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Pittsburgh sends first kid robotics team to compete with world

The first team from Pittsburgh is headed to the FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis April 23-26, and it includes middle-schoolers for this normally high-school-only competition.
 
The team hails from the Sarah Heinz House, which runs 160 youth programs, including the local Boys & Girls Club of America. Robotics starts here in first grade, says Bob Bechtold, its director of outreach and corporate partnerships, so the kids are ready early for competition.

They've been in local competitions for five years, including the Pittsburgh Regional FIRST Robotics Competition in March, which placed them in line for St. Louis. And they were one match away from the world competition last year.

However, the team itself hasn't always been ready.

"Five years ago, we could hardly get our robot to move," Bechtold says. "To see the program grow to the point where the kids are telling the adults, 'Leave us alone, we've got this' – it's incredible."
 
To compete in the regional contest, the team received its instructions just six weeks ahead: Build a robot that could throw an exercise ball into a goal. At the regional contest, robots competed together on the field, six at a time, with some playing defense. Previous competitions had challenged robots to throw a Frisbee or basketball, or to kick a soccer ball.
 
The world championship will pit the best robots against each other in the same challenge. Bechtold compares it to a NASCAR race: "Every robot has its own pit. The kids are turning wrenches and working on computers."
 
The Sarah Heinz House team comes from 10 area schools. They beat 40 other teams in the regional competition and are ranked in the top three percent, compared to all 2,729 teams in the world, based on individual scoring. In St. Louis, they will compete against teams from across the country as well as from Israel, Canada, Mexico, Chile and the Dominican Republic.
 
Sarah Heinz House is hoping to get help raising the $15,000 to $20,000 needed to send the kids to St. Louis. "It's been a challenge for our organization," Bechtold admits. But, he says, "we've seen kids show emotion that we didn't know they even had in them [and] teamwork coming together." The quick turnaround for the earlier challenge forced the 20 team members to divide up into specialties, since all the robot design and manufacturing tasks have to be done at once, from the robot's frame to its programming.  

"They're definitely getting a lot of the STEM skills they need as well," Bechtold says.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bob Bechtold, Sarah Heinz House

'Through their art, they show how the world was deceived': Holocaust art contest

For only the third year since the contest began in 1985, the Israeli winners of the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Waldman International Arts and Writing Competition will be flown to Pittsburgh to join their local counterparts for a celebration, this year at the Andy Warhol Museum on April 27.
 
The local winning entries in the genres of writing, film and visual arts from middle- and high-school students were recently announced. The winners hail from Springdale Jr./Sr. High School, Pittsburgh Allderdice, Fox Chapel High School, South Allegheny High School, Community Day School and Yeshiva Girls School.
 
Jennie Pelled, the Center’s development and program associate, says: “I’m really proud that the competition invites the whole Pittsburgh and Israel communities to get involved. It’s not just a Jewish competition. The submissions we get are amazing and the kids are just very inspiring every year.”
 
Each year the contest concentrates on a different theme; this year it was the art and music of the Holocaust. Students wrote about the model concentration camp at Terezin, created by the Nazis to pass inspection by the Red Cross, which featured an inmate orchestra and other art activities for show. Students also wrote about the Vilna Ghetto and Oskar Schindler.
 
Pelled cites one of the winning poems from an Israeli high-school senior to show how students imagined kids their age having to pretend to be okay for camp inspectors:
 
“It's a whole new world outside, did you see?
They've been painting walls, planting flowers,
Playing dress-up with our lives;
But I'm prepared too, mama,
I've practiced my smile and my walk
And not looking hungry, which was hardest of all
...
Mama, please don't cry –
Today I was a star, not the yellow kind
But do you think you could still sew the memory of me onto your jacket
Close to your heart, where it's warm?”
 
“The teachers really promoted it,” Pelled says of the contest, “and put the subject on the map for these kids. They can research and identify with the children going through the Holocaust. Then you learn ... there’s a lot you can apply to the real world today,” from general issues of continuing prejudice to more specific discussions about bullying or marriage equality.
 
“Through their art,” she says,“they show how the world was deceived.”
 
The contest is also sponsored by Partnership2Gether and Jfilm.
 
