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Education : Civic Impact

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Bullying prevention grants available for preschools, day care centers

Parents and teachers of Pittsburgh’s youngest children can apply for additional resources to help nip the bullying bug early, thanks to funding from the Marcus L. Ruscitto Foundation.

The foundation recently announced a new bullying prevention campaign called “Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right” that offers grant opportunities for preschools, kindergartens and early elementary schools in western Pennsylvania. The funding supports programming and curriculum to complement what parents and teachers are already doing in early childhood education.

Not-for-profit public and private schools and day care centers can apply for a grant to be used for one of two programs, said Jon Rosenson, spokesperson and board member from the Marcus L. Ruscitto Foundation. “I Can Problem Solve” is a program that helps students to identify or deter bullying behaviors, while The Josh and Gab show is an hour of entertainment and bullying prevention from a singing comedy duo.
“The youngest children are the most impressionable,” Rosenson said, adding that bullying prevention works best at this age, while bullying intervention is more appropriate for older kids.

More than 70 percent of students and an equal number of school staff have witnessed bullying in educational environments, according to the U.S. Department of Healthy and Human Services.

Schools that have already received grants for Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right include H.W. Good Elementary, Mendon Elementary and West Newton Elementary in the Yough School District; St. Gregory School in Zelienople; St. Bartholomew School in Penn Hills; St. Joseph School in Verona; Green Valley Primary in North Versailles; and Mt. Washington Children’s Center in Mt. Washington.

More information about the bullying campaign can be found here

The Ellis School presents essential career skills for girls

Educators agree that studying so-called hard sciences like technology, engineering and math is a smart choice for students preparing for the workforce of the future.

But it’s soft skills, like collaboration and perseverance, that will turn those smarts into success. And those skills, along with technology literacy, are especially important for girls intent on successful careers, according to The Ellis School. 

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri, Ellis’ director of the Learning Innovation Institute, will host a public discussion next week about the three most important skills girls need for success in school, higher education, and work. 

The three key core competencies — collaboration, perseverance and technology literacy —have always been essential to the curriculum at Pittsburgh’s only independent all-girls school, Abel-Palmieri said. Now, The Ellis School is looking to share opportunities to build these character traits with the larger community.

“We hope the parents will seek opportunities for their daughter, whether it’s in their own schools or within and around the Pittsburgh community,” Abel-Palmieri said. “There’s a number of amazing learning partners, like Assemble, Tech Shop and the many programs at the Carnegie Science Center.” 

Abel-Palmieri said she also hopes to gain an understanding of what’s important to girls and parents, especially in relation to STEM — shorthand for science, technology, engineering and math. 

In addition to creating the Learning Innovation Institute last summer to develop innovative learning practices for teachers and students, Abel-Palmieri said The Ellis School recently redesigned its STEM curriculum. 

“Our niche is infusing these skills into STEM, to make sure that girls have an equal opportunity to be engaged in careers in highly technical fields,” Abel-Palmieri said, adding that these types of jobs will be most prevalent in the future. “When you build these character traits in tech literacy, you’re leveling the playing field.” 

“Three Must-Have Career Skills for Girls” is set for 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Nov. 11 at The Ellis School, 6425 Fifth Ave., Shadyside. Interested parents and educators can register for the presentation here.

ASSET hopes to close STEM funding gap with new scholarship program

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, ASSET, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing teaching and learning to empower students, announced a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Scholarship Program to support innovative STEM education programs.

All school districts and education organizations including libraries or tutoring programs may apply for a piece of the anticipated $200,000 scholarship pie for the 2014-2015 school year. Recently, ASSET was awarded a $50,000 matching grant from The Hillman Foundation to help reach this grant pool goal. Other sponsors include Bayer Corporation, Dollar Bank Foundation and Westinghouse.

“At ASSET, our focus is on directly impacting teachers and students,” said Dr. Cynthia Pulkowski, Executive Director. “Establishing the STEM Scholarship Program is the perfect way to celebrate our 20th anniversary because the program is representative of our mission — advancing teaching and learning to engage, inspire and empower all students.”

According to ASSET, budget constraints in many school districts have resulted in drastic reductions to vital STEM education programs that help children develop necessary skills and knowledge to succeed. Through this scholarship program, ASSET hopes to help some school districts close the funding gap and ensure that high-quality STEM education opportunities are available to all students, regardless of budget constraints.

Dollars granted through the scholarship will provide classroom materials and/or professional development for educators; increase student participation in hands-on STEM learning; and enhance educators’ effective instrumental practices.

The first round application deadline was Sept. 15 and applications and scholarships will be reviewed and awarded as received. While any school district or educational organization is invited to apply, preference will be given to organizations with a high percentage of students on free/reduced lunch, high levels of diversity and low proficiency on state assessments.

To apply or learn more about ASSET’s STEM Scholarship Program, visit www.assetinc.org

Ready Freddy welcomes 2014 kindergarteners to Pittsburgh Public Schools

On Thursday, Aug. 28, Ready Freddy, a program devised by the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development, welcomed and encouraged incoming kindergarten students to Pittsburgh Public Schools for its sixth year.

The program launched in 2008 with a first-day-of-school event at one school. This year, Ready Freddy is at 14 Pittsburgh Public Schools and iterations of the program have been adopted in 20 different states. Expansion of the program in Pittsburgh has been thanks to the help of United Way, Carnegie Library, Reading is Fundamental, A+ Schools and the Housing Authority among others.

 “Often times Universities are criticized for being overly theoretical without understanding the practicalities of what it takes to apply the work directly in the community,” says says Ken Smyth-Leistico, assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development. “This office takes great pride in understanding the challenges of what occurs by those doing direct practice and utilizing theory and best practices to fill those gaps. Ready Freddy was developed and led by staff here and it grew organically by blending the interest area of local foundations, the expertise of the Office of Child Development staff, need assessments of local schools and other avenues for input.”

Ready Freddy is designed to increase awareness about the importance of kindergarten and to help ease the transition from the home to the classroom.

“Nearly half of all children struggle with the transition to kindergarten, according to national studies,” says Smythe-Leistico.
“Late arrivals and poor initial attendance are considered significant predictors for school failure. The Ready Freddy Program targets those children most likely to be absent on the first day.”

Months before students arrive for their first day of class and Ready Freddy’s first-day-of-school festivities, the Ready Freddy team canvasses city neighborhoods, enrolls children in kindergarten, takes parents on virtual tours of the schools, and shares activity calendars as well as an interactive Web book with families.

“There are a host of reasons why children might be nervous for the first day so to ensure we have an impact with as many children as possible, several types of activities are offered during the months leading up to the first day, the first day itself, and even the months that come after,” says Smyth-Leistico. “The first day itself has become a cause for celebration.”

To ease nerves, school entrances are transformed into festive, celebratory spaces. Community members students may know are invited to stand next to teachers the students are meeting for the first time and hand the kids off. After the first day of school, Ready Freddy continues to work with families to keep the kids in the classroom.

“Naturally, the normal challenges of everyday life will lead to children beginning to miss school,” Smyth-Leistico says. “The Ready Freddy Program promotes continued dialogue with families to help problem solve difficult circumstances to ensure missing school is not the result.”

Learn more about Ready Freddy at www.readyfreddy.org

A fete for From The Ground Up Project at Phipps

To commemorate the end of the From the Ground Up Project, Phipps Conservatory hosted a Community Feast for all those involved in the yearlong project dedicated to helping high school students look at food and nutrition in new ways.

The students were also paired with a group of student partners from Gidan Makama Museum in Kano, Nigeria to make connections between culture and food. Fourteen students from Pittsburgh and 17 students from Nigeria participated in the project.

The project was sponsored through Museums ConnectSM, a program made possible by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the American Alliance of Museums. 

Throughout the project, the students in Pittsburgh communicated regularly with their partner students in Nigeria who were also participating in the From the Ground Up project. The students communicated through Skype and Facebook, discussing their experiences and sharing photos and videos.

“The outcome of the Nigeria collaboration element of the project was for the students to develop a deeper understanding of food and nutrition in their own and their partner’s country, and develop skills to grow and cook their own food, as well as make cultural culinary comparisons,” says Jordyn Melino, exhibit coordinator at Phipps Conservatory and coordinator for the project.

The Community Feast, held on May 31, served as a gathering for the students and community organizations that played a significant role in the project’s success. The event showcased healthy prepared dishes with homegrown ingredients from recipes discovered by students in the project. Student participants also displayed recipe books and photo documentaries of what they learned.

“The purpose of From the Ground Up was to engage high school students to take initiative in creating a handmade recipe book that reflects traditional recipes of their region or culture while learning about food nutrition, cooking and traditions through the progression of following local food from farm to table,” says Melino. “The students were encouraged to interact with elders in their family or community to obtain traditional recipes and methods of cooking.”

Now that the project has come to a close, Phipps intends to continue to share the experiences from the project with the community.

“We’ll continue to share our experiences from this project with the visitors at Phipps,” says Melino. “The student-created recipe books from this project will be on display at Phipps’ upcoming Tropical Forest Congo exhibit opening in February 2015 and visitors will be able compare recipes between the Pittsburgh and Nigeria recipe books.”

To learn more about From the Ground Up visit http://phippsscienceeducation.org/category/from-the-ground-up/

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

To Kill a Mockingbird (and cook it in a nice sauce) may win you a prize

The sixth annual Edible Book Fest, to be put on by University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library on April 10, is bound to attract some odd, creative and tasty entries, says Ashley Cox, who is in charge of the contest.
Cox, by day a conservation technician with Pitt’s University Library System, brought the contest with her when she moved here half a dozen years ago from Denton, Texas, where she worked at the University of Northern Texas. There the entries included a few old-school jello recipes that featured meat.
In Pittsburgh, last year’s winners included desserts from the Harry Potter cookbook and an homage to Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast: Fancy Feast cat food molded in the shape of a car.
The Pittsburgh branch of the contest is open to anyone willing to design an (ideally) edible creation based on a favorite book or its cover, characters or scenes. Contestants will be dropping off their entries from 9 to 11:30AM next Thursday at Hillman’s Cup and Chaucer café, after which the creations will be voted overall favorite; best interpretation of a cover or scene; best visual representation of a cover, topic, story, or theme; and most creative interpretation of a title or the book’s contents.
At 2PM, the books will be eaten – the ones not made of catfood, that is. (Food is the required material, but the results need not be actually edible, and contestants are asked to list all their ingredients.)
The festival has a serious purpose too: it’s a chance for Pitt librarians to talk about the work of the preservation department and its archival material. But mostly it’s about literary-inspired food.
 “We tend to get dioramas made from cake,” Cox recalls. Other entries have included a mango creation inspired by House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, a block of cheese carved into a monkey (after The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kid), the black-and-white cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern rendered in multi-tiered vanilla and chocolate pastry, and the kitchen-science book How to Read a French Fry as, well, just a whole mess o’ fries.
“You can be pretty literal and pretty creative,” she says.
The contest is still waiting for its first meat dish; no one has actually killed a mockingbird for the contest.
“Not yet,” Cox laughs. “Hopefully not at all.”
RSVP for a spot in the contest to Cox here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ashley Cox, Pitt

'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

Who loves their library the most?

You love your library – or you ought to. 
To honor those who love it so much they work hard to ensure its future, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh created a Community Advocate award – and the library is seeking nominations once again this year, with a March 1 deadline.
The award was created three years ago to recognize those who pushed to get a voter question on the November 2011 ballot to increase taxes to support the libraries. It passed with 72 percent of the vote.
"Our board and our trustees were just overwhelmed by such a grassroots effort," says Maggie McFalls, Carnegie Library's community engagement coordinator. The first Community Advocate Award went to those behind the voter initiative.
Now the library is seeking nominees for this year's award, to be presented at the annual public meeting at 6:30 p.m. on March 26 at the East Liberty branch. Nominations will be accepted online and at "nomination stations" at all libraries.
Honorees can be an individual or group. "Because the library serves everybody, we get every type of volunteer and advocate you can imagine," says McFalls: teens, seniors and volunteer friends-of-the-library groups for every branch.
The Squirrel Hill branch's group, for instance, has been a strong organization for years, she says, conducting very successful book sales, lately with an online component. The solid Lawrenceville branch advocacy team was formed in 2009 when local artists and activists mobilized after the branch faced possible closure.
Teens come to the library to paint murals in the stacks, McFalls notes. Young volunteers help to work the Carnegie Library's after-hours events. All it takes to help the library system, and win the award, she concludes, is "just a genuine passion and enthusiasm for the importance of libraries."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Maggie McFalls, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

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

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

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

The newest college prep program in town already having success

In its second year in Pittsburgh, Higher Achievement is finding that it's a great fit for helping local 5th through 8th graders become college-bound.
"There are no entry requirements other than the will to do well," says Executive Director Wendy Etheridge Smith. "Both the child and the parent have to think that college is a good idea and that it is the goal." The nonprofit group aims to help kids "develop the culture and the character" to succeed.
Higher Achievement offers a summer program in the Hill District and Homewood, plus an afterschool program. "In order to compete effectively, students are going to graduate and go out and get more education," Smith says. "But you don't have to be a straight A fifth grader. You can be a C+ fifth grader and become a college scholar."
In fact, the program's average participant has a C+ average coming into the 5th grade. After a year in their program here, she says, 74 percent of students in math and 73 percent in reading went up a grade or maintained a high grade.
Besides academics and fun competitions surrounding them, the program offers electives in arts and recreation, from African drumming to jewelry making. The HA experience includes a three-day, two-night immersive college stay once a year, during which kids live in a dorm and take classes with college profs.
Higher Achievement, based in Washington, D.C., chose to come to Pittsburgh last year partly due to the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program and its Pathway programs designed to make sure kids are qualified for the scholarships. Today it operates in Pittsburgh Westinghouse and University Prep schools, which have the lowest percentage of Promise students.
Ninety-three percent of those who complete the HA program go to college and 76 percent of those students graduate, Smith says: "We're hoping to be a real catalyst for families and communities to reach for kids' dreams."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Wendy Etheridge Smith, Higher Achievement

