On the surface, Pennsylvania lawmakers don’t agree on much. The aisle that runs through Harrisburg can sometimes seem impossibly wide — a yawning gap that splits our state in two.
So it’s significant that Khalid Mumin, Pennsylvania’s acting education secretary, unearthed some common ground. After meeting with a majority of the state’s senators, Mumin noticed that nearly all of them agreed on one particular thing: “Education,” he explained during a March 29 hearing, “has to look different for our youth here in the commonwealth.”
Lawmakers aren’t alone. A recent report by the National Center for Education and the Economy warns that “Pennsylvania is spending large amounts of money for an education system that is not preparing students well for today, let alone tomorrow.” The problem, notes the report, “is not caused by our teachers, our students, or our parents,” but rather by an outdated system designed for a bygone era.
Fortunately, we have a blueprint for something better. It was drawn up right here in Pennsylvania, designed with rigorous research and loving care by our state’s most celebrated teacher.
Fred Rogers understood that preparing young people for the future requires a neighborhood: an ecosystem of parents, families, teachers, and neighbors who work together to support learners’ holistic needs. His groundbreaking television program embodied that ecosystem for more than 30 years, bringing art, manufacturing, and the wonders of the natural world directly to learners. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” sparked more than good feelings — it nurtured curiosity, creativity, and community, equipping young people to become the best of whoever they are.
Call it “The Fred Method.” And in our corner of the state, it’s changing what learning can look like.
Across southwestern Pennsylvania, educators are using Rogers’ approach to build better education systems for young people — systems that, like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’’ blend academic learning with hands-on experiences and essential life skills. In the California Area School District south of Pittsburgh, bees, chickens, and even jellyfish help with math, science, and students’ well-being. Learners develop literacy by reading to baby lambs, while guinea pigs and therapy dogs help anxious children relax.
At the same time, the district’s wildly popular Moonshot program eliminates grade levels in favor of individualized learning plans for every student.
Other educators are building modern-day “neighborhoods” that connect today’s young people to tomorrow’s jobs. World of Work, a career-exploration framework first developed by the Cajon Valley School District near San Diego, helps students discover their unique strengths and skill sets
Learners can then explore careers that match their passions through classroom projects and visits from real-world professionals, including adults from the community. Now, four Pittsburgh-area districts — Avonworth, Duquesne City, Elizabeth Forward, and South Fayette Township — have teamed up to adapt the framework for southwestern Pennsylvania, meeting the needs of students and the workforce alike.
It’s no accident that “The Fred Method” took root in our region. Inspired by Rogers’ belief that learning happens everywhere, Remake Learning — a Pittsburgh-based network of more than 600 schools, museums, libraries, and more — connects the many places where young people learn, from classrooms and living rooms to makerspaces and parks. For more than 15 years, the network’s members have worked to spark more engaging, more relevant, and more equitable learning experiences in Pittsburgh and beyond.
Throughout the month of May, the network’s annual festival, Remake Learning Days, hosted more than 500 events in every corner of the commonwealth, giving tens of thousands of Pennsylvania families an up-close look at the future of teaching and learning.
“Often, when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else,” Rogers once said. And that’s where Pennsylvania finds itself today: at the beginning of its journey toward a world-class, future-ready education system.
When the state’s 2030 Commission on Education and Economic Competitiveness takes its seats, we urge its members to look to Pittsburgh as proof of what’s possible. Here in the place where Rogers lived and worked, we’ve learned a few things about neighborhoods — and about working together to remake education in service of the commonwealth’s kids.