Marty Levine
Source: Jennie Pelled, Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh

Not just for babies anymore: new Parenting Expo debuts

"Once you get past the baby years, there's not a lot out there for parents who are looking for great resources and great education in a live event," says Debi Gilboa, the East End family doctor, national parenting speaker and mother of four. The new Parenting Expo, which debuts nationally in Pittsburgh on March 8 at the Monroeville Convention Center, is the only such local event that's for parents with kids beyond the toddler years, Gilboa believes.
 
That's why she is now involved in gathering the workshop presenters, participatory stage presentations for kids and other features of the event. It will be, she says, "an expo unlike any other I've ever seen, and I've searched as a parent and as a parent speaker."
 
The event will have many local facets, she explains, from Pittsburgh Zoo animals to local sports mascots. Set for the stage are demonstrations for which kids will be invited up to participate, encompassing the martial arts, dancing and storytelling, as well as lessons on how they can pack their own healthy lunches, and mock college interviews for the older kids.
 
Thirty different parenting workshops, each about half an hour, will cover such topics as the family finances, how to help with homework, potty training and bedtime, and other tough subjects, such as talking sex with your teen.
 
Kids 14 and under are free, while adult tickets are $8 in advance. The day will include prizes and giveaways as well.
 
"As parents we have a lot of questions," Gilboa says. "This is a good way for parents to hear from 30 different experts." She hopes that the parents who attend will get "answers to several of the questions that have been bugging them recently, and fantastic resources to answer the questions they don't know, that will bug them in the future."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Debi Gilboa

Lending Hearts keeps kids with cancer 'looking ahead'

Vasso Paliouras was inspired to start Lending Hearts after her younger sister was diagnosed with cancer while still in high school. The nonprofit organization provides peer support – fun, healthy and educational group activities – for kids and teens going through cancer treatment or in remission. 
 
“Due to their diagnosis, they were missing out on experiences and the typical life of a kid," says Paliouras. So Lending Hearts' monthly programs “keep them looking ahead, out of the hospital.” The group activities are “something unique we can provide to them.”
 
That has included a special pre-show program at a performance of the Pittsburgh Ballet's "Nutcracker" each year, with a behind-the-scenes look at a new aspect of the show. At the end, the kids are encouraged to get up and dance with the characters.
 
Another popular activity, says Paliouras, was "An Afternoon with the Penguins." While a Penguins away game played on a large-screen television, the kids enjoyed visits from the Penguins mascot and penguins from the National Aviary.
 
“After that event, a father sent me an email," Paliouras recalls. The father explained that his child had been having trouble adjusting to remission and normal life after cancer. He concluded the email: "That event just made a whole difference in my child’s outlook.”
 
Paliouras says she would like to develop an online extension of their activities – “What do we do when they can’t actually join us?” Through the group's website, the virtual Lending Hearts “will be parallel to what we do through other means and other supportive measures.”
 
The group is also holding its second annual Lending Hearts Gala, at which they will honor former Pittsburgh Steeler Merril Hoge, who in 2003 was diagnosed with stage two Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, on Feb. 27.
 
Paliouras' sister, happily, is now in remission.
 
“Everybody gets something different out of it," concludes Paliouras about the group's efforts, "and we hope it is making a difference for as many people as possible."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Vasso Paliouras, Lending Hearts

Student with tough time communicating? Art Expression helps

Art, says Angela Lowden, founder of Art Expression, can bring students of different abilities and social groups together. “They are able to express themselves, value each other’s differences and see each other in a very different light, and often they become friends,” Lowden says.
 
Art Expression, a Mt. Lebanon nonprofit, got its start in 2001 when Lowden approached her school district with the idea of bringing art therapists, although not strictly art therapy, to help students improve their social skills and problem solving, learn confidence, become independent, and even discover how to react to bullying appropriately.
 
“We use art therapists as our art facilitators because they are sensitive to our students’ needs,” says Lowden, an Art Institute graduate who also has a teaching degree from Duquesne University. Art Expression has a variety of programs, including one that focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) to enhance students' academic skills while they're having fun with art materials.
 
In April, Art Expression was named one of 50 finalists for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, chosen from among more than 300 nominees from 49 states.
 
Today, the organization is in seven school districts in four counties, as well as community centers and a dozen homeless shelters.
 
“When I walk into a shelter," says one of the nonprofit's art facilitators, Cheryl Silinskas, "I know that I am walking into a group that is experiencing crisis. The kids aren’t 100 percent aware of what is happening, but they know things aren’t working at home.
 