Ready Freddy now ready to tackle school attendance issue

Ready Freddy is ready to move beyond its original mission of prepping kids for kindergarten enrollment to tackle school attendance problems.
The program was begun in 2006 by the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Child Development, which devises demo projects and test programs for school improvement.
Ready Freddy has aimed to get all eligible kids enrolled in kindergarten on time, even early, so they can be prepared for that first day. Being ready to transition to kindergarten is an important factor for school success.
Ready Freddy concentrates on seven Pittsburgh Public School: Langley, King, Miller, Weil, Faison, Arlington and Spring Hill. At each school it puts together a kindergarten team made up of school staff, such as principals, kindergarten teachers, social workers, counselors and others, then reaches out to community groups in the neighborhood to get them involved as well.
At Pittsburgh King PreK-8, for instance, the team is working with Reading is Fundamental, A+ Schools and local family support centers to figure out new ways to reach the community. If families do not enroll early or on time, says the program director, Aisha White, schools can even have too few classrooms and teachers set to handle the incoming kids.
Ready Freddy teams have been handing out flyers, setting up parent welcome spots at child-care centers and going door to door in public housing, telling parents how to enroll at their local schools and informing them that the district's pre-K program is free to certain income levels. During summers, kindergarten clubs at the seven focal schools invite families to attend preparatory sessions.
The schools also hold transition events that allow kids and parents to tour their future school building and meet the teachers, "so that process is not so anxiety-based, once they start school in September," White says. "They will already have made a connection with the staff people at the school and they will better know what to expect."
Then, she says, "we make the first day of kindergarten a big deal," by welcoming kids at the door with refreshments and decorations.
"We've had major impact at the very beginning," reports White. "Ready Freddy was able to increase kindergarten enrollment to 100 percent" of eligible kids at King and Pittsburgh Weil PreK-5.
Today, the program is planning "to come up with strategies to encourage and reward attendance," she says. "Attendance is a major issue nationwide," and of course it affects a child's ability to perform well in school. Kids who miss 18 or more days of school per year in kindergarten perform worse than their peers in first grade. In fact, it affects their education for years: only 17 percent of kids with high absences in the first two grades are proficient in reading in third grade.
At Spring Hill, King and Arlington, a Public Allies Americorps volunteer is collecting kindergarten attendance data, visiting the schools and calling the families of absent kids to encourage their attendance. The first two schools now use a kindergarten parent newsletter to keep families informed about classroom work and activities, and all three schools are working to reward the classrooms with the best attendance. White is hoping businesses local to all seven schools will pitch in by donating items for attendance rewards.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Aisha White, Ready Freddy

Finding the kids most vulnerable for school trouble

A little knowledge is going a long way to help Pittsburgh Public Schools and other local districts pinpoint kids who are most vulnerable to falling behind or dropping out of school, and in devising early interventions.
Before 2010, the city school district didn't know how many of their kids were involved with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services' Office of Children, Youth and Families, which helps when youngsters are abused or neglected and sometimes separated from their families. But Erin Dalton, deputy director of DHS's Office of Data Analysis, Research, and Evaluation, credits Frederick W. Thieman, president of the Buhl Foundation, with bringing her agency and the school district together that year in their mutual quest to find better ways to serve local youth.
As a DHS report released just before the current school year says:
"While the protective benefits of involvement in the child welfare system are well documented, there is increasing recognition that the unstable family living situations and/or frequent placement changes experienced by children in this system can result in delays in school enrollment, increases in absenteeism, disruptive school changes and lack of continuity in curricula. These factors, in turn, are associated with negative school outcomes such as higher rates of dropout and truancy, lower achievement and increased risk of assignment to alternative school placements, and failure to receive critical special education services."
Previously, says Samantha Murphy, education liaison in the executive office of DHS, school districts have studied school absenteeism by looking at other possible contributing factors, such as children's gender or race. "Now it's a different conversation we're able to have," she says. The shared information allows the district and DHS to know whether the kids they have in common are absent or tardy, "so that our workers don't have to wait until there are 20 absences and a magistrate's hearing to intervene," Dalton says.
To help correct student attendance problems and subsequent achievement shortfalls, DHS and the district first targeted middle-school kids who got high scores on achievement tests but had low attendance and low grade-point averages. The idea of this effort, which lasted from 2011 until this year, was to take these smart kids and give them a different peer group and a challenging program at the gifted center in the city's West End, so "it would give them a different message about their future," Dalton says.  
The trouble was, she reports, "the kids weren't coming here often enough to expect a change" in their grades. Now the effort is aiming higher, she says, with after-school programs already having impacts on attendance and grades. This "Focus on Attendance" initiative kicked off in the 2012-13 school year. A school outreach specialist was hired for two district K-8 schools, working with staff as well as with 170 kids who missed too much school. The specialists involved the kids' families as well, and saw improved attendance as a result. The district also is emphasizing getting kids registered for kindergarten on time, making certain these children get on track from the very beginning of school.
DHS is now working with and sharing data with nine districts. "The relationships we're making between service providers and schools is really invaluable," says Murphy.
"We were among the first" to share data between the child-welfare office and school districts, notes Dalton. "Now, it's like, if you're not doing it, why aren't you working on that?"
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Erin Dalton and Samantha Murphy, Department of Human Services

Students all over Pittsburgh design mobile apps at Winchester Thurston's App Lab

Mobile App Lab, Winchester Thurston's after-school app-designing class, has now expanded to allow high-school students from any school in the area to participate.
The program began in 2010 at the Shadyside school and focuses on teaching programming for mobile devices. "Many students have them and, if they don't, they see them in action," says program head David Nassar. "It's a real and tangible use of computer science today. All businesses are trying to create an app for their business. Even poets are creating poetry apps. Computer science is pervasive and I like to show the students that."
Students, who come from as close as Pittsburgh Obama or as far away as Quaker Valley and Mars, are expected to bring their knowledge back to their own schools. "We really want to bring computer science education to the forefront of people's minds in Pittsburgh and the larger area," says Nassar. Students who have already taken the course are acting as mentors, helping to teach current kids.
Students design lots of games, of course, but also some simple productivity apps, such as unit converters, and also work on painting and drawing programs. They come in with little to no programming knowledge and design apps they can complete in seven weeks.
"The students have come up with some pretty wild ideas," Nassar says. "It's exciting to see their creativity take them in directions I wouldn't have thought myself." They don't become full-fledged programmers after this short class, he notes, but it certainly piques their interest. "Students who hadn't even realized computer science might be something they would be excited about – they realize it."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: David Nassar, Winchester Thurston

Green Schools Academy wants kids' green projects through November

Pittsburgh has turned last year's international green community-service day for local students into a two-month-long Green Schools Academy, and organizers at Green Building Alliance say they already have 1,661 kids, school officials and community members doing 22 projects created by 10 schools alongside representatives from local green agencies and businesses.
"Last year was a really great success," says the Alliance's Jenna Cramer, vice president of the Academy. "This is a great way to reach more people and talk about health and high-performing schools. It has allowed us to increase the number of projects and people involved."
The Academy kicked off in mid-September with projects such as Garden Day at the Environmental Charter School in Regent Square, Grow Pittsburgh's garden workshop at Pittsburgh Faison K-5 in Homewood, ALCOSAN's Eco-Mural lessons at Manchester Academy Charter School and others.
Projects coming up include talks on the benefits of native plants, school energy audits, green community tours, writing projects, local home repair efforts, community gardens, the creation of a worm bin for specialized composting, harvest festivals, and many more.
Other schools involved include Pittsburgh Langley K-8, Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8, Pittsburgh Perry High School, Spectrum Charter School, Kentucky Avenue School, Barrett Elementary School in the Steel Valley School District and Northwestern Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy in Erie.
"We want to make sure all schools provide healthy, safe and high-performing learning environments," says Cramer. That includes using the fewest resources possible, enhancing their environmental and sustainability education (which helps increase students' civic engagement and career preparation) and providing a healthy learning environment – from ensuring healthy indoor air quality and food to employing green cleaning and school gardens.
Create more projects and sign up for Green School Academy participation here
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jenna Cramer, Green Building Alliance

Still don't know about Heinz House after-school activities? Come to Community Day

Are all the after-school offerings at the Sarah Heinz House still unknown to a large part of Pittsburgh? Janice Wasson, its director of development and marketing, thinks too many people are unaware of these ultra-affordable, fun activities, costing just $25 for an entire year.
That's why the Heinz House on the North Side, home to the area's Boys and Girls Clubs of America, is holding its semi-annual free Community Day on September 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Heinz House will throw open its doors for potential members to check out the facilities and meet the staff.
Kids (accompanied by an adult, of course) should bring sneakers and a swimsuit and towel if they want to enjoy the gym or pool, along with refreshments and arts and crafts, a bounce house, balloon animals, face painting and more.
"Parents depend on us," Wasson notes, since the House is open from 3 to 9 p.m. on weekdays. "There is something for every child here," from first graders to 18-year-olds.
Kids must attend two Heinz House sessions when they first join -- a gym and swim class and a life skills class to promote social and emotional learning and cultural awareness. Then they are free to take advantage of more offerings in gymnastics, swimming, dance, and robotics, to name a few. They can also take part in the sports league and teen leadership development program, which involves performing community work and attending local and national conferences.
A meal and snack are also provided at no cost to kids in the program. They can learn to undertake peer-to-peer mentoring and coaching of younger kids, and have the chance to get paid part-time jobs, such as helping in the café and the pool.
Heinz House also offers swimming, gymnastics and dance for preschoolers and is open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays for adults to use the fitness area and pool. 
"There's something for everybody here," Wasson says. "We want them to come away thinking it's a great place for kids, it's a safe place for kids, and … we seek to build good citizens. We truly believe that Sarah Heinz House has a way of affecting each child in a very personal way."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Janice Wasson, Sarah Heinz House

Teacher feedback helps kids succeed in school

Teacher evaluations have always been crucial for Pittsburgh Public Schools, but now they will actually be useful, says a new report by A+ Schools.
Amy Scott, director of research and data analysis for A+, the nonprofit advocate for Pittsburgh school improvement, says the district and its teachers union have been collaborating for nearly five years on a new teacher evaluation system that takes best evaluation practices into account. They examined what evaluation methods held up over time and across evaluations, actually measuring the right factors and helping teachers improve. 
The new system uses a mix of classroom observations, student growth data (including, but not limited to, test results) and student surveys of teachers to assess teacher performance. A state law, Act 82, which takes effect this fall, mandates that teacher evaluations be based 50 percent on classroom observations and 50 percent on student outcomes. "Pittsburgh has specifically created a model that tries to take into consideration its student population," controlling for each student's family-income level, special education or gifted student status and other factors, Scott notes.
Teachers will be given ratings of distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or failing. Those in the latter two categories will need to take part in a performance improvement plan. Any teacher with a second "needs improvement" within a decade of the first such rating may be subject to district action.
Pittsburgh teachers got their first evaluation scores this year, which will give them a year to improve their practice, if needed. Scott believes the district is the only one in the state to act ahead of time. Eighty-five percent of city teachers were in the distinguished or proficient categories, she says, and 15 percent fell into the needs improvement or failing categories. Act 82 calls for principal evaluations in 2014-15.
The evaluation system is still "not perfect," Scott allows, so the district and union "should continue to work hard on improving the system so it can be more meaningful, so our teachers can continue to help our students succeed. The journey is not ended yet."

As the report concludes: "PPS should track the extent to which teachers find feedback from multiple measures helpful and actionable for improving their practice and create mechanisms to adjust feedback accordingly."
"The evaluation is really a teacher improvement system," Scott adds, and should lead to teachers participating in more professional development courses and workshops and prompt them to view helpful online videos, seek extra feedback and generally work toward increasing their effectiveness. "We see that as very promising – especially because what matters the most here are our students and their outcomes."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Amy Scott, director of research and data analysis for A+ Schools

Remember middle school? Wish you had someone looking out for you?

Middle school can be a difficult time for many kids, says Damon Bethea, mentoring projects director for United Way of Allegheny County. There are "a number of challenges: Getting used to the different environment. Juggling a schedule with different teachers. Wanting to be accepted, and dealing with bullying. Not to mention that physically, emotionally and mentally you're changing and questioning who you are in the world.
"It helps kids to feel supported by somebody who is outside a mom, dad, uncle or grandmother," he adds.
That's why United Way's Be a Sixth Grade Mentor program is expanding to include seventh and eighth grades and is now called Be a Middle School Mentor.
The program also now includes 12 Pittsburgh Public Schools, adding Pittsburgh Manchester, Pittsburgh Milliones/University Prep, Pittsburgh Obama and Pittsburgh Westinghouse this year, and plans to serve 460 students. Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, Communities in Schools, Mt. Ararat Community Activity Center and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh match mentors and mentees.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, in evaluating the program's first two years (2009-2011), found that participating students nearly doubled their chances of qualifying for the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship offered in the district.
The program will be recruiting new mentors through the end of November for the 2013-14 school year. The main focus of mentoring is helping kids with their careers and other aspirations. But the mentoring program also helps them do well academically, including encouraging regular attendance. Meeting with their students at lunchtime or after school, mentors aid kids in talking to teachers and creating study plans. They also advise students on what type of college or training program they might need to meet their goals.
"Anybody can do this," Bethea says, "but you have to have the commitment and the understanding that you may not see results from your mentoring for years to come – but know that you are planting seeds in the life of this young person."
Mentors, he adds, are "someone who feels that they have a lot to give to a student … or people who just have a passion about their community and want to help." 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Damon Bethea, United Way of Allegheny County

Bus stop, wet day, let's try WORD PLAY

Waiting is one of the toughest things for kids to do. WORD PLAY, a new bus stop game from The Fred Rogers Company, aims to make it fun and educational instead.
The game, for toddlers to first graders, was conceived as one way to help kids learn in informal situations. "It also sprang from a song, 'Why Don't We Think of Something To Do While We're Waiting,' a song Fred Rogers sang," says Margy Whitmer, WORD PLAY project manager and media producer at The Fred Rogers Company.
WORD PLAY was piloted last year. It used posters sporting simple pictures and words at bus stops, asking parents to text for questions to discuss with their kids, such as, "How many words start with the letter J, three or five?"
Finding an unsatisfying response to that approach, Whitmer's company used this year's game posters to present questions and activities right on the colorful posters themselves.
Talking and reading to kids leads to an increase in their vocabularies, helping them get ready to be successful in school, Whitmer says. "Learning is easier for them, so life is easier for them," she says.
The game also encourages the child and parent to create together. "One of the keys to good social and emotional development is the ability to develop relationships," she notes. Parents are encouraged to take photos or videos of the game in action; a Facebook page and Twitter hashtags will also be provided on the September and October posters. The August poster is available at bus stops now.
The Fred Rogers Company is working today with libraries and community groups to tell parents about the program. "My fantasy," says Whitmer, "is that cities do this everywhere. It seems so simple to me. When you learn something organically in the context of the relationship or when it us really important to you, then you really learn it."
Learn more about the new WORD PLAY here.
Funding for WORD PLAY has been provided by the Sprout Fund, The Grable Foundation and The James F. McCandless Charitable Trust.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Margy Whitmer, The Fred Rogers Company

