Created on Friday, 18 January 2013 10:45 Last Updated on Friday, 18 January 2013 10:45 Published on Friday, 18 January 2013 10:45 Written by Renee P. Aldrich Hits: 2319
IT’S ALL LOVE—Princess Hughes, third from left with 5th grade students from Weil: Kenneth L. Moore, Marcus D. Hall, Parris Holiday, Jaimice Williams, and Rondaizia Sowell. (Photo by Gail L. Manker)
Fourteen years old and pregnant, Princess Hughes’ family was devastated; they had dreams for her to be a track star. Her mother a teacher, warned her she would now become a statistic.
Princess fortunately had other plans, and right then and there made up her mind that indeed she would not be a statistic. And she set about proving everyone wrong.
It is with determination and zeal that she pressed on to complete her education and give back to her community. Because of the untimely death at age 47, of her mother, she was additionally pressed into the service of finishing the raising of her two sisters as well as her own.
Now only 33, Hughes went on to have three more children, she has seen her sisters go to college and has supported her brother all while managing to complete a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Investigation and received a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Point Park University.
As her children became school age, she began volunteering at Pittsburgh Weil, helping out in their classes. It is here where her passion for this school and these children began to really manifest itself.
“I just felt that the negative images about this school needed to be squashed, and that we just need to work to let folks see how these kids could shine,” she said. Because of her reputation for advocating for youth, when a “Parent Advocate” position came open with the Hill District Education Council, two parents whom she worked with gave her name to HEDC leadership. She was called and ultimately hired for the job.
In this official role, she works closely with the School Social Worker, Mary Wortella in helping to identify resources that families may need to help insure that issues do not hamper learning.
Princess came to Weil as a working parent with expectations of the school and its staff, but over time “I’ve enjoyed being able to observe how she has evolved and grown to become a team member with expectations of herself,” she said. “And moving into the job with the HEDC seemed a natural fit.
“I find her to be one of the most dynamic people I’ve ever worked with, and her efforts go far above and beyond the call of duty in her work with families; I don’t mind saying she has been a model for me. I have learned a lot about engaging more effective interactions with the families of our students.
“And In my 20 year career with the PPS, I’ve had three different tenures here at Weil, and I have never seen the kind of results Princess is able to achieve through her unique fundraising ideas.”
“I began some fundraising activities just to raise money to take the 5th graders on a nice trip at the end of the school year,” Hughes said. “Two of them are “Juicy Wednesday” where we sell juicy bars, and juicy drink boxes, and dress down/or Steelers gear Friday; it has been a lot of fun and the money has been piling up.”
Renata Copozolli, the pre-school teacher and Family and Community Events Coordinator, works with Hughes surrounding activities and events. She says that the attendance at family fun night and other activities has quadrupled since Princess has been working with families.
“There has been an amazing increase in parent participation, as a result of her efforts; last year the best evening event had maybe 50 people, at the last one we had there were over 200.” Additionally, in November she set about to facilitate what they called “Family Feast Night” which led to them hosting more than 200 families with a grand Thanksgiving dinner.
At Christmas they put together the same type of family engagement activity. Eric Ewell, Parent Advocate for the HEDC said that for Christmas Hughes discovered that her fundraising efforts for the end of the school year trip had such a large amount in it that she took $250 from it then went into her own pocket and added another $250 to go shopping to purchase and wrap a gift for all 220 students at Weil.
“She is the best example I’ve seen in a long time of a person who is not sitting around waiting for others to do what she can do,” she said. “She sees a need and she sets about doing what she can do to address it.”
“I was so afraid there may be some student who might not be getting a gift so I thought that would be a good use of the money,” Hughes said. “But the main thing I was glad we could do was to arrange for Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown to join us. He was so good, he sat and shook hands with all of the kids in line, and signed almost 200 autographs.”
Holly Ballard, the Principal of Pittsburgh Weil, said she has been pleased to support all the initiatives that Hughes has brought to her.
“When I saw how she hit the ground running with making sure our PSCC meetings were fully functioning,” she said. “I knew she had what it took to manage what she took on.” She would come to me with an idea, and I felt confident that she will deliver.”
Among all those that have spoken on behalf of Princess, it is the words of the 5th graders with whom she works directly that is most compelling.
In a conversation with five of them, 10-year-old Kenneth Lewis Moore , 11-year-old Marcus DeAndre Hall, 11-year-old Rondazia Sowell, 11-year-old Parris Holiday, and 10-year-old Jaimice Ayonna Williams , all expressed how much they love and appreciate her and that they felt loved and appreciated in return; and she makes it exciting for them to come to school everyday. The students used the following words to describe “Miss Princess” as they affectionately call her: hardworking, fun, special, loving, caring, intelligent, helpful. They were very open and happy to talk about her service to the school. Kenneth said “Miss Princes lets us know that she sees us as we really are, even if sometime we are bad.”
Marcus said “she is a fundraiser and she is a fun maker.”
Rondazia said “she always makes us feel better, if one of us does something, she will pull us aside and ask us what’s’ going on.”
Parris added “She is like another mother to me, with all the stuff she does, it takes her time from her own family, and truthfully, we know she doesn’t have to do this at all.”
Jaimice is the 10-year-old daughter of Hughes and she stated clearly, “I am happy she is my mom, and I am watching all that she does, and she is showing me how to be a better person and how to give back when I grow up.
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