“Sometimes what surfaces through art is that, oh, here’s a child who experienced a death in the family and no one at the school knows about it.”
 
The kids value that Silinskas and her colleagues are available to them, she says. “This is their great opportunity to be in a school setting … and be able to deal with what is weighing on them.”
 
In school classrooms, adds Silinskas, “often they will talk about what is happening in their lives, things that during the school day they need to express and that really has nowhere to go.”
 
“We see a lot of children of divorce as well" in classrooms, says Lowden, "and they are able to express their stress.”
 
The art, adds Silinskas, "is all about making mistakes and getting through that. They’re always thrown when I come in and begin, ‘I’m going to teach you to make the worst possible painting.' It shifts their focus” from trying to be perfect in school at all times.
 
“They feel peaceful after these sessions …," says Lowden, "and the teachers are amazed as well. They make great teams, the teachers and our art facilitators.”
 
Art Expression is seeking new school district partners in more rural and urban districts, says Lowden: “I believe in helping all children" – especially, she adds, "because those children don’t get the services the children get in suburban areas.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Angela Lowden and Cheryl Silinskas, Art Expression

144 volunteers needed to go to the principal's office

A+ Schools, the local educational advocacy group, is looking for 12 dozen volunteers to interview principals and other school officials to find out how well they understand and are helping with issues central to their students' own concerns.
 
The interviewing project, called School Works, began in 2009 “to understand the opportunities and resources that exist for kids in schools," says Amy Scott, A+'s Research and Data Analysis, "so we can understand better whether there are opportunities and resources that might be contributing to the achievement gap …” by their absence. In previous years project volunteers have interviewed middle-school and high-school principals, counselors and teachers. For this school year, they will target high-school principals, counselors and learning environment specialists – teachers who focus on student behavior in schools and the teachers’ working conditions.
 
“We're striving to better understand the level of exposure, access and experiences with the issues identified by Teen Bloc,” a student leadership program, which this fall developed a Student Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights asks for everything from the right to free expression and to participate in educational decisions to "equitable academic resources … a socially, emotionally, and physically safe and positive school climate … effective teachers," as well as "positive school disciplinary policies and practices." The student group hopes next that the school board will adopt the bill. They have met with individual members of the board, “and there are school board members who are supportive,” says Scott.
 
Anybody can be an effective volunteer to conduct the interviews, she adds. "In the past we’ve had concerned citizens, parents, folks who work in education and folks who work in business. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to visit a school and get firsthand knowledge of how schools are working and being run.”
 
Sign up now for the training that runs Jan. 23-31. Interviews will be done Feb. 10-21.
 
For more information on volunteering for School Works, contact Volunteer Coordinator Mollie Pollack at (412) 697-1298, ext. 101.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Amy Scott, A+ Schools

Firefly Arts: Gathering families, helping kids with autism

Before Rebecca Covert founded Firefly Arts, she worked as a storyteller and teaching artist for eight years locally. But when she had a son with an autism spectrum disorder, she discovered a new challenge: "My whole job was to engage children in literacy and math through an arts curriculum," Covert recalls. "But I’d go home and I couldn’t even get my own son to respond.”
 
Working at the problem, she discovered ways that art could still work “to bring my son out of his shell, build a relationship with us and focus on the world.”
 
Firefly, currently applying to be an official nonprofit, held its first gathering of families in November. Group members have already provided art activities for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's autism-friendly Nutcracker performance, while Covert has been asked to work with autistic kids at a local camp and at various arts organizations.
 
“We want to build community among families raising autistic children through art activities,” Covert explains. “We’re using arts as an accessible means to develop concept knowledge … which is a difficult thing for autistic children. It’s all about taking an abstract concept and making it a concrete experience.” Some children with autism, for example, may be able to learn gross motor movement as part of a dance but, when asked to make a doll dance, may not be able to make the connection between the two ideas.
 
Firefly's teaching artists may present movement, visual arts and music to help the kids explore different concepts, such as making friends, riding the bus or figuring out what "our neighborhood” signifies.
 