Hive releases its first grants for kids' connected learning

Hive Pittsburgh has made its first three grants to programs for tweens to young adults, all aimed at promoting connected learning: the idea that kids learn better when they are genuinely interested in a subject, work with peers and connect with the larger community.
STARTup SOMETHING, featured in Kidsburgh, received $10,000 to take participating teens to local tech start-ups, pairing them with mentors and teaching them about entrepreneurship and the perseverance needed to make such companies successful. It's a project of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh.
STARTup SOMETHING was chosen because it helps with local workforce development efforts, says Ryan Coon, program officer at The Sprout Fund, which administers the Hive, and because it expands the mentor pool for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Another recipient of $10,000, the Avonworth Pittsburgh Galleries, was chosen because "it put a lot of leadership and management responsibility in the hands of the kids," he says, "and for the community connections to galleries and museums and other strong cultural assets we have in the city."
For this project, Avonworth High School kids will manage the art exhibition spaces on their campuses. Curators from the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Carnegie Museum of Art, Toonseum and the Mattress Factory will be the students' mentors during the school year, helping them create exhibits in tune with the partnering museums. The project will culminate with an art show by participants.
The final grant of $15,000 went to Power Up Homewood, which The Andy Warhol Museum has been running for several years. For its Hive program, Power Up will take 8th and 9th grade Westinghouse High School girls to visit the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum, a Homewood event venue and cultural center. From there, the kids will explore their neighborhood's history and current issues and use silk-screening, graphic design, GPS data collection and mapping to form a creative response. The project will be displayed on the Warhol's website, Trolley Station Oral History Center and Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Combining art-making with media-savvy storytelling is "a bridge between the hands-on creativity and the more technical creativity, which is something that was really unique about the project," Coon says.
Sprout will work with Hive grant recipients to connect them with other investors, he adds. "A lot of times what we're investing in is the people behind it," he says of Hive and other Sprout projects. "What we like to do is stay involved with those people and help them become leaders in whatever community they are serving."
Sprout will be documenting each project's progress and telling their stories on the Hive website. Coon believes these projects, and future Hive grants to be announced as early as next month, "can be replicated elsewhere – not just replicated but revised and made unique for every context."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ryan Coon, The Sprout Fund

STEM innovations, all in 7-minute bursts, at STEM Summit

ASSET, which helps school districts throughout the state implement programs for teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects within any type of class, is co-sponsoring the Pittsburgh STEM Summit this year for the first time. Because the summit was instituted by the Pittsburgh Technology Council, ASSET Executive Director Cynthia Pulkowski believes it's a good move for her educational nonprofit.
"We think it's important to get behind organizations like the Tech Council and their work" in developing ways to share tools and promising practices in STEM-focused learning.
The idea behind the Summit is to bring together school districts with businesses, nonprofits and other groups working to make sure local students are ready for college and careers. "Business is such a big stakeholder in the programs school districts are developing for career readiness," Pulkowski notes.
This year's event on Aug. 15 includes two keynote speakers and 14 very quick presentations – all seven minutes long – followed by Q&As, along with opportunities for participants to get to know other local organizations and their leaders.
The morning keynote speaker is Gil Taran, CEO of iCarnegie, a Carnegie Mellon University company that creates new educational and workforce development programs. The afternoon program features Mario Livio, a senior astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and author of multiple books, including most recently Is God A Mathematician?
The brief presentations include:
  • Spooktacular STEAM with Specter Studios, about the Adventures in Technology program, which immerses students in tech business issues
  • Arts & Bots, from The Ellis School, about their use of the Hummingbird Robotics Kit to create interdisciplinary STEAM lessons (involving STEM subjects with the arts added)
  • Bots IQ The Smart Sport, concerning the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association's creation of BotsIQ, a competition where students design and build robots for a gladiator-style contest and learn about associated careers 
"I'll be interested in hearing what everybody says," remarks Pulkowski. "I always look at the Summit as: How can we partner with the other presenters there?"
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Cynthia Pulkowski, ASSET

Pearl Club aims to help urban girls toward their goals, especially college

Tamasia Johnson is a Promise Coach, part of a mentoring program helping Pittsburgh Public School kids take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program. But she thought an extra step was needed to help local girls become Promise-ready.
So Johnson started The Pearl Club as another mentoring resource for young women from Pittsburgh's inner-city neighborhoods.
The program was launched in May for high-school freshmen, sophomores and juniors at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy 6-12 in Oakland and has already grown to include Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 students in Homewood.
"What I'm trying to do is create a sisterhood for young women based on certain values: strength, empowerment and success," says Johnson. The program aims to encourage participants to graduate from high school and attend college. "A lot of young women aren't given a lot of opportunity or are in environments where they can succeed despite their situation.
"We just don't go in front of a group of students and say, 'This is what college is like,'" she says of Pearl Club sessions. "We're in the room presenting them with ways to solve problems. We give girls a mentor and we also focus on setting a goal." Each girl then posts her goal on the Pearl Club blog and tracks its progress there.
Club members, Johnson says, "learn together, build together and build trust. That's a support system that college women need and women need throughout their lives."
The Pearl Club will hold its first public event, called “The Pearl Club presents … Promise-ready Pearls, that’s the goal!” on August 17 at the Squirrel Hill branch of Carnegie Library to show girls of all ages the club’s fundamentals and opportunities.
Johnson hopes this fall to expand from the current 22 students in two schools to include meeting sites at two local churches. In the meantime, she is very pleased with the local response: "It's actually taken off faster than I thought it would!"
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Tamasia Johnson, The Pearl Club

Patrick Dowd takes kid advocacy experience to Allies For Children

The region has gained a new children's advocacy group but lost a city councilman.
Patrick Dowd will resign in July from elected office after 10 years on the school board and council to become executive director of Allies For Children, a new public-policy advocate for children.
While it already has funding from the Heinz Endowments, The Grable Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation, the local United Way and others, Dowd called it "a start up" at the announcement on June 17. "I think we have an office; I don't know if we have a phone," he said. "I don't even know if we have a bank account."
From temporary offices in the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, the group will work across the state on the health, education and well-being of children – "all their basic needs," said interim President Martha W. Isler. While anchoring the western part of the state, she added, Allies For Children will team with partner organizations here, in central Pennsylvania and in the Philadelphia area to push local and state governments to act on a variety of kids' issues.
Locally, Allies For Children will join with such organizations as the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. PAEYC's leader, Michelle Figlar, seemed very pleased with the new group's role in creating better government access and influence. "Building relationships with the grass roots and the grass tops is the key to success," she said. "Our collective and amplified voice can now advocate with all public officials."
In Dowd, said Pittsburgh Foundation Senior Program Officer Kevin Jenkins, "we believe we did find the person who ... is going to be able to do good things in the public policy arena."
"I am eager to be able to listen to you, to learn from you and to collaborate with you," Dowd told the crowd. "There is a real urgency to this work," Dowd added. In a region with 250,000 kids, 1 in 6 lives in poverty and nearly 1 in 2 is in a low-income household, forcing them to start life with a deficit.
"You will see Pittsburgh held up across the nation as a model," he concluded, "where people will say, 'Yes, that is the place where they are doing the most …'"
The group may be contacted here.
Writer: Marty Levine

Custom dog collars and photos: winning businesses for Entrepreneuring Youth

Two teenage entrepreneurs split nearly $3,000 in prize money from the finals of the George W. Tippins Business Plan Competition here June 6 – and one of them is headed to New York City in October to compete for a $25,000 prize.
The winner of the Up-Start division for younger high-school students, Derica Sanchez of Urban Pathways Charter School downtown, pitched a business designing custom dog collars, beating out more than a dozen other students earlier in May's semi-finals.
"Derica is a quiet, responsible young lady who in the end revealed a greater depth of ability and talent for marketing than I would have expected for someone so young in her career," says Jerry Cozewith, head of the local nonprofit Entrepreneuring Youth, which sponsored the contest and preparatory programs educating kids about business success in Allegheny and several other local counties. "The judges were impressed by the prototypes of her products. She had a firm grasp on the competitive edge she needed to go forward."
Besides winning $1,200, she'll be attending the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition this month as a guest of Entrepreneuring Youth, and Cozewith expects her to be back next year to compete in the Start-Up division for older high schoolers.
There, the $1,500 top winner was Meghan Boboige, founder of Meg’s Photo Booth, which
sells her own and custom-commissioned photographs printed in high resolution on canvas. She was in the eleventh grade in Moon Area High School this year.
Meghan will be competing in the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship business plan competition this fall, where last year's Tippins Start-Up winners, teens Jesse and Joziah Council of Beaver Area High School, took their line of all-natural skin-care products to New York and were runners up, winning $5,000.
Says Cozewith: "Meghan clearly had a quality product and understood the limitation of her business, so she had a very strong grasp of what her product was, what her business is, and the opportunity to grow it. She was very, very confident in her presentation."
In general, he adds, most kids only know the world of business from a consumer angle. Entrepreneuring Youth will be working over the summer to teach Meghan more about inventory, taking orders and other skills needed to make her idea work in the real world.
"Her fundamentals are strong, but we really need to get her thinking about the future, where the opportunities are, and what the costs and resources are," he says. "She'll be up against kids with more experience. We'll find someone in the photography business who can really speak to the world and really steel her to do a great job in New York."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jerry Cozewith, president, Entrepreneuring Youth

Make learning challenges your own through Remake Learning research fellowship

Remake Learning – headquarters for learning innovation news and programs of the Kids+Creativity Network – is offering two new fellowship opportunities for emerging researchers, technologists, scholars, writers, educators, practitioners and others. The Sprout Fund's two 2013-2014 Remake Learning Fellowships offer $15,000 (a $10,000 stipend and $5,000 for project support) to those with fresh research proposals in the area of connected learning, with a deadline of 5 p.m., June 14 (and an application available here).
Connected learning emphasizes students taking a personal interest in a subject, learning with their peers and still getting the academics needed to life, school and career. In places such as Assemble, the makeshop space in Garfield, students are there because they want to be, and they are working alongside and with other kid who have the same interests. "When young people are contributing, sharing, giving advice to each other … in a social setting, that creates a better experience," says Sprout's Program Officer for Engagement and Collaboration Dustin Stiver. "There is a sense of collegiality, if it's not just an older, didactic model of 'sage on a stage.'"
Next, they may be inspired by this informal learning and seek other classes or opportunities elsewhere in Pittsburgh. "Their interest really drives the academics," Stiver notes. "We're interested in looking at how that learning happens."
Sprout suggests three types of projects as possible proposals. You might want to investigate how and why kids traverse the cultural/learning landscape in Pittsburgh from one arts/learning venue to the next. Or you might chart how good digital citizenship – kids creating their identities online and curating who they are in digital media – stays healthy or turns into a bad experience, such as cyberbullying. Alternatively, you may wish to show how connected learning bridges from informal to formal learning settings.
You don't have to have an academic background to apply, says Stiver. "We're interested in taking the theory of connected learning and putting it in practice."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Dustin Stiver, The Sprout Fund

Questyinz 2.0 launches with new quests and new ways for kids to take part

Kids love being sent on journeys to get answers and solve puzzles, so the Allegheny County Library Association's online game Questyinz will be back June 1 with all new quests for children in grades K-5 to undertake this summer. The game is designed not only to promote literacy but to motivate kids to want to read.
Kristin Rama, the Association's youth services coordinator, says the game sent 2,741 kids last year on an average of five quests, involving 10 questions each, and they spent 2.5 million minutes reading to get to the end of their searches. In 17 categories, from math or science and nature to "Around the World," "Pittsburgh" and "My Neighborhood," each quest's queries prompted the kids to seek answers by completing real-world activities, asking questions of adults and looking up items in libraries and on the Internet to earn points and badges.
With funding from the Grable and Benedum foundations, the Association has devised all new quests this year and focused on adding other new features to help kids be even more successful in maintaining and developing their learning skills over the summer. One new feature is an online quest journal in which the kids can bookmark their favorite questions and quests. "With this age group, they're not big note takers," says Rama, "so it's nice for them to print something out and take it into the library." Or just to have someplace of their own to keep and examine the materials online.
This year the Association's mascot, the Reading Creature, will also be able to send "RC Mail" emails to kids, telling them they did a great job or earned a special badge, allowing the libraries to interact with kids and keep them motivated. A new "Read to Me" button lets the younger kids ask for the game to be read aloud to them.
Kids can now also add their own questions to Questyinz for other kids to answer, although these questions are not part of any specific quests.
The Association is continuing to partner with the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to develop the quests, which allow students to interact with these organizations. But Questyinz's developers are also hoping that schools see the impact of the program and how it might be used in their own classrooms. They believe that teachers will be interested in helping to devise quests that will promote skills that will help them in fall classrooms.
The overall goal, says Rama, is "to teach kids how to be lifelong learners and pursue what interests them. It models how you can go about pursuing your interests and go through your own quests in your mind, and it may even lead to kids being interested in certain careers."
Kids can start their game by picking up a Questyinz game card at their local library.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Kristin Rama, Allegheny County Library Association

