students made the case for a historical marker by staging a play that detailed the academy’s history.
“It was the first time this ever happened,” she said. “They did all the research and put on a kind of play that talked about the history of the school and how they felt about the school. They sold us. They did a beautiful job.”
Fifth-grader Ladrina Riley, 12, said the work was worth it. “I feel proud that we are representing our school and showing how good it is. The school has been established for a long time.”
The current facility is the third school to stand on the Hill District site. It was designed in 1905 by John Blair Elliott in the classical style. An auditorium and gymnasium were added in 1939, designed in the art deco style by Marion Markle Steen.
McCollom said that while the historic designation carries no legal weight, the foundation should be notified if the building undergoes major changes.
Rosemary Moriarty, the academy’s principal, said the marker is a source of excitement for the school and its students. That the youngsters played a lead role makes it even better, she said. The academy is home to 252 students in kindergarten to grade five.
“They were so passionate,” Moriarty said. “I learned that children can really be convincing when they believe in something.”
Pittsburgh Mercy Health System also helped the school gain recognition. Since 1987, Mercy has been involved with a mentoring program at the school for students in grades three to five. This year’s project involved learning about the school building, its history and architecture and its significance in Pittsburgh.
Carol Lennon, who works in Mercy’s mentoring program, said the project was empowering for the youngsters. “For the students , they understand and appreciate that they have the power and ability to influence and make change.”
Moriarty said allowing the students to see themselves and their world differently has been the school’s main focus, which has been designated as an African-centered school by Pittsburgh Public Schools for the past four years.
The school’s student population is 98 percent black, and mainly comes from low-income families throughout the city.
“They are learning that African-Americans did not just exist at the time of slavery, but they come from wealth and strong heritage,” Moriarty said. “It’s important that they understand they come from a people who had a purpose and who excelled in all areas.”
Anthony Todd Carlisle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 320-7824