Parents will be able to enjoy the program as a stress release, respite, creative outlet and chance to socialize, Covert says. In the proposed 8-week program, while kids work with teaching artists, parents will get such things as cooking classes, yoga and photography courses. "They don’t want to be here and talk about autism," Covert says she found in speaking with parents at Firefly's first event. "They want to be here and meet new people and take a step away” from the very demanding task of raising their kids.
 
Before its main program is finalized, Firefly artists will be conducting one arts workshop each month, January through March, for whole families, perhaps exploring habitats, such as the ocean and rainforest.
 
Families can register online to be part of Firefly's programs. The fledgling group also has a Facebook page and an  fundraising campaign (with video)
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Rebecca Covert, Firefly Arts

New contest looking for talented kid jazz performers

Jazz's legacy in Pittsburgh has inspired Familylinks – which provides family services focused on behavioral, social and developmental health issues – to hold an "up-and-comer contest" for high school and college jazz performers.
 
Winner of the Just Jazz YouTube Contest will perform as part of Familylinks'
Just Jazz II fundraising event on March 21 at the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland.
 
“We wanted to do the contest as a way to continue the Pittsburgh jazz history and highlight the contributions of that tradition,” says Mary Bockovich, the group's director of development. And to help make people, particularly young people, aware of Familylinks’ services, of course.
 
“Young people in general who don’t have a lot of experience with social services or ‘the system’ are probably not aware of what we do,” she says. Familylinks offers drug and alcohol services, programs for young adults and for kids who are homeless or in foster care, workforce readiness training and more. 
 
Government funding for such programs is flat and shrinking, Bockovich notes, so Familylinks is looking for this event to support its Downtown outreach center and shelter for 18- to 21-year-olds. The organization also has a year-old mentoring program for 16-21 year olds who have been involved in child welfare cases, which is looking for assistance. "We’re seeing that kids involved with the child welfare system really haven’t had the benefit of a caring, consistent adult in their lives," she says.
 
Eligible for the contest are jazz combos that can include a singer; they will be judged by up-to-seven-minute videos submitted by Feb. 1. Just Jazz II headliners Lisa Ferraro and Benny Benack, III will pick five finalists and online public voting will last until Feb. 25. The winner will be announced March 1.
 
With all the emphasis on helping young people, Bockovich adds, it was natural for Familylinks to want to help young musicians through the new contest: “We would love to give them the opportunity to showcase their talents and to perform for a fairly substantial crowd. They will get some exposure and maybe even a paying gig out of it.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Mary Bockovich, Familylinks


Kids+Creativity gathers to celebrate year of accomplishment

The Kids+Creativity Network will celebrate its second year with an Assembly on Dec. 12, 3- 5:30 p.m. at the Carnegie Museum of Art. It will be a chance for members of the Network, which aims to remake learning in the Pittsburgh region, to examine what they’ve accomplished individually and as a group.
 
Cathy Lewis Long, head of the Sprout Fund, which supports Kids+Creativity, will give the state-of-the-Network address, outlining how far the group has come since the last Assembly, including its tremendous growth and the way members have built connections locally and nationally.
 
She will be joined by Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, who will speak about how her organization, which assists the county’s school districts, has been teaming with those districts to advance teachers’ professional development and update classroom lessons and activities. Thanassis Rikakis, vice provost for Carnegie Mellon University, will talk about CMU’s new initiatives to integrate art, design and technology both at CMU and with their K-12 school partners. Rita Catalano, head of the Fred Rogers Center, will also add her organization's perspective.
 
They will be followed by brief “ignite talks” by individual Kids+Creativity members – five-minute snapshots of successful programs designed to inspire conversations and motivate members to create new endeavors of their own.
 
Finally, the Assembly will offer four breakout sessions centered around several key Kids+Creativity topics:
 
1. Ways to develop partnerships with schools. Ryan Coon, Sprout program officer, notes that “more and more schools are getting involved in Kids+Creativity and are really interested in partnering with members to bring new ideas into their classrooms.”
 
2. Access and equity for new classroom technology, especially for underserved communities, both in and out of schools
 
3. How to become a part of the new Remake Learning Digital Corps (see Pop City’s coverage here [http://www.popcitymedia.com/forgood/remakelearningdigitalcorps120413.aspx]); and
 
4. A hands-on maker activity led by staff from Garfield’s Assemble space.
 
The Assembly, concludes Coon, "is a good opportunity to see some of the things Kids+Creativity is up to and a chance to make partnerships with some of the network's active members."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ryan Coon, The Sprout Fund

Sculptor teams with high-school kids for anti-violence projects

"When you introduce something through art,” says Pittsburgh sculptor Blaine Siegel, “you're opening a different perception, a different doorway. Especially when kids talk about violence, it's just about 'Do this, don't do that.' Not the 'Why?' Art makes you think harder to find meaning. That's when there is a different thought process – kids are more engaged and you get to a much better place."
 