International travel dreams come true for kids via World Affairs Council

The World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh will once again be sending a dozen local high-school juniors to as many countries on immersive trips that are "hugely transformative – it's an experience that transforms their experience of the world," says Annie M. Prucey, the Council's vice president and director of education programs.
The Global Travel Scholarship Program, in its 10th year, chose student from among 74 teacher-nominated applicants students who best demonstrated a passion for travelling and learning about the world, as well as maturity, leadership ability, school achievement and a need for the program.
"We want to make this opportunity available to students who wouldn't have the opportunity to go abroad," says Prucey.
Students from Pittsburgh Perry, Carrick and Brashear high schools, Pittsburgh Sci Tech Academy, and Penn Hills, South Side Area, McKeesport, Cornell and Ringgold high schools, as well as Winchester Thurston and Sewickley Academy, were chosen for three- to five-week trips this summer to Spain, Japan, Argentina, Botswana, Korea, China, South Africa, Morocco, Tanzania, Peru, Costa Rica and Italy. The program is devised by The Experiment in International Living, a program of World Learning.
The World Affairs Council provides pre-departure orientation and leadership training as well as the scholarship, which pays for everything but incidental student costs, such as souvenirs.
Prucey labels the trips "a total immersion," in which students stay with a family in their country, often performing community service, taking language training and completing projects in the arts or the environment. The idea, she says, is for the travelers to become part of the community, learning how to interact with the rest of the world – how to cross ethnic, linguistic and other boundaries outside, and later inside, the United States. "They really become close and it creates a lifelong connection to that part of the world."
Traveling with two adult group leaders trained to facilitate the experience and other American high school kids, the Pittsburgh students also bond with peers from all over the country.
Prucey has seen program participants become more competitive for college entry and gain more appreciation for what they have in this country, because of the lack of resources they often encounter in other places.
"But they are surprised by how much we have in common with people from other countries," she says. "I have seen tremendous growth, a lot more independence and I have seen them set their sights higher."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Annie M. Prucey, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh

Catching kids early may inspire climate change action, careers

Doctoral students in Carnegie Mellon University's department of engineering and public policy are giving back to the community – and aiming to teach climate change and inspire science careers – through SUCCEED, a free summer camp.
SUCCEED (SUmmer Center for Climate, Energy and Environmental Decision-making) is a five-day program at CMU for 9th grade students, this year run by doctoral students Paul Welle and Frauke Hoss.
"An army of Ph.D. students," says Welle, will give students a taste of their research pursuits, but the campers will also undertake many hands-on activities and field trips. They will visit coal-fired and nuclear power plants; the Carnegie Museum of Natural History; CMU's electric vehicle lab; and CMU's intelligent workspace, or "the office room of the future," as Welle labels it, with computers controlling the lights, temperature and other aspects to make it ultra-efficient.
They'll conduct a variety of experiments as well, including building wind turbines of different designs to see which is the most efficient and which might be a source of better energy systems in the future. "We don't want to bring them here just to give them more school," Welle says.
Beyond learning about climate change, he adds, "we hope the kids get to see what science is really like [and] to see what this type of science is. We really want to introduce them to what it would be like to have a science-related career. Hopefully they'll be excited. They're young enough where they're still making up their minds. Hopefully we'll be able to help them make a decision."
Applications, due June 1, are available here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Paul Welle, SUCCEED

Youth Invasion at the Warhol kicks off Hive Days of Summer

Hoping to create a buzz about the new Hive Learning Network, the Sprout Fund is kicking off the Hive Days of Summer at the Warhol Youth Invasion on May 3.
The Hive Learning Network in Pittsburgh, launched recently, provides funding, connections and support for groups with ideas for creating new learning and creativity opportunities for teens. Hive Days of Summer represents a summer-long campaign of partnerships with local groups that already have such programs, while the Hive has already accepted its first round of proposals for new programs to roll out later this summer and fall.
At the Warhol Youth Invasion at the Warhol Museum, more than 350 teens will be presenting a night of art, performance, music, dance, fashion and hands-on learning and creativity. The activities include: silkscreen printing and collage in the Warhol Studio; performances by Hip Hop on L.O.C.K.; the Internet Petting Zoo created by Assemble and teen committee members; a fashion show featuring designs by youth participants; LED jewelry and textile design by Invent-abling; and a dance party featuring youth DJs.
Through August 3, the Hive Days of Summer will then coordinate more than 20 activities, such as camps and workshops, with the aim of making summer learning more mobile, digital, collaborative, creative and connected, says Ryan Coon, Sprout program officer. It is "a way to blanket our city with these events so that people get familiar with the Hive," he says, and "a way to look at summer learning programs in a different way."
Other partners for Hive Days of Summer include the Labs@CLP (Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh) where teens will be offered workshops and other activities centered on Web and media making, Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. for their summer music and leadership workshops, Pittsburgh International Children's Festival and others.
"We'll be holding the door open a bit for opportunities if people want to join the campaign," he adds. The Days of Summer will end this August with a Hive pop-up event organized by the Sprout Fund to bring together all the partner organizations and youth who have been involved so far.
"It's just the beginning," Coon says, with Sprout accepting funding requests in June and August. "This is a running start to kicking off the programming all year long."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ryan Coon, The Sprout Fund

Screenwriting contest adds to high-school short fiction, poetry competition from Carnegie Library

Leah Durand is excited about what she'll be able to read in this year's Ralph Munn Creative Writing Contest for grades 9 through 12 at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
"Last year there were these amazing short stories that were well developed," says Durand, the contest chair who works at the Library's downtown branch. "The scenes were well developed and the characters were well developed, and you were really wondering what would happen next."
And, she adds, "What might this person come up with next year?"
May 1 is the deadline for entries in this anonymously judged competition, which is in its fifth year and was named for the library system’s director from 1928 through 1964. The categories this year are short prose, poetry and screenwriting; first prize in each category is $250 and second is $100. Entrants will be invited to a red carpet event on Aug 1, at which the winners in each category will be announced. Their work and selected works of other contestants will be published in the 2013 Ralph Munn Creative Writing Anthology, which will be given to the published teens and placed in all area libraries.
Some of the rules are new this year, says Durand. Entrants can submit only one work per category this year – two were allowed last year – and the teens themselves must submit their work. Previously, teachers could enter for their students.
Screenwriting is a new category this year, replacing nonfiction and graphic novels, which had been contest categories in previous years. The libraries are still offering a few writing workshops in April to help teens prepare for the contest.
Durand says she is happy if this contest introduces them to the process of writing: "It's just nice to read all the entries and see kids excited about writing. The hope is that they will work on their writing skills and that they're being supported."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Leah Durand, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

'Waterplay' at Children's Museum gets fun revamp, keeps serious purpose

Museum exhibits have a life expectancy of five to 10 years, says Anne Fullenkamp, associate director of museum experiences at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and their Waterplay exhibit was "well-loved" enough to warrant a revamp. A new Waterplay opens on April 27 with nearly 20 fresh hands-on components.
"We looked at this as an opportunity to rethink the concept of the exhibit," Fullenkamp explains.
"We wanted people to be aware of how much water they use. Once you use your water it's gone. It's not just this magic stuff that comes out of the faucet."
Making that concept clear for kids, she adds, is particularly important here, since Pittsburgh seems to be surrounded by water's endless flow.
When Waterplay was originally installed with the museum's expansion in 2004, the room contained standing basins of water in the center. Now kids will have to work to get the water into a waterwheel that feeds the rest of the room's exhibits. They'll need to use foot or hand pumps as well as buckets to get the water elsewhere in the room.
"It is a big change from what people are used to," Fullenkamp says. "But we've tried to create different zones where people really can get wet, and other options where they can do quieter activities" – and drier ones.
The waterwheel looks like wheels that can be seen in many an old farm or pond, but the water actually flows out of its central hub and, when kids pump it, the water returns there. Then it will flow into the beginning of the channel system that goes around the room, in which kids can float items, and ends at the spot where kids can build dams.
Other parts of the new exhibit will foster additional experimentation. A five-foot diameter table with shaved ice will encourage kids to mold the frozen water into sculptures and see how the LED lights embedded in the table pass through water in this form. A water vortex, resembling a drain, will constantly flow in a two-foot tall clear cylinder, into which kids can place objects to see how the objects react; they can also plug the bottom of the vortex to see how the water accumulates. A water wall, six feet long and four feet high, will have moveable magnets impeding the otherwise constant flow in different ways.
In revising the Waterplay exhibit, the museum also wanted to make the room more changeable, including the artwork inside of it. Waterplay will now feature the Rain Meander by Pennsylvania artist Stacy Levy. It is a 14-foot long snake-like shallow trough, eight feet off the ground and eight inches in diameter, with a hole every two inches to make it rain beneath. While this is a permanent part of the exhibit, other art will change throughout the year. The first such display will be 19 glass and ceramic insects by Joan Danzinger, viewable until November. From one to six feet long, they will be scattered along the Waterplay room's 16-foot high walls.
"We really hope that all of the kids will look at water differently and will appreciate how water is used," Fullenkamp says. "We're creating an experience where kids can play, but we really want to start conversations  … about how important water is in our lives. We're really excited to ask the visitors to be the active participants, the instigators, of a lot of the exhibits."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Anne Fullenkamp, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

What do kids bring to the table for solving childhood hunger?

Holly McGraw-Turkovic has spent April visiting local schools to teach kids about childhood hunger. As director of youth programs at Pittsburgh Cares, she has been using the national program called What Will You Bring to the Table? to teach them about the food problems they can see around them and those that may be invisible.
"They learn that when people depend on food banks they don't get the things we take for granted," she says. She has already taken the program to South Allegheny Middle School, Woodland Hills Junior High and West Mifflin Area Middle School, and is slated to bring it next to Propel Braddock Hills High School and Academy Charter School.
Participating kids experience educational games that illustrate how they can their time, talents and money toward the elimination of this problem. Some of the activities are designed to create empathy and illustrate the unequal distribution of wealth in the world, such as one in which one group is given a large bowl overflowing with snacks, another group is given just enough snacks for each person to enjoy a single choice and a third group is not given enough even for that.
The kids also hear guest speakers from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, then construct and paint a specially provided picnic table that will serve as a permanent location for, and reminder of, the school's anti-hunger project -- the last step in the program. One group's project is a "Birthday in a bag" drive, creating food-bank packages that contain cake mix and other supplies to help people celebrate family members' special occasions. Another group created "Pie a teacher to feed a child": For the donation of a canned good or a dollar, kids in their school will get to hit a teacher with a pie. Another school's "Can the principal" aims to fill their principal's office with canned goods to donate to their local food pantry, while a fourth group has simply set their collection goal at 1,000 pounds of food for a food bank.
McGraw-Turkovic says the program has been effective in bringing the issue of childhood hunger to the fore for these school children. "The kids describe experiences with friends and neighbors who are experiencing hunger," she says, "so they are definitely taking it personally and they are definitely taking it seriously."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Holly McGraw-Turkovic, Pittsburgh Cares

How do we reach fathers for greater school, home involvement?

What began for Anwan Wesley with the creation of Fatherhood magazine in Pittsburgh in 2006 for young and expecting urban fathers has evolved into a nonprofit called the Street Ministry Institute, reaching an increasing number of fathers and their kids in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas.
"We're trying to find innovative ways to get these men involved and stay involved," says Wesley, of East Liberty. "There are stereotypes of how fathers should be, and some of the men shy away from them, thinking it will make them look weak. A lot of these guys were in need of encouragement. That's what the magazine was always for -- to open people up."
Many of Wesley's Institute efforts use sports as the both the draw and the model for the father/son relationship. "When the men see their kids excelling at athletics, they want to be a part of it," he says. "That's a bridge they can cross. Then we try to transfer that into the schools."
Fathers and sons can join in his Steel City Thunder basketball teams for 3rd and 4th graders, 5th and 6th graders and 7th and 8th graders, as well as NFL Youth Flag Football for 2nd-12th grades and a baseball program as well. The fathers and team coaches also get involved in their children's school at the same time -- as a school coach should, he says.
Club D.A.D. (Doing it All Day) in the schools uses sports to encourage academic achievement. "My big thing is being accountable for what you learn -- because when game day comes you're going to have to [use] it," Wesley says.

"The same accountability we transfer over to schools," with fathers visiting classrooms or participating in parent-teacher conferences. "The presence of the father in the classroom is going to make the difference," because he can act as a kind of classroom coach. "If I show up in school and expect you to be doing this and this and you're not doing it, there are going to be consequences. Kids respond like they do on the basketball court -- but at the end of the day, they see their value rise, because their teachers are sending home good reports."
The Institute is also working with Homewood Renaissance Association on a sports-themed STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, teaching sports-themed STEM academics at the African American Music Institute and the YMCA in Homewood. "We're trying to open our kids' eyes to other opportunities around sports," he explains, such as being a sports lawyer, doctor, trainer or agent.
The Institute also has an arts initiative and donates socks each December to a nursing home in Homewood. On Father's Day, June 16, it will hold its largest annual program, a Father's Day Cookout at Mellon for the seventh year.
"There are other programs we will unveil in the coming months to rebuild the relationship between the child and the father," Wesley says. "We can't be everything to the kids if the parents are acting [badly]. There's a lot of broken homes. The only way to fix that is to get to the common ground -- the kid and his best interest."
He also hopes the cookout will be the beginning of his own push against violence in the community. "There's been too much gun violence," he says. "The violence [prevention], it starts with us. If we're not there, that's when violence and chaos consume the family. If you're quiet, it's like you're being held hostage by your own people."
In the end, it's Wesley's three sons who keep him dedicated to this cause, he says. "I see a lot of potential in them. I know their potential won't be realized if I don't do what I've got to do and make a path for them. Knowing that they don't know how great they are makes me go harder.
"I've got a daughter on the way," he adds, "and I believe the Lord is going to take me to another level."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Anwan Wesley, Street Ministry Institute

