Winners of an attendance challenge last month at Martin Luther King PreK-8 earned a meeting with Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward on Dec. 22, 2020.

Photo: Pittsburgh Steeler Cameron Heyward paid a virtual visit to two classrooms at Pittsburgh King PreK-8 on Dec. 22, 2020. Students should be proud of themselves, he said, for being resilient and adapting to new ways of learning. Courtesy of Pittsburgh King PreK-8

Two classrooms won the honor, said Pittsburgh King Principal Nathan Berkowitz, because they both had over 95% attendance. One student, Denise Johnson, who achieved perfect attendance all year, earned a pair of Steelers cleats. 

The privilege of Heyward’s visit, Berkowitz said, was a reflection of both the commitment of the winning fifth and sixth grade students, who Berkowitz described as “dynamic, awesome children,” as well as the dedication of their teachers, Mrs. Rodriguez and Ms. Jennings. 

Mrs. Rodriguez and Ms. Jennings regularly advocate for their students to ensure that they show up every day, Berkowitz said. The teachers also make a point to engage with students’ families, which has been a challenge during a school year conducted almost exclusively online.

Heyward’s virtual visit took place via Microsoft Teams, a platform similar to Zoom, and lasted for about 45 minutes. He read former NFL wide receiver Matthew A. Cherry’s book “Hair Love,” about a Black father and his daughter who bond over styling the daughter’s hair. After that, he answered questions from students. 

While Heyward had a live visit with only two classrooms, he filmed a short video for the rest of the school to watch after the fact. His message to students: Work hard and be respectful of your teachers and classmates. Heyward told the students that while life is unfair and COVID-19 is not their fault, they should be proud of themselves for being resilient and adapting to new ways of learning.

Berkowitz was appointed as Pittsburgh King’s principal in July 2020. If you drive by the school, he said, it might not be the most inspiring, but he pledges that he’s “doing a lot of work inside the building.”

“I want my students and my staff to feel proud of the school that they attend and work at.”

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