Siegel, an artist in residence in Wilkinsburg High School during the previous school year, is still working with Wilkinsburg students in an effort to use art to deal with violence. Siegel and his students have created videos and will do readings and musical performances at the Society for Contemporary Craft’s “Enough Violence” exhibition on Dec. 13.
 
Last year, Siegel converted Wilkinsburg High School’s woodshop into an art studio where, twice a week, 18 students worked with him on his sculptures, then branched out to do their own artwork. He also visited their classes for talks and demonstrations. In an English class studying writers of the Harlem Renaissance, for instance, he added visual art to the mix, guiding students in creating a mosaic, while in a health class studying the respiratory system he helped students sculpt a model of a body with a mechanical lung that inhaled and exhaled, introducing them also to artists who created body-themed.
 
Wilkinsburg is the most violent high school in Pennsylvania, according to a state study in 2012.  "I don't believe it – but the perception exists," Siegel says. He showed his students a speech by Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban and has since spoken out widely about the violence – and her own reaction to it.
 
"I started to draw parallels between her and these kids' experiences," Siegel says. He noticed them constantly making music – singing, banging on lockers – "representing the beauty these students are able to create in this atmosphere of violence," he says.
 
He first approached the school band, which made a video of drumming a Pakistani beat from Malala's region as they walked through school halls.
 
Then Siegel took a snippet of Malala's speech to the UN, in which she spoke of not wanting to shoot her attackers in revenge, and overlaid it with stills from the school. He asked a group of its students whether they would shoot in revenge for a gun crime, and the majority said yes. Then he played them Malala’s UN speech, and they saw a picture of a girl their age.
 
"Opinions started to change,” he reports, “and it's interesting to see that happen."
 
When he took students to view the “Enough Violence” exhibit, which contains a wide range of artistic responses to our society’s violence, they were most affected by the sculpture at the front of the show, which depicts a toddler with a gun holding up fellow toddlers, some in diapers. It started a vital discussion, he says, about nature versus nurture, and how violence is introduced to people at a young age.
 
"That got a lot of sharing going,” Siegel says. “They're young adults but they're also older kids, so that piece got to them."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Blaine Siegel

Remake Learning Digital Corps: fresh troops for tech teaching

The Sprout Fund is looking to recruit up to 30 members of a new Remake Learning Digital Corps: technologists, university students, out-of-school-time teachers, makers, or "anyone interested in promoting and helping teens and tweens learn digital literacy," says Ani Martinez, a Sprout program associate who is coordinating the Corps.
 
The Corps is “going to change how youth develop digital literacy skills in afterschool programs throughout Allegheny County,” says Sprout program officer Ryan Coon.
 
Martinez says there are many tech programs that could use no- to low-cost tools in for their students but don't have the time or resources to train their own experts. “It's been a growing concern for connected educators for a long time," she says, referring to connected learning: the notion that young people learn better when they work with their peers, are personally interested in a subject and connect with the larger community.
 
The new Corps will be a travelling educational force, she says: "Hopefully, it will become a self-sustaining training platform that can be used with any educational site."
 
Corps members will learn Scratch, a programming language tool, and Thimble, developed by Mozilla as a way to learn coding. From there, Corps members can help students do everything from exploring Java to building hardware devices and apps, including working on a Hummingbird robotics kit, which teaches kids about circuits, lights, and motion.
 
Applications to be an instructor or site for the program close Dec. 20 and are available here. Sprout is looking 5-10 sites to deploy its first teachor-mentors.
 
"The hope," says Martinez, "is that [students] gain an interest in building and teaching themselves hardware and the Web at large – the 21st century communication skills and job training skills. If they can, early on, they will have a tremendous leg up when they reach the workforce."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Ani Martinez and Ryan Coon, Remake Learning Digital Corps

Thought school was tough? Stigma of mental illness makes it tougher

Getting kids to encourage their classmates to stop stigmatizing mental health issues is somewhat uncharted territory, which is one of the reasons Pittsburgh Cares is teaming with Allegheny County to devise new school-based programs around this issue.
 
The program, Stand Together, began a few weeks ago with workshops in 10 area schools: Pittsburgh's Perry and Allderdice high schools and the Environmental Charter School, Propel Braddock Hills, South Allegheny Middle School, South Brook Middle School, South Park High School, Woodland Hills Junior High School and West Mifflin Area middle and high schools.
 
Working with the county's Office of Behavioral Health in the Department of Human Services, Pittsburgh Cares devised an initial full-day workshop in which the students learn about both mental illness and the stigma that often goes along with it.
 
Nationally, says Holly McGraw-Turkovic, program director at Pittsburgh Cares, 16 percent of school-age kids with mental illness will think about suicide, with up 44 percent of them dropping out of school, while about two thirds do not even receive treatment. “There’s a lot of myths out there connected to mental illness,” says McGraw-Turkovic. “Stigma comes from students being isolated."
 
During the first workshop, students also paint an "awareness icon" – a mannequin that they cover with positive messages about mental health issues. The second workshop uses Pittsburgh Cares' strength as a nonprofit affiliate of the national HandsOn Network – creating service-learning projects – and focuses it on the subject of mental illness stigma. The kids will brainstorm project ideas, then apply for the organization's mini-grant program for $100-$1000 to fund each project.
 
At the Stand Together website, the organization will be posting project ideas and guides, local connections and educational material on the issue, mental health fact sheets and a photo collections from finished projects, as well as a blog and project assessment tools.
 
South Allegheny is the only school so far to have completed its second workshop, and ideas for effective programs may be tough to devise, McGraw-Turkovic notes. There weren't many successful national programs to use as models, she says, so the pilot year of this two-year program will be testing how much kids' attitudes and knowledge have changed from its effects.
 
“We’re hoping in two years we can share this model with all our HandsOn affiliates across the country," she says, "giving them all the tools they need to replicate this program.” Stand Together was funded by a $105,000 grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Holly McGraw-Turkovic, Pittsburgh Cares

How do homeless children do homework?

“The largest percentage of individuals who are experiencing homelessness are children – they far outnumber those individuals you see on the street,” says Bill Wolfe, executive director? of the Homeless Children's Education Fund? in the Strip District.
 
The latest federal stats show there are nearly 1.2 million homeless kids in the U.S. More than 1,700 of them are in Allegheny County. “That is a number that continues to grow,” Wolfe says.
 
And the problem is spread throughout the area, too: “A lot of people think that homelessness and poverty in general is just an urban problem. But there are 43 school districts in Allegheny County and every one of them has children experiencing homelessness. The only way we are going to break this cycle of homelessness is education.”
 
That's why the Homeless Children's Education Fund has services in all 27 county agencies that serve the homeless – 20 shelters and seven places that provide services during the day. “We have become the educational wing for those 27 facilities," Wolfe says.
 
Founder Joe Lagana, the retired head of the local Allegheny Intermediate Unit, "visited some of the shelters and agencies, and he noticed that when the kids came [there] they were basically put in front of a television set," Wolfe says. "The agencies didn’t have anybody to do [education] and the moms and dads were struggling with their own issues.”
 
In 17 of the facilities, the Fund has built learning and resource centers with computers and spots for kids to do homework. It provides tutors and volunteer mentors to work with kids after school and pays reading specialists to work on literacy issues. It brings in art, music and language lessons as well as artists to work with the students.
 
“Those portions of our programs really work to get the parents involved in the educational process with the children,” he says.
 
The Fund also provides books and schools supplies. Each August, with the help of Citizens Bank, the Fund distributes 2,500 new backpacks filled with age-appropriate school supplies.
 
The Fund is always looking for people to spread the word about the need in our community, and for volunteer help" “We are in constant need of volunteers to go in and work with children in the shelters. We will take one day a month if that is all you can give.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bill Wolfe, Homeless Children's Education Fund

MLK essay contest sending winners to Chautauqua

Carnegie Mellon University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards contest for local high-school and college students is calling for entries once again – and winners this year may get the chance to read their works at a special event in Chautauqua, New York.
 
Poetry and prose about students' personal experiences with race and discrimination are invited as contest entries by Nov. 22, with the awards ceremony set for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Jan. 20, 2014).  
 
It's sometimes difficult to get entries from kids in high school unless their teachers get involved and oversee the writing process, says organizer Jim Daniels, Thomas Stockham Baker Professor of English at CMU. "It's a hard subject for [kids] to write about and they need a lot of encouragement," Daniels says, "but if we ignore or don't talk about it, it's just beneath the surface and horrible things happen."

Among the increasing subjects of past winners has been the experience of international students here and in their own countries, "a reminder that it is not just an issue for this country," he says. Last year's winners included a student from Sri Lanka who talked about her experience there and in Lebanon as a family of immigrants finding their way. Another winning essay concerned a student whose mixed Latin American heritage, he said, was not evident, even to fellow Latinos. The first time a stranger approached him as a fellow Hispanic, asking him in Spanish what country he was from, was a thrilling moment he was able to record for his essay.
 
For the contest's 15th year, says Daniels, the awards ceremony and reading will also involve a performance by the CMU drama department's gospel choir. But bringing winners to Chautauqua is the most exciting development, he says, helping both students and the audience ponder the issues of race and discrimination more often than one day per year.
 
"None of them had been there before," he says of the students he brought to New York. "They were particularly surprised by the enthusiasm of the audience. They wanted us to stay longer." The group had a lunch and tour and were interviewed by the local daily for a long article. "They want us back. We want to go back. It's an exciting development."
 
Daniels hopes this year's entrants include more college students too. "The more people who get involved in responding, the more rewarding the awards will be," he concludes. "There are always surprises; I learn something every year from these pieces."
 
Entries should be less than 2,000 words and double-spaced (or up to five poems) and should be sent as Microsoft Word attachments (.docx preferred) here or to MLK Writing Contest, Department of English, Baker Hall 259, CMU, 5000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213.?Include your name, school, age, title of work(s) submitted, category of work(s) submitted (fiction, poetry, nonfiction), email address, home address and home phone number.

Selected entries are published by CMU.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jim Daniels, CMU

At TRETC, tech meets education in and out of classrooms

The Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC) returns Nov. 19 and 20, and this year even more emphasis will be on helping educational efforts that happen outside of schools. Last year more than 400 educators from K-12 schools, universities and nonprofits attended the event.
 
The conference is growing in the number of attendees, educational sessions and vendors from the many local educational tech startups, says Justin Driscoll of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, one of the organizers.
 
TRETC, says another organizer, Norton Gusky of NLG-Consulting, "has kept the conversation alive in terms of the roles of technology as a better strategy for meeting the needs of learners, both in school and out of school." The conference aims to help educational programs best use, and use the best, technology in their learning spaces.
 
This year's first keynote speaker is Andrew Slack, Executive Director of the Harry Potter Alliance, a self-described group of "wizards and muggles" who are working for social change. Slack is a Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow spending the year in New York City developing the Imagine Better Network, which will try to enlist an even broader fantasy fandom into improving the real world. He'll be talking about participatory learning, civic engagement and mobilizing social media to do social good.
 
The other keynote speaker is Richard Culatta, acting director of the Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education. "He's very involved in the whole idea of using technology to remake learning," Gusky says.
 
TRETC's local presenters will include Nikki Navta, who authored the Zulama curriculum, which blends classroom and online learning. She will be demonstrating how game-based learning – not just playing but conceiving and developing games – has become a powerful tool for education. Also presenting is Ed McKaveney, technology director for the Hampton Township School District, who was named Chief Technology Officer of the Year for 2013 by the Consortium for School Networking – the first such awardee in Pennsylvania.
 
"We feel really fortunate he is here in our backyard," says Gusky. He'll be speaking about such new tech developments as 3D printing and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).
 
Justin Aglio and Joe Oliphant, co-principals at Propel Braddock Hills High Schooj, will talk about Propel's new focus on innovation and design. The Sprout Fund will also have a Remake Learning Zone to showcase the projects they've funded at the intersection of digital learning and media. Another part of the program will highlight the roles of women in technology.
 
TRETC has been so successful, says Gusky, that organizers are thinking about expanding it into a national conference. "How do we highlight the region, not just for the region, but for the entire country?" he says.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Norton Gusky, Justin Driscoll
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