Six poets, one van, many miles, perhaps even some rhyming …

You could think of Line Assembly as a band without roadies, amps or indeed music -- just lyrics. Or lyricism.
Member Zachary Harris, for one, hopes the group won't have to sleep in the van.
Line Assembly is six former Carnegie Mellon University classmates who are about to spent July touring the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and New England, offering poetry readings and poetry programs to libraries, reading series and other spots that will have them. Harris's fellow student Ben Pelhan started the group.
"We had all attended Carnegie Mellon together and started writing together," from 2005-2007, says Harris, who now teaches poetry at the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts 6-12 (CAPA) downtown. "We all sort of scattered everywhere, and Ben wanted to bring us all back together because it seemed to work well when we were undergraduates."
So the poetry tour evolved, with the goal of "supporting poetry and wanting people to engage with poetry."
They called themselves the "Pittsburghists" at first but, Harris says, "we were looking for a name that would signify not only what we were trying to do, but … with many of our bookings through the rust belt area, we were casting about for names that reflected Pittsburgh." So they decided on a reversal of "assembly line":  "something that would reflect where we're going and where we came from."
"We're just going to be this roving poetry vehicle, going from town to town, taking engagements," he muses. "Between the six of us, we have experience with everyone from little kids to old people. The idea is to be responsive to what the libraries need." Concurrently, the group will book venues to read from their own works, "trying to move some books and build an audience."
Besides conducting workshops with a variety of writing exercises, they will try to publicize the need for public arts education funding and the formation of arts communities by performing “People Against Poetry,” acting out the roles of anti-poetry advocates.??
So what's the demand for poetry out there? "One of the things we're trying to illustrate is that there is a desire for poetry programming, and that people have a desire for poetry in their lives," he says. "We're confident that this exists, and we're also counting on the project to reveal it."
Since their Kickstarter campaign began, they've gotten "pretty overwhelming and kind of surprising" responses from people and organizations who want to book them, he adds, from Lancaster, Penn., to New York City.
The other members of the group are Adam Atkinson, Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, Anne Marie Rooney and S.E. Smith.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Zacchary Harris, Line Assembly

Assemble for a party (and learn about biodiversity while you're at it)

Just as with any party, you're invited to drop by or stay for the entire Biodiversity Learning Party at Assemble in Garfield on April 10, 4:30-7:30 p.m.
Unlike most parties, however, you'll likely come away with less gossip but more brain cells, and it's an evening for all ages.
"It's almost like a science fair," says Assemble founder Nina Marie Barbuto, "where we have different experts presenting their expertise and offering hands-on activities."
These experts include everyone from college students talking about their academic concentrations to representatives of local companies and "straight-up geeks whose expertise has nothing to do with their jobs," Barbuto says. The biodiversity party will feature presenters from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Tree Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh biology department. Also manning and womanning tables at the event will be reps from Digital Dream Labs, which teaches computer programming to children by using play to link physical and digital spaces, and Tara Rockaway and Heather Mallak, whose Digital Salad mixes art, tech, and education about farming to create educational experiences that are both interactive and edible.
Learning party themes this year have been mapping and music/sound, and future ones will be centered on robots and energy.
"It's our goal to provide access to knowledge" -- and to make it "attainable and digestible," Barbuto says. "It should be real fun, and we always have free healthy snacks."
Her hopes for the party, she says, "start with just having the word 'biodiversity' as part of your vocabulary and seeing how this affects the world around you." Ideally, she adds, the younger attendees will emerge thinking, "I'm interested in nutrition but I never knew this had to do with biodiversity," or "Maybe I can be a scientist."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Nina Marie Barbuto, Assemble

"Small Talks," big substance for public at children's museum conference

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is hosting 1,000 international visitors for a kids' museum conference April 30-May 2, but their program presents a great opportunity for educators and other Pittsburghers to hear what museum officials are calling "a day of inspiration and innovation, peppered with artists, musicians and big thinkers."
The conference, InterActivity 2013: Reimagining Children's Museums, at the Wyndham Grand Hotel downtown, starts with a day of "Small Talks," 18-minute presentations from performers and pioneers in the education and electronic media fields that "is going to be a really fast-paced day … to spark ideas and make meaningful conversations about what these artists and thought leaders are doing," says Jessica Bowser, lead liaison for the Museum's host committee.
Among the day's speakers will be Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, which posits that most of the big ideas are already out there, and it's how you combine them that matters, plus The Click Moment, about taking advantage of opportunities in the business world. On the list of local presenters is Luis von Ahn, the crowdsourcing expert who invented the CAPTCHA, which prevents a lot of spam today. "He also is trying to help figure out how big groups of people can narrow down their ideas," says Bowser.
Also appearing will be Vanessa German of Homewood's Love Front Porch neighborhood art project; Rory Cooper, Distinguished Professor and scientist at the University of Pittsburgh and co-director of the Quality of Life Technology Center Testbed Systems, who works to improve assistive technologies for those with disabilities; Maria Rosario Jackson, senior advisor to the Arts and Culture Program at The Kresge Foundation; Shane J. Lopez, the world’s leading researcher on hope and author of Making Hope Happen; and more.
Through April 10, local educators can purchase a ticket to the day of "Small Talks" for nearly half price, or purchase the day of more traditional conference sessions on May 1 at a discount as well, and receive credit hours for that latter date. Those purchasing one-day tickets can also add a ticket to hear keynote speaker Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other books.
The day of "Small Talks" may also be purchased individually by other members of the public.
"It will be very fun to host our peers from across the country and the world," says Bowser of the conference. Children's Museum of Pittsburgh officials will be particularly interested to see how other museums have adapted their innovative MakeShop space, which has increased museum visitor numbers and how long they stay.
"One of the questions we're trying to answer is, what will it be like to experience a children's museum in the [rest of] the 21st century?" Bowser says. "Is there going to be more virtual experiences wth technology? We need to make sure we're building an environment that is fun and educational and culturally stimulating."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jessica Bowser, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

Hey kids: 'It's an Antiques Roadshow for your own ideas and inventions'

If your kids want to know what their invention (or just their idea) could become, or want to know how to invent something, get ideas how to proceed or what materials to try -- the April 6 Invention Convention from WQED is their ticket. And it's free.
WQED is teaming with Inventionland in Blawnox and WGBH in Boston's Design Squad Nation program to create what QED Executive Director of Educational Partnerships Jennifer Stancil calls "a new gem in Pittsburgh.
"Kids in fifth through eighth grades will have a day where they will be able to bring in an invention for one of Inventionland's team to comment on and coach them on what that could become," she adds. "It's an Antiques Roadshow for their own ideas and inventions. If they don't bring inventions there will be all kinds of fun things to play with and do." Held at Inventionland, the day will feature invention stations, invention challenges and displays that demonstrate to kids how the world has been changed by inventions.
Whether kids want to invent a new game, sport, toy or helpful object, the Invention Convention website contains resources to help them along, including a questionnaire ("What is it that I really want to make?") and a challenges to help them use found objects for inventions.
Sign up now, Stancil urges, in the morning or afternoon time slot, because the spaces are filling up fast.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jennifer Stancil, WQED

Get your kid's school to sign up for free school supplies

The Education Partnership's three-year effort to give school supplies to schools where students lack even the basics is more necessary than ever.
"We're seeing kids coming to school with nothing," says the Partnership's Program Manager Andrea Zimmer, who oversees the free school-supply application process. "It's really setting them apart from their peers [socially] and putting them at a disadvantage compared to their peers."
From pens, pencils, glue sticks and notebooks and to reams of copy paper, the free-supply list is large, and it can be replenished once during the year. At schools' requests, the Partnership has also supplied such things as tee shirts, granola bars (with the help of General Mills and Giant Eagle) and incentive items for students, such as art supplies.
"At the end of this year's program, we'll have distributed 150,000 pencils," notes Zimmer. "I think that shows both the impact of this program and the need in the schools."
Applications for the 2013-14 school year are now available here. Schools in Allegheny and four surrounding counties -- Beaver, Butler, Washington, Westmoreland -- are eligible if at least 70 percent of their students receive a free or reduced-price lunch. That covers 100 schools in the five-county region, Zimmer says. Previous recipients are still eligible, but they must apply again. The deadline is midnight on March 22.
The Partnership will notify 20 selected schools in June and distribute the student supplies during an in-school distribution event in December.
"If a student's parent cannot afford to provide a lunch, it's unlikely that they will be able to provide all the school supplies that are necessary," Zimmer adds. Teachers on average spend $1,200 a year to supply their own classrooms and students, but that's an unsustainable situation. "We're trying to step in there and fill in that gap. And we're hearing very great results."  Children can concentrate on schoolwork without wondering how they can correct their notes or a test answer without an eraser, she says.
She urges schools that aren't familiar with the program to stop in to the Partnership office to learn more, or to call her at 412-922-6500. The group accepts donations, too, she adds.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Andrea Zimmer, The Education Partnership

Teacher development, healthy eating app, more coming from Early Learning Environment

A year after the Early Learning Environment website debuted from the Fred Rogers Center, it is poised to grow with new activities, directions and apps.
The Rogers Center and the "ELE" focus on children's media for kids through five years old, and digital media-based learning in particular. Too often in years past, notes Michael Robb, the Center's director of education and research, parents and other caregivers had thought of such media as mere babysitters.
"We try to encourage caregivers of young children to think about digital media learning more like they'd think of books … [and] think of digital media as a word-rich experience," Robb says. "That's time you spend having a conversation with your child and having fun with your child. The more language children in the early years hear and are exposed to, it has pretty substantial impact on their early literacy and school success."
The ELE offers caregivers multiple fun learning activities for kids: some best for home use, others for the classroom; some for adults to lead or teach, others for kids to undertake on their own. About 40,000 visitors from all 50 states and around the world have used the free site, while its 1,200 registered users are able to post and comment on the site and create their own curated sets of activities to send to fellow caregivers or fellow moms and dads.
Among the most popular activities are several Rogers Center-designed game apps -- Alien Assignment, Everyday Grooves and Home Superhero -- as well as finger-play videos by Reading is Fundamental and nursery rhyme videos by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, called Rhyme Time. Since debuting, the site has added new literacy-boosting activities that also focus on health-science topics.
"We're always looking to increase the number of quality offerings," says Robb.
Set to be released officially next week is a new app. Go NiNi, in which kids can help NiNi eat the right foods in the right quantities to run, play and maintain her active and healthy life. Kids will steer Nini toward Go Foods (those recommended for everyday eating) but not as many Slow Foods (those to eat in moderation) and the fewest Whoa Foods (all that junk we love to consume).
Next, Robb reports, ELE hopes to put in place more activities based on STEAM topics (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics), and more Spanish-language content. In the near future, the ELE will be starting professional development activities in the region for teachers as well as family and other childcare providers around digital media technology.
Do Good:
Searching for more ways to help kids learn? Get involved with the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Michael Robb, the Fred Rogers Center

Digital cosmos, tissue engineering, nanotech, CSI for bugs: SciTechDays at Science Center

There's still room for teachers to sign up their classes for the March SciTechDays at the Carnegie Science Center -- or for educators to explore them with the chance to sign up for November's versions.
Aimed at middle- and high-school kids, the SciTechDays are focused on "getting kids excited about all these different careers in STEM," says Linda Ortenzo, director of STEM Programs (science, technology, engineering and math). "The whole idea behind it is to connect students with STEM professionals in a real fun and productive way."
Universities and companies from FedEx Ground to PPG, U.S. Steel, Chevron, Consol and others set up hands-on activities in biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, advanced materials and other areas that relate to possible careers in the Pittsburgh area. There are always 2,000 unfilled STEM-related jobs across this region, Ortenzo says, because kids aren't aware of what sort of schooling they need to prepare for STEM careers.
Kids who come to SciTechDays, she says, will be able to answer the questions: "'What's it take to work in robotics? What's it take to be a biotechnologist? How cool is it to be in tissue engineering and what does it take to do that?' It's a very exciting and energizing time for everybody, the kids and the teachers."
Each day offers a variety of sessions for the teachers to assign their kids, including a "new frontier" presentation for gifted and advanced students. The next middle-school days, March 5-6, and the next high-school days, March 7-8, feature sessions on "Creating the Digital Cosmos," "CSI Bugs, Bodies ...and Bananas?" "If a Salamander Can Grow New Limbs, Why Can’t People? Tissue Engineering Workshop" and others.
March 9 is a SciTechDay open to public, on the theme Math+Science=Success, with programs applicable to the full grade range of K-12.
Teachers wishing to register their classes should call 412-237-3400, extension 7.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Linda Ortenzo, SciTechDays

Tour Your Future gives girls glimpses of STEM careers -- and hands-on experience

On Feb. 23 at AE Works, the East End design and building firm, a group of Pittsburgh girls ages 10-14 spent a day off from school touring the business, questioning women architects and engineers about their work and trying some hands-on tasks relevant to these careers.
It was all part of Tour Your Future, just one aspect of the Carnegie Science Center program called Can*Teen Career Exploration.
The program, says Nina Marie Barbuto, who runs the Girls' Math+Science Partnership in the Center, "is a lot of DIY science and making science relevant to kids."
Created in 2010, Can*Teen is now undergoing an expansion of its reach and efforts, allowing young girls (and boys online) to explore careers related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in a variety of ways. Can*Teen centers on a series of STEM-focused challenges, which teach girls how to isolate and extract DNA from a piece of spinach, make their own camera, create a water filtration device, discover the science behind how magic markers work, and make bones less breakable -- by making them more bendable..
Barbuto's team is in the midst of sending interactive Can*Teen CDs to 2,500 middle-school librarians from here to Guam who have discovered Can*Teen, thanks to assistance from Motorola and the American Library Association. Can*Teen also has summer camps at the Science Center called "Livin' It," on June 24-28 and July 15-19 for girls 13-14 and on July 8-12 for girls 8-10, with each day lasting 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
For kids who want to try the Can*Teen challenges at home, instructions are available on the program's Website. The program is also developing a social media app for girls can contact selected women mentors at other times.
The next Tour Your Future date is March 2, when participants will meet the Girls of Steel, a robot designing and building team at CMU composed of 24 girls from 12 different schools. Future dates, scheduled through April 27, include days at TruFit Solutions, Alcosan, ModCloth, FutureDerm, Duquesne University, Carnegie Mellon University, Westinghouse and GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution).
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Nina Marie Barbuto, Can*Teen

MacArthur's half million-dollar grant helps Sprout create educational Hive

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation came to Pittsburgh on Feb. 8 to deliver half a million dollars to the Sprout Fund to create a new, experimental "Hive" network of educational resources for tweens and teens -- and to deliver the message that Pittsburgh is already a model for the nation.
"You guys are already networked," said Jennifer Humke, MacArthur program officer, "and that's exactly why MacArthur is investing in Pittsburgh. We see Pittsburgh as an ideal example for growing connected-learning systems ... We're going to be looking to you to help develop the tools and evidence to keep this movement going."
The Pittsburgh Hive Learning Network won't have specific programs or a focus dictated by MacArthur; nor will it have a physical space. Instead, it will bring together schools and after-school programs, museums and child-focused agencies, well-established organizations and young researchers to encourage fresh partnerships and new ways of serving kids 11 and older. The intention is to encourage innovative ideas and collaborations by linking local people who may never have worked together or even met before -- but certainly ought to -- and to provide funding to get projects started.
"We're really looking forward to seeing good projects for tweens and teens, specifically around digital media, making, and STEAM [science, technology, engineering, the arts and math] learning," said Ryan Coon, spokesperson for Sprout's Spark Program, after the announcement. Spark administers Pittsburgh's Kids+Creativity Network -- a kind of Hive for younger kids that was established three years ago.
"It's more of a support structure to bring the many disparate organizations that are doing or thinking of bringing about programs for teens and tweens into a cooperative network," said Coon of the Hive. "It's like Kids+Creativity writ large."
The Hive will roll out through this spring. On Feb. 22, the Hive will hold a funding workshop to describe projects that will qualify for funding -- projects similar in size and focus to those Spark now funds, at the intersection of digital media, the arts and education, Coon said. The first application deadline will be in April, with another round of funding slated for the summer. The Hive will officially launch in May.
The only other Hives in the nation are in New York City and Chicago. "What MacArthur saw in Pittsburgh was a region that was already behaving in multidisciplinary, cross-sector ways," Coon added. "We're really pleased to be recognized. It was a lot of people working hard for the last five years." In particular, Humke credited Sprout Executive Director Cathy Lewis Long and Deputy Director Matt Hannigan, as well as Grable Foundation Executive Director Gregg Behr.
Behr and the Benedum Foundation's Vice President James Denova introduced the Kids+Creativity Network to 400 people gathered at Carnegie Mellon University and paved the way for the Hive announcement. Denova noted that creating "a renaissance of wonder" for young people in our region "demands fresh thinking on our part to prepare them for futures we can't yet imagine."
Concluded Sprout's Cathy Lewis Long: "A robust learning ecosystem is developing in the Pittsburgh area … and we're propelling ourselves into a national conversation."
Writer: Marty Levine

It's a beautiful blog in the neighborhood

The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media has started a blog "to expand the dialogue on the potential of digital media to support early learning and development," as the first entry notes.
"The blog is the next step in work that we've been doing for more than three years," says the Rogers Center's Executive Director Rita Catalano: trying to provide guidance to parents and media creators, educators and researchers, about what represents quality children's media and what is best for them.
The Rogers Center had already created a "Framework for Quality" to spur the dialog, but Catalano hopes the blog will "promote some new thinking" on the subject.
Among the regulars will be two Rogers Center Fellows Daniel Anderson, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, who researches the effects of adult background television on infants and toddlers, and Alice Wilder, chief content officer at Speakaboos, a children's website that encourages reading and literacy.

Beginning next week, Wilder and Carla E. Fisher, the founder, game designer and researcher at No Crusts Interactive, will present videos showing kids and adults using media products to an expert panel for comment. "It's meant to model how people think about quality when people use an app or other digital media product," Catalano says.  
Guest bloggers will vary from week to week. One of the early entries was by Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, and Michael H. Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, about their new report from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making, will write about the potential of media to help with child development.
Child is still hoping to get more public commentary, "but we've seen people sharing it on their social media, so I'm hopeful this means we will continue to build an audience for it."

Do Good:
Looking for an additional way to join the conversation about kids and learning? Join the conversation at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Rita Catalano, Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media

New teacher tech playground and idea generator: AIU's transformED

Teachers need a place to learn through playing and exploring, just like their students -- and a place to exchange ideas outside their classrooms and even their districts.
That's the theory behind a new space dubbed "transformED" at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's central office in Homestead. The AIU provides specialized education services to 42 districts and their 119,300 students, and its transformED is a new spot where "teachers will have the opportunity to come and play and utilize whatever form of technology will help them take ideas back to the classroom," says Jennifer Beagan, senior program director for teaching and learning.
TransformED, opening Feb. 6, is part of the AIU's Center for Creativity, which was designed "to create a go-to place for teachers, where they can really come and learn how you integrate creativity across disciplines," says Rosanne Javorsky, assistant executive director for teaching and learning.
For this kind of professional development, says Javorsky, "teachers wanted a physical space different from our traditional spaces in school. And they wanted some professional support that was really more hands-on discovery education" of the variety that works so well for their students. "We believe there is no space like this dedicated to teachers in the country" -- and certainly there is none like it in the region, she adds.
Inside its bright red walls, transformED is set up to allow multiple activities at the same time. Explains Javorsky: "The space is designed for interaction and for people to feel comfortable. It has a coffee-shop feel."
The opening coincides with national Digital Learning Day, and will offer demonstrations representing workshops and other sessions that teachers can enjoy at transformED. Educators will be able to gain experience with a 3D printer and the interactive-video software Scratch. Hummingbird Robots will help teachers assist their students in robot design and provide technical skills applicable to teaching multiple classroom subjects. A Gigapan camera, which takes 3,000 photos and stitches them together for panoramic views, will aid both science and art teachers.
Some of transformED's features will also be decidedly low tech, such as an area dedicated to design thinking -- a kind of strategic planning method that helps with idea generation.
Javorsky says the AIU has been concerned that, with the emphasis on test preparation in schools, "'drill and kill' is really taking the motivation out of learning." She hopes the new "TransformED is an opportunity for teachers to learn from each other."
TransformED was funded by a $218,000 grant from the Grable Foundation.
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Jennifer Beagan, Rosanne Javorsky, Sarah McCluan, Allegheny Intermediate Unit

ASSET brings statewide STEM expertise to free conference here

ASSET STEM Education, the South Side nonprofit that has helped school districts across the state implement hands-on curricula for science, technology, engineering and math learning, is holding its first, free STEM conference downtown on Feb. 18. Its aim, says ASSET Executive Director Cynthia Pulkowski, "is really to help people identify where their school districts are on the STEM continuum and decide where they want to go to. They'll be able to discover resources and practices to improve the STEM education at their schools."
With 75 school districts and universities already signed up -- not to mention representatives from nonprofit agencies, businesses, state government and elsewhere -- there's not much room left to register for spots, she says.
ASSET is teaming with the Norwin School District to bring the conference to the Convention Center, featuring keynote speakers David Burns, director of STEM innovation networks for the Columbus, Ohio R & D company Battelle and Dewayne Rideout, vice president of human resources for All-Clad Metalcrafters in Canonsburg. Burns will offer a national perspective on STEM education, while Rideoout will speak about teaming with several school districts' students to work on new products for the company.
Among the 22 breakout sessions are:
  • Charting Your Course to a Successful STEM School/Program, with four ASSET officials describing the best practices of a model STEM program using a national rubric;
  • Several sessions focusing on STEAM, which incorporates the arts into STEM, with representatives from Propel Schools and the Pine-Richland School District;
  • Next Generation Science Standards and STEM, led by representatives of the Math and Science Collaborative at Allegheny Intermediate Unit; and
  • Supporting STEM Education through Common Core, focusing on new, more rigorous state standards now being required of students.
"Teachers need to identify where the possibilities lie for their students in careers," says Pulkowski. To help, ASSET is also creating a STEM career database for schools to investigate possibilities for internships, mentoring programs and classroom visitors.
Conference-goers, she says, "will walk away with pieces they can go ahead and apply in their schools. I hope they can say, 'OK, I have a place to start.' I just want them to have some actual resources and some good planning."
Do Good:
Looking for additional ways to help local education? Contribute to the work of The Education Partnership in supplying classrooms with needed materials.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Cynthia Pulkowski, ASSET STEM Education

Why aren't anti-bullying programs working for all kids? First Safe Schools Summit seeks answer

Betty Hill has been puzzled when local schools and foundations report that their anti-bullying programs are working, yet she still hears so often from LGBT students that they're being bullied.
"There's something wrong here," says Hill, director of Persad, which runs many programs for LGBT youth. "There's a disconnect that [schools] are not seeing. We want to get people involved and we want to get solutions. We can't just leave behind this whole group of LGBT kids who are not benefitting" from local anti-bullying efforts.
That's why Persad is teaming with local chapters of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) and other organizations to hold a Safe Schools Summit -- the first of a three-part effort to bring local resources to bear on this continuing problem. The summit will be held in the Lexus Club at PNC Park on Jan. 16.
Nationally, GLSEN has been studying the school climate for LGBT kids for two decades. Their latest survey from 2011, just released, found that 90 percent of LGBT students say they have been verbally harassed, 39 percent physically harassed and 18 percent assaulted in the previous year due to their sexual orientation. Sixty percent report that they feel unsafe in school.
Bringing local experts on LGBT issues together with educators will attempt to bridge the gap between general anti-bullying approaches and the needs of LGBT youth. Part of the effort will include conducting the first comprehensive research on the local school climate.
The summit will feature national speakers from the Trevor Project (an LGBT youth suicide-prevention hotline), GLSEN, and PFLAG, as well as local school bullying research findings presented by Laura Crothers and Jered Kolbert of Duquesne University.
Apparently, says Hill, "kids do not label the negative things done against gay kids as bullying. So they don't use their anti-bullying skills because they don't see the anti-gay things as bullying." Finding out why this goes on, and what to do about it, is the goal of the Summit, whose third part she expects to be later this year. It will include a series of a focus groups with area students, parents, educators, and LGBT community-service groups to discuss local research and ways to proceed from here.
Do Good:
Looking for another way to help LGBT youth? Volunteer at the local Gay and Lesbian Community Center.
Writer: Marty Levine 
Source: Betty Hill, Persad

Hive Pittsburgh -- get details and help finalize this tween/teen program at Kids+Creativity Assembly

Spark's Kids+Creativity Network is ready to gather the troops, review its recent accomplishments and introduce new plans for growth -- including an attempt to establish only the third Hive program in the country, after New York and Chicago.
The Assembly will be Nov. 30, from 2 to 4 p.m. at The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, and you can register here.
Spark, a program of The Sprout Fund, brings together and funds learning-program creation at the intersection of technology, media and the arts. Hive, says Spark spokesperson Ryan Coon, is developing into a national collection of regional learning networks supported by the MacArthur and Mozilla foundations. "It's a lot like Spark, in that it creates a supportive structure for different organizations working together" to create new learning opportunities for kids, Coon explains. Hives usually have the city's larger, more prominent kid-focused groups as members, such as libraries and museums, as members, as well as smaller organizations and individual researchers.
If Hive arrives, it will offer everything from new funding opportunities to fresh ways to spread the word about new learning ideas, focusing on middle- and high-school-age students and allowing Spark to go back to focusing on children ages 10 and below. The Hive would also likely attract new funding to the region.
Besides gathering member ideas for the Hive, the Kids+Creativity Network Assembly will feature other working sessions on future activities, including one that covers Connected Learning -- the idea that the three areas of children's lives (their social lives, their personal interests and their academics) connect and shouldn't be separated. In fact, says Coon, "Connected Learning is a way of creating an environment where kids are learning anywhere, anytime," and it is also one focus of the Hive.
Other talks at the event include speakers from the Museum's MAKEShop and from the Science Learning Activation Lab at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center.
The Assembly, concludes Coon, will create "recognition among the members of the Kids+Creativity Network of all we've accomplished over the past year and will reenergize the network as we begin to launch new activities in 2013."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ryan Coon, Spark

'Rough year' for city students, reports A+ Schools, but bright spots remain

"It was a rough year," acknowledges Carey Harris, head of A+ Schools, about their eighth annual assessment of Pittsburgh Public Schools' status. "After six years of progress, we took a step back on almost every indicator we look at."
The report, on the 2011-12 school year, shows that:
  • District enrollment fell by 1,052 to 24,918 students
  • The graduation rate fell from 70 percent to 68.5 percent
  • The percentage of seniors who earned the 2.5 or higher GPA necessary to qualify for the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fell 1 percent to 58 percent, with 39 percent of black students qualifying (a drop of 4 percent) and 77 percent of white students qualifying (the same rate as the previous year)
Linda Lane, PPS superintendent, announced at the report's release that, for 2012-13, enrollment has stabilized -- even seeing an uptick in kindergartens -- and the district is retaining more students for graduation. And, as Harris points out, "this challenge is shared by public schools across the state," which in general experienced some of the same declines.
But most concerning for Harris is a drop in the district's ability to close the achievement gap between black and white students after three years of improvement. The gap increased 1.3 percent to 31.9 percent in reading and 3.6 percent to 30.9 percent in math --the largest the gap seen in four years.
"There's a lot of anxiety about what's happening that contributes to this," she says, with school closings and massive teacher layoffs among them. A+ Schools is offering parents and school officials the chance to request a workshop about particular schools -- and a chance for community members to volunteer to be a part of A+'s new effort for 2012-13: interviewing every district school principal. (Sign up to volunteer here.)
"We're still better off than we were six years ago," Harris says, with the district's 6-8th grade and 11th-grade reading at higher levels than the state, a 1-percent increase in the number of students enrolled in one or more AP courses and a greater percentage of district schools with little or no achievement gap in reading.
"We know it can be done and that schools right here in the district are doing it," she adds. "We need to provide kids with all the supports they need to reach the standards."
Become a volunteer for the future of Pittsburgh schools with Communities in Schools.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Carey Harris, A+ Schools

Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference showcases the best of the region, broadens audience

Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC) has always been about the best ways to teach kids using the latest tech innovations. But this year organizers are aiming to get even more kids and more people outside the teaching profession involved.
Students from Winchester Thurston School and the South Fayette School District will lead pre-conference workshops on app development and the computer language Scratch, while pre-conference keynoter Brian Waniewski, from the Institute of Play in New York City, will talk about its model for learning.
According to TRETC organizer Justin Driscoll of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, last year the conference attracted representatives of 100 school districts, while this year the event hopes to add more attendees from nonprofits and higher education institutions.
"TRETC showcases the best of the region and pulls in national presenters as well," says Norton Gusky, another TRETC organizers, allowing participants to see "what are some of the great things that are happening in our region -- the innovations that at the same time reflect national and global trends." The 2012 conference is set for Nov. 13-14 at The Regional Learning Alliance in Marshall Township.
Collaborations with other local groups will bring to TRETC such new features as the Spark Creativity Zone, highlighting some of the local projects at the intersection of the arts and technology supported by The Sprout Fund's Spark program. Other TRETC collaborative partners include the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Senator John Heinz History Center and Carnegie Science Center.

The keynote address by internationally renowned educator Gary Stager, says Gusky, "will force people to think about what it means to integrate technology into education. We need to think about what doesn't work. We need to challenge ourselves, and Gary does that."
Colorado teacher Aaron Sams, who is now living in Pittsburgh, will present his work creating Flipping the Classroom, a movement to have students do homework as part of classroom instruction and save the traditional class activities, such as listening to lectures, for their homework.
TRETC's Digital Playground will include a specially designed MAKEshop from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. "It will let people play with new technologies," says Gusky, "so people can see this whole world of building, making and tinkering and see what this has to do with learning: How do you engage learners and give them the tools … to make something new?"
He adds that, without existing efforts in Pittsburgh to combine arts, teaching and technology, TRETC would not be possible.
"Part of why this is happening is because of what the Kids + Creativity movement started," Gusky concludes. "Without the Kids + Creativity movement, we wouldn't see the kinds of collaborations we're seeing today."
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Norton Gusky and Justin Driscoll, TRETC

More than 3,800 Promise scholarships later, seeking more students to serve

The Pittsburgh Promise has completed its fourth year of awarding scholarships to Pittsburgh Public high-school graduates with a clear sense of accomplishment and "a ton more to do," says Executive Director Saleem Ghubril.
PPS now has a completion rate of 71 percent, up from 63 percent in 2007 (the year before the Promise began). The immediate goal remains to graduate 85 percent, which would exceed the national rate of 70.5 percent, and Pennsylvania's 79 percent average -- although Ghubril cautions that high schools across the state are only now standardizing how they count graduation rates. Some previously weren't counting those who left in 9th, 10th or 11th grade, for instance, but only those who started and completed their senior years.
So far, 59 percent of the scholarships have gone to girls and 41 percent to boys, while whites have received 53 percent while blacks have received 41 percent, with the remainder going to others. The Promise announced an effort to further diversify the recipient pool by attracting more Latino families to a city notoriously low in diversity. Immigrant-focused VibrantPittsburgh is leading this effort, with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development promoting the local jobs picture and the Urban Redevelopment Authority offering a guide to local affordable housing. Another new initiative to promote the $40,000 Promise scholarship is adding informative placards to area homes' "For Sale" signs, cluing non-city residents in to the opportunity that comes with moving here.
The Promise also introduced its first class of Executive Scholarship recipients. These scholarships for the highest-achieving high-schoolers come with the sponsorship of local corporations and nonprofits, representing an effort to connect students with prominent local organizations to increase student access to jobs and community involvement.
The Promise also reported that it helped increase retention rates 9 to 18 percent in schools with Promise Scholars, according to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center.
Overall, the Promise, say Ghubril, is "bearing fruit [although] we were building the plane as we were flying it. I feel remarkably good about [being] four years into it. I can, with integrity, say we are fulfilling the Promise."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Saleem Ghubril, Pittsburgh Promise

More bugs, leaves and 'kitchen creations' for more kids at Phipps this fall

"If children aren't interested in botany or ecology," says Science Education Coordinator Christie Lawry of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, "or if they don't know they're interested, we hope they get hooked through art or food and those sorts of science-y topics."
The means for getting them hooked? Phipps' new collection of fall educational programs, including an expanded line-up of activities for 6- to 9-year-olds to go along with their programs for the youngest learners: 2- to 3-year-olds.
Akin to brief versions of summer camp, Lawry says, the fall camps "teach kids that there are things they can do on their own and with their families. We hope they can foster interest among their families" in nature and science as well.
The Friday evening "Ed-ventures" for 6- to 9-year-olds begin Oct. 5 and include "Kitchen Creations," "Art Party," "A Night in the Tropics," "Conservation Investigation," "Deserts and Healthy Desserts," and "Creepy Night Crawlers." Sessions for the youngest kids continue Nov. 16 through May 17. For these youngsters, Lawry says, "the topics we use are fairly simple," covering colors, the senses or counting, and allowing the tots to touch fuzzy or spiky plants, taste plant products (that is, fruit), and experience other parts of nature in a similar manner, in sessions called Little Sprouts Single Servings.

There are also "Celebrate! Fall Harvest" sessions for several younger age groups on Oct. 13, and "Celebrate! The Holidays" for the same groups on Dec. 15, while older kids can enjoy "Celebrate! Fitness at Phipps" on Nov. 10.
Some of the mini-camps are held in Phipps' Tropical Forest, others in its new classrooms in the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, but all use the Conservatory for scavenger hunts, to collect items for crafting, and other uses.
"We have more and more opportunities as the years go by," Lawry says, "and we are always looking for input about what the public wants from us."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Christie Lawry, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Pittsburgh-linked classical with electronica composer among 5 Heinz Awardees

Composer Mason Bates says that learning he was among five recipients of the 2012 Heinz Awards was a complete surprise. "I got an email saying that Teresa Heinz wanted to speak with me, and I was totally bowled over," Bates reports. "I'm grateful there are still some foundations out there that provide support to individual artists."
Bates, currently composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was the 2012-2013 Composer of the Year of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He is known for combining electronica with classical compositions and working as composer and DJ through his project Mercury Soul, which brings a combination of both types of music to clubs and other venues. He is just 35, and one of the youngest recipients of the no-strings-attached $250,000 prize, which began in 1993. The Heinz Awards, created in memory of U.S. Sen. John Heinz, will be given out during a private ceremony on Oct. 11.
Other winners in 2012 are:
  • In Environment: Richard J. Jackson, a pediatrician and once-controversial researcher into the health impact of community design on children, whose ideas have since been vindicated; he is the host of the public television series, Designing Healthy Communities.
  • In Human Condition: University of Maryland-Baltimore County Professor Freeman Hrabowski, who created a scholarship and mentoring program for African-American men interested in math and science, turning his university into one of the country’s leading producers of black graduates who later earn STEM-related doctorates;
  • In Public Policy: K.C. Golden, who focuses on creating policies for "sustainable prosperity" that reduce pollution and promote clean energy;
  • In Technology, the Economy and Employment: Jay Keasling, who has been instrumental in making the production of a crucial anti-malarial drug possible, and is now working on biofuel production.
What will they do with their prizes? Mason Bates, for one, is a much in-demand composer, but life can get in the way, what with two kids and a house he labels a fixer-upper. "It's still a scary thing to be a freelance composer in 2012," he says. Although he may buy some studio equipment, with the prize, "I'm definitely appreciative of something that can help [the kids'] educational future.
"The main thing," he says, "is that it will buy a bit of security for us and allow me to focus on my music."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Mason Bates

'Artifacts of the Future' highlight first in new Education, Creativity+Tech series

In the future, the job description of a doctor may not include diagnosis -- and that could be an improvement for health-care practitioners, says Gabriel Harp, research manager for Technology Horizons at San Francisco's Institute for the Future. Harp is bringing his vision, and the research to back it up, to the first of the 2012-13 Education, Creativity + Technology Speaker Series, iCON-Edu -- a program of the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Creative Technology Network. 
"We don't do predictions," Harp cautions. "We try to create scenarios and alternatives." Nonetheless, Harp has spent the past year working with California colleges to "look at what are some of the big forces … that are causing change," he says, and what changes to industries, from media to agriculture, retail to health care, will affect our need for STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) and the future career paths that will reflect those changes.
One of those changes will be in "big data," as he puts it -- the massive amounts of information collected and shared for analysis. Doctors, for instance, may actually enjoy the challenge of diagnosis, but as accurate diagnosis requires more and more data being collected beforehand, "it is ripe for a certain amount of automation," Harp says. In the future created by this scenario, nurse practitioners may be the ones with more time to access and process all this data -- and so they may need the education to handle the task.
The new courses these Nurse Practitioners will need, as well as their job descriptions and the devices they will handle, are all Artifacts of the Future that Harp will present as part of his talk in Pittsburgh.
The other presentations in the iCON-Edu series will be:
  • New Visions for Play + Education on Nov. 14, 2012, as part of the Three Rivers Education Technology Conference;  
  • MAKING Innovation on March 21, 2013 at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center; and
  • Creativity, Innovation + Imagination: The Creativity Post on May 22, 2013 as part of the 2013 Design, Art and Technology Awards (DATA) and Creative Technology Showcase
Pittsburgh, notes Harp, "is a great melting pot, in a way … and Pittsburgh has always been this space where art, design, technology and engineering share a common place."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Gabriel Harp, Institute for the Future

Make Vibrobots or just mess with googly eyes and 3D printers on SparkTruck

SparkTruck has been driving across the country from Stanford University since June 29, the brainchild of six Institute of Design grads (one from Carnegie Mellon University) who realized that arts materials and the tech lessons necessary to use them have been disappearing from schools. They decided to bring these lessons as a thesis project to educators and kids all around the U.S., as well as parents who can use them at home.
This week SparkTruck stops for four days in Pittsburgh and, with the help of WQED, brings what has been dubbed its "fab lab" and "build-mobile" to Oakland and the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.
"We know how big the maker movement is getting in Pittsburgh," says Jennifer Stancil, WQED's executive director of educational partnerships. The materials and lessons of SparkTruck, she says, are at "the innovative intersection between engineering, technology, and creative design." It offers everything from feathers and glue guns to laser cutters and 3D printers, aiming to serve 7- to 13-year-olds and their teachers and parents.
First stop on Sept. 12 is at WQED, where kids from local schools will make Vibrobots or stamps with images or logos related to their schools. On Sept. 13, educators will visit the truck's WQED stop to make similar laser-cut stamps and learn the SparkTruck teaching process.
On Sept. 14, everyone is invited to Schenley Plaza in Oakland from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to take part in WQED-sponsored free building workshops.
Finally, on Sept. 15 at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, there are free SparkTruck tool demonstrations from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a $5 laser-stamp workshop for parent-and-child pairs, for which registration is required.
WQED has been involved in STEAM education -- science, technology, engineering, arts and math -- for a long time through a partnership with the WBGH Boston-created Website, Design Squad Nation , which is rolling out engineering challenges in schools in the spring, and through the recent launch of a year-long school program, Design Lives Here.
"When it comes to STEAM," says Stancil, "WQED is playing a role in making sure that it is alive and well in both the formal and informal educational environments."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jennifer Stancil, WQED

Students and STEM careers: a one-day guide to making it happen

The 2012 Pittsburgh Regional STEM Summit today, Aug. 29, aims to make certain that local companies have well-qualified prospects for highly technical jobs today and in the future.
"It's really about continuing to foster connections between small and large businesses and thought leaders to make the region even more successful," says Lauren Trocano, manager of corporate social responsibility for Bayer Corporation, one of the Summit's sponsors.
That means connecting companies with educational and other programs throughout the region that have devised effective methods of teaching STEM subjects -- science, technology, engineering and math -- to students. Among the many featured presenters in the one-day Summit are:
  • Maureen Pedzwater, career coordinator at South Fayette High School, who will speak about the district's partnerships with regional businesses and other institutions to provide students with real-world STEM-focused projects
  • Erica Clayton Wright, public affairs manager for Kennametal Inc., who will outline the Kennametal Foundation's Young Engineers Program with Greater Latrobe School District.
  • John Radzilowicz, director of the science and education division, and Linda Ortenzo, director of STEM programs, both of the Carnegie Science Center, who will discuss the Center's creation of the Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development
  • Teresa Deflitch, director of Winchester Thurston School's City as Our Campus and Brady Hunsaker of Google, who will talk about their Mobile App Lab, held with students from South Fayette School District, Quaker Valley School District, and Pittsburgh Obama
  • Kristin Rama, youth services coordinator for the Allegheny County Library Association and Gary Gardiner of the Idea Foundry, who will detail the online Questyinz summer learning game developed for K-5 students with support from the Grable Foundation
Keynote speakers for the event are the president of Bayer MaterialScience LLC, Gerald MacCleary and the director of programs from the New Tech Network, Paul Curtis, who will speak about national STEM education progress that might be adapted to this region.
Trocano hopes that attendees can glean "what Bayer has learned through its years of being involved in STEM education and what we're doing that other people can get involved in …"
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Lauren Trocano, Bayer Corporation

Win it all in one prize: season ticket pairs to Steelers, Penguins, PSU and Pitt football, more!

Here's what you can win with one Golden Ticket in the local Junior Achievement's annual raffle, all for the upcoming seasons:
  • A pair of season tickets for the Steelers (starting next month)
  • A pair of season tickets to the Penguins
  • A pair of season tickets to Pitt men's basketball
  • A pair of season tickets to Pitt football
  • A pair of season tickets to Duquesne men's basketball
  • A pair of season tickets to Penn State football (with a parking pass)
  • 10 luxury seat tickets for the Pirates
  • A pair of tickets to the 2013 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championship "Frozen Four"?at the Consol Energy Center
While this is the third year for the Golden Ticket "Ultimate Pittsburgh Sports Fan Package," it just keeps getting bigger, with the Pirates and Frozen Four tickets added this year.
How does JA offer so much to one winner? It's the generosity of board members and other donors, says Sarah Murtha, senior events manager for Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania. The tickets, at $50 each, offer four chances to win the top prize, and only 2,500 tickets at most will be sold. The winning ticket will be the Pennsylvania Lottery Big 4 evening drawing number on Aug. 30.
"We've never sold out," says Murtha, "but we're hoping to sell out this year."
Fifty dollars will support two students through JA in 2012-13, she explains. The youth-development organization teaches children how to work smartly toward their own economic success, with volunteer teachers bringing the JA curriculum to K-12 classrooms. "We really want to expose students to what it means to be successful in your career … and to live economically smart," Murtha says. It offers lessons about everything from credit cards to insurance, including the all-important difference between needs and wants.
These volunteer teachers can be "anyone who is in the world of work," or indeed any adult, she adds, since "we put them through a very good training." Currently, the local branch also has School of Education students from Robert Morris University, LaRoche College and Duquesne University volunteering, as well as high schoolers teaching lower grades.
"They're some of the strongest JA teachers we have," Murtha says. "They can't teach business experience … but they can talk about choosing a college path."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Sarah Murtha, Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania

How Zoe Deschanel's cloying song led to an anti-bullying show by Gab Bonesso and Josh Verbanets

Zoe Deschanel is famous for releasing unbearably cute song videos, but the one she did this past winter with Joseph Gordon-Levitt -- "What Are You Doing New Years Eve?" to mark that holiday -- pushed Josh Verbanets over the edge.
Verbanets, a member of the Pittsburgh band Meeting of Important People (his music can also be heard on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Real World, Jersey Shore and The Ghost Whisperer), had already been opening at clubs for comedian Gab Bonesso and vice versa. So the pair got together for a parody video to allegedly celebrate President's Day: "The Story of a Man Named Honest Abe." Bonesso had never sung on stage before, but there they are, smiling as much as the Hollywood actors and singing sweetly about Lincoln's assassination and his bloody exit wound.
Somehow, after seeing the video, Bonesso's friend in the Montour School District decided that the pair would make great children's performers for an anti-bullying presentation. And The Josh and Gab Show was born. Verbanets wrote garage band songs, fresh takes on the White Stripes' sound and other anti-bullying songs, and "these kids went nuts," Verbanets recalls. He plays guitar and Bonesso uses a small drum set for the interactive musical/comedy program, including songs such as "Everybody Clap Hands," about a way to feel together with your classmates, even though you feel alone.
Verbanets' bands had always worked with student groups, teaming with CAPA High School students for WYEP's Holiday Hootenanny performances and playing the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, Mars High School, and Shady Side Academy's band camp. But the Josh and Gab Show was something different: "I haven't felt that kind of reaction in a long time," he says. "I felt like we were really making a difference. Gab and I started dreaming really big."
The pair have since performed at the Pittsburgh International Children's Festival and have gigs set for the Mount Lebanon and Elizabeth-Forward school districts this fall, as well as a teen workshop at Bricolage theater, and are looking for more opportunities.
Verbanets give a lot of credit to Bonesso for their success - and accessibility. "She is such a good communicator," he says. "She is so likable."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Josh Verbanets, The Josh and Gab Show

Can "activation" work for kids in art/high-tech? Join Spark session to learn more.

'Activation' happens when kids are self-propelled toward learning in science. Kevin Crowley and Christian Schunn have seen it in action.
"Activation is a state that kids can get into, the thing that gives them momentum toward engaging with science, when they have a choice," says Crowley, director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments. "That sort of experience sets up a positive feedback loop where they will look for other opportunities in science as they move forward."
Activation, says Schunn, senior scientist at Pitt's Learning Research and Development Center, "would make the next experience richer and [the child] would be more likely to choose it" on his own, despite "deactivating forces at play" -- such as the distraction of the Internet and the disinterest or disdain of friends.
That's why The Sprout Fund will hold a free Spark Strategy Session on Understanding Learning Activation on July 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Downtown's Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel.

Spark has been funding and nurturing projects for young learners at the intersection of the arts and high tech for several years now. Organizers hope Crowley and Schunn's work on what activates or motivates young science learners can translate to what does the same for students more broadly -- or, as organizers put it, how activation can be applied "to the learning ecosystem in Greater Pittsburgh." The event will involve breakout sessions and small-group discussions.
Crowley says the group will begin to address what will be the optimum educational path for kids growing up in Pittsburgh and how it will change the momentum toward art and high tech learning.
There are many programs already in Pittsburgh whose missions dovetail with this effort, he notes. Without making the "educational ecology" less diverse, the group will try to get a clearer picture of what roles we're all playing in kids' lives.
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Kevin Crowley, University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments, and Christian Schunn, University of Pittsburgh Learning Research and Development Center

Mon Valley high-schoolers release their own school documentaries through Hear Me 101

Students from four Mon Valley school districts spent a year of after-school and weekend time confronting the negative images and real issues head on at their schools, and the results are impressive documentaries, says Jessica Pachuta, project manager for the project, called Hear Me 101, from Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab.
"Each of their school districts is battling some type of negative stereotype, and most of it comes from the media,” says Pachuta. In two of the districts, for instance -- Clairton and Woodland Hills -- the stereotype is “'We’re only good at football and the students fight all the time.' No one is looking at what goes on culturally and socially. The students saw this as an opportunity to talk about this.”
Pachuta is an alum of one of the other districts taking part in the pilot program -- Steel Valley. "It hit home – I know exactly what they’re going through,” she says.
The 80 high schoolers "followed the process of making a documentary like a real documentary filmmaker would,” she says. They worked with the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project at the University of Pittsburgh to help students outline their documentaries, then learned from the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts how to execute most of the production. Two workshops at Pittsburgh Filmmakers helped students look at their schools and communities and decide whom to talk to and what to talk about, then put a video camera in their hands -- many for the first time.
Interviews with the young documentarians can be heard here. The films will debut on July 15 at 6 p.m. at Community College of Allegheny County.
Clairton's doc, Bleed Orange and Black, shows the way students see their community changing and how crime and safety and other issues affect everyone in the community. Steel Valley's The Study of Success takes a local negative -- concern that students from a particular district neighborhood experience low graduation and college entrance rates -- and turned that into a positive message: No matter where you are from, you can’t let it hurt your chances to achieve success.
Woodland Hills students worked on several documentaries, including one on the way positive student-teacher interactions can improve student achievement. And McKeesport students produced three films, including a piece on the function of role models, which made the older students realize that they have to be role models today for the younger kids.
“It was challenging to ask teenagers to take a mature look at themselves and where they come from," says Pachuta. "It is an incredibly vulnerable thing. But they opened up so much."
While the students learned the technical skills of using cameras, audio equipment and lighting, they also learned a lot of interpersonal skills while having to ask tough questions of school administrators and community officials. Pachuta says Hear Me 101 will continue next year with the same school districts: “We started such a great thing here. These kids don’t want to stop talking about these issues.”
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jessica Pachuta, Hear Me 101

Very STEAM-y: AIU's Center for Creativity gives $222,000 to 20 districts' fresh learning approaches

STEM education is still all the rage, but adding the arts to science, technology, engineering and math to make STEAM is catching on.
Locally, the movement just got some help in the form of $222,000 in grants to school districts in Allegheny County (and a few in Washington County) from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Center for Creativity, with money from the Claude Worthington Benedum and Grable foundations.
Adding the arts to the more technical STEM subjects makes a lot of sense when you're pursuing high-tech innovation, says Center for Creativity Director Kelley Beeson, since "technology is the way we get here," Beeson says, "but the arts are where the ideas come from."
The Center for Creativity is a new initiative to bring students and teachers together to try unconventional learning methods, she explains, and that's exactly what the top grants of $20,000, awarded to five districts, are intended to foster.
Allegheny Valley School District, for instance, is using a butterfly garden and bird sanctuary as living outdoor classrooms, working with the Audubon Society, the Rachel Carson Homestead, a landscape architect and others to construct science, math, art and other stations. At Carlynton, they're creating a learning lab to encourage tinkering and making stuff, in the same vein as the MakeShop at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. Carlynton K-6th graders will explore the concepts of building and using machines, such as amusement park rides and different modes of transportation, with the Carnegie Science Center, Carnegie-Mellon University's Robotics Institute, among other local institutions.
Elizabeth-Forward will use full-body kinetic videogames to allowing students' bodies to be a kind of learning environment for STEAM lessons, while the Washington School District will create a Summer STEAM Academy for grades 2-12.
"These projects all share a very similar effort to change the classroom," says Beeson. "Students learn differently and probably more deeply when they're engaged in the learning process -- when they're actually involved in learning."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Kelley Beeson, Center for Creativity

Fred Forward leaps into kids' digital-media future

The latest Fred Forward Conference on June 3-5 -- run by the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College -- drew 160 people from major media companies and early childhood advocacy groups alike. "Just the perfect mix of folks for the discussions," says Rita Catalano, executive director of the Fred Rogers Center. "This was a national conference but it was a great opportunity to showcase the work that is happening in Pittsburgh."
Chief among its topic was the group's “Framework for Quality in Digital Media for Young Children,” two years in the making and still being built. There's so much media out there, but what's worthwhile for the youngest kids, up to 8 years old. Within a month, the Center hopes to take conference-generated ideas and develop them into "a very clear statement of what quality means," says Catalano. Participants also concluded that they need to help create new partnerships among child advocates and kids' media producers and find other opportunities to advance the quality of what's on offer.
Research on the subject, she adds, “is still very new, so we need to keep providing evidence that certain kinds of content, certain uses of content, works for children.” Creators of kids' media, from apps to new television shows, as well as childhood educators, also need new types of professional development.
Keynote speaker at this year's Fred Forward was Jerlean Daniel, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “Jerlean reminded us," Catalano says, "that we need to always remember Fred Rogers’ message of always thinking of the children first.”
Do Good:
Advocate for early childhood education through the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Rita Catalano, Fred Rogers Center

New education-justice video released, aims to affect local school inequities, state budget cuts

“Equal opportunity – that’s the American dream, right?" says Heather Harr, co-director of the Youth Media Advocacy Project (YMAP) at Carlow University. "But in fact the quality of education is different from school to school,” based on the socioeconomics and even the race of the local residents.
With looming state budget cuts in educational funding, students in the Racial Justice Through Human Rights group of the American Friends Service Committee, comprised of teens from public and private, city and suburban schools, have been gathering to talk about the differences they've discovered in everything from their school lunches to SAT preparation opportunities, field trips, lab equipment and lab courses, and extra-curricular activities.
“The students want to get their message out, particularly when there is a debate over funding for the budget cuts. They want leaders to see it …"
So the Racial Justice group contacted YMAP, whose participants are trained to help high-school students learn to navigate the media, thanks to funding from the Heinz Endowments.
The result, thus far, is the five-minute version of Education Justice in Pennsylvania, intended to be a half-hour movie, which the high-schoolers will be finishing over the summer. The film, even in preview form, is an effective vehicle for the students, who interview teachers, education policy advocates and classmates who testify emotionally but forcefully about the reduction in teachers and the closing of schools.
“The resources and the opportunities are very different from school to school,” concludes Harr. “It’s not equal-opportunity education.”
Do Good: 
Stay abreast of the latest Pennsylvania education reform news, and how you can get involved, via the Education Policy Leadership Center.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Heather Harr, Youth Media Advocacy Project

KidsPlay for preschoolers opens at Market Square -- and the Promise celebrates student milestone

KidsPlay is back in Market Square for summer Tuesday mornings, 10-11:30 a.m., through August 21. It’s a free program of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP), and spokesperson Brooke M. Fornalczyk says this year’s arts, safety, cultural and environmental activities for kids and families are even more diverse and interactive than in the previous five years.
Also new this year is the Carnegie Library’s Reading Room, happening at the same time. Kids and their caregivers can step over to the mobile library branch and select a new book for just $1-$2.
Fornalczyk says the PDP expects 2,400-3,000 children and their families over the 12-week program – that’s 200-250 people each Tuesday, so kids visiting from local daycares and homes will have lots of company in the revamped Market Square. The Square offers many eateries, too, of course, and free nearby T rides to the North Shore. It’s what Fornalczyk calls “the centerpiece and jewel of Downtown Pittsburgh … the perfect destination to host KidsPlay.”
If your kids are older, but still kids, you’ll want to help celebrate the success of the Pittsburgh Promise, whose four-year, $40,000 college scholarships for qualified Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) students have now helped 3,200 kids, about 400 of whom have just become the first Promise recipients to graduate from college.
Raising Pittsburgh’s Promise Gala on June 14 will feature keynote speaker Sasha Heinz of the Heinz Endowments, while Igniting The Promise Charity Concert and Dance-A-Thon at Stage AE later that night – lasting until dawn the next morning -- will honor the first Promise-assisted college grads and all the high-school grads with performances by Ashanti, G. Love and Special Sauce, DJ Bonics and DJ Zimmie, ending with a sunrise reggae barbecue.
Both events will be fundraisers, of course, as well as parties. "It is a pinnacle point in the life of the Promise,” says Lauren Bachorski, the organization’s special projects coordinator. "It's an ultimate opportunity for us to thank all our supporters so far."
It’s also a chance, she adds, for the public to realize again how the Promise is encouraging PPS graduates to stay and work in Pittsburgh – and should encourage families to send their kids to PPS for the scholarship opportunity.
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Brooke M. Fornalczyk, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership; Lauren Bachorski, Pittsburgh Promise

iQ Kids Radio puts WQED and Saturday Light Brigade on path to new 24-hour kids' programming

"We think kids and families need an alternative to what is currently available on the radio" all day, says Larry Berger, whose SLB Radio Productions, Inc. produces the long-running Saturday Light Brigade each week. "There really is not a PBS-type approach or a Saturday Light Brigade-type approach that engages children and adults in a way that is fun to listen to, that is educational and informative."
That's why Berger and Jennifer Stancil, WQED's executive director of educational partnerships, will be co-directing a newly announced collaborative effort called iQ Kids Radio, which aims to eventually offer 24 hours of innovative, family-oriented kids' radio programming.
Right now it's an idea whose time has come, says Berger -- and an idea that was chosen this week as the local Junior League's signature project for the next three years. That comes with a $45,000 grant and, even more importantly, Berger says, the expertise and volunteer energy of the several hundred women who are members of League chapter.

Stancil says iQ Kids Radio content will first concentrate on building from the Saturday Light Brigade to fill an entire Saturday of programming, since that's when parents are listening with their kids most often. The collaborative’s early ideas for programming feature storytelling, language lessons, music and children's literature, kitchen chemistry and other areas that attract both kids and parents and help children become successful.
One idea is to adapt PBS television content for the radio, since much of its kids' programming centers on music and songs anyway. "We ask ourselves on a daily basis," she says, "are we maximizing the content we get from PBS to help kids prepare for kindergarten and for life?"
"There's a legacy of high-quality programs," notes Berger. "That really would make a lot of sense listening with your family as you drive, or listening on a smart phone." iQ Kids Radio may end up as an app that families can subscribe to, as a traditional radio service supported by underwriting, or as "something they haven't even thought of yet," he says.
The task, says Stancil, is to figure out what innovative children's radio sounds like and to get it into schools, museums and other venues, as well as homes. In surveys, she adds, WQED has found that parents are particularly uncomfortable picking educational media for their kids. WQED and SLB hope the new iQ Kids Radio puts them, together, in the perfect position to help.

Do Good:
Connect with others via Pittsburgh's Kids+Creativity Network, formulate ideas for iQ Kids Radio, and let WQED or SLB know your best ideas.
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Larry Berger, SLB Radio, and Jennifer Stancil, WQED

Propel kids' winning videos get creative with anti-bullying message

Local schools were challenged back in November by The Marcus L. Ruscitto Charitable Foundation to get creative when it comes to anti-bullying education, and Propel Homestead’s