Learning center

Phase 4 Learning Center Graduation Honors 2 Students Killed by Gun Violence

Two chairs were empty, each with a purple balloon, a red rose wrapped in black ribbon, and pictures of the teenagers on their supposed graduation day.

Matthew Steffy-Ross, 17, of Pitcairn died April 17, Easter Sunday, on the North Side of Pittsburgh.

Marvin D. Matthews, 19, of Braddock died on Father’s Day, June 19, at his home.

The family members were on hand to accept their diplomas Saturday from the Phase 4 Learning Center, Inc. at Baldwin-Whitehall High School Stadium. Phase 4 is a private high school that helps at-risk and disadvantaged people earn their high school diploma.

He graduated his largest class of 397 students.

“These young people in this field are our future,” said Terrie Suica-Reed, President, CEO and Founder of Phase 4.

Suica-Reed said this class overcame countless obstacles, including the pandemic and, sadly, heartbreaking

sadness with the loss of two classmates, she said.

Suica-Reed wanted Steffy-Ross and Matthews included in the ceremony.

Lilly Kubit | Tribune-Review

Malicka Alston releases a ball as part of the ceremony honoring Marvin Matthews. She is joined by Kariya Matthews. Alston is the adoptive mother of Marvin Matthews and Kariya Matthews is the sister of Marvin Mathews. Matthews and Matthew Steffy-Ross, who both died before graduation, were honored at the launch of Phase 4 Learning Center, Inc. on Saturday.

There was a musical tribute to teenagers. Maureik Vickers, a Phase 4 instructor, sang a song that Steffy-Ross wrote called “I Try”. Family members released a balloon in remembrance of the young men. They accepted their diplomas.

Bonnie McLain, Steffy-Ross’ great-aunt, said her great-nephew loved Phase 4, which has locations in East Liberty, Baldwin, Shadyside and Harrisburg.

She said Suica-Reed told her Matthew was in heaven with her late husband, Tom Reed, who died last year. Steffy-Ross was talking about graduating and was about to launch a clothing line, McLain said. The name of the collection was to be “Mind Sets”.

His name is spelled with a “T” on his diploma because that’s how it is spelled on his birth certificate, but McLain said he preferred two “Ts.”

“I’m honored to be here,” McLain said. “If Matthew was here he would have loved to be a part of this. He told me he was going to give me the first t-shirt he printed.

Matthews’ mother, Waynesha Lundy, said her eldest son was full of life.

“If Marvin was here, he would smile and jump across this field,” said Malicka Alston, a second mother to Matthews, who attended with her sister, Karaya Matthews, and Lundy.

“Believe it, I have a lot of joy right now,” McLain said. “Because I know Matthew is up there smiling. He was the light of all who knew him. He was nice and would give you the shirt off his back. People gravitated towards Matthew. They loved him and he knew he was loved. So many people leave this world unloved, but Matthew, he was loved.

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Lilly Kubit | Tribune-Review

Graduate Kanye Hawkins addresses the crowd at Baldwin Stadium for the start of Phase 4 Learning Center, Inc. on Saturday. During the celebration, two deceased students were honored. Their families accepted their degrees on their behalf.

One of the early speakers was Kanye Hawkins. He said he was struggling in his traditional high school when he heard about Phase 4 from his guidance counselor. He transferred to Phase 4 in January and completed his coursework. He plans to continue his education at Lackawanna College and play football on an athletic scholarship.

“The teachers were respectful and really helped me out,” Hawkins said.

Michael Schmidt needed help at the charter school he attended. Going online when the pandemic hit made her situation worse. A counselor recommended Phase 4. He is considering enlisting in the US Armed Forces. Schmidt received the first scholarship from the Tom Reed Armed Forces Career Center, named after Suica-Reed’s late husband. Phase 4 opened the Armed Forces Career Center in May as a resource for students interested in the military.

The Phase 4 approach has been recognized by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The school really helped Hawkins, who said graduating was a big achievement for him. He said anything is possible with God’s blessing. He thanked his family and the Phase 4 staff.

“I never gave up,” he said. “My father is incarcerated but he has always supported me and my mother has helped me through difficult times.”

Dionna Hawkins celebrated her graduation with her daughter. Hawkins lost her mother and became pregnant at a young age, but kept pushing to reach this day.

“I kept believing,” Hawkins said. “It was tough, but my message is to never give up.”

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Lilly Kubit | Tribune-Review

Bonnie McLain graduated from the late Matthew Steffy-Ross. McLain is Steffy-Ross’ great aunt and represented Ross at Baldwin Stadium, which hosted the launch of Phase 4 Learning Center, Inc. on Saturday.

It was also a message that Steffy-Ross lived through.

“Matthew is God’s own ray of sunshine,” McLain said while holding Steffy-Ross’ diploma. “He shines on all the other children on the face of this earth. I want to keep his legacy alive. One of his t-shirts reads “Stay in the fight”. Do not abandon.

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, [email protected] or via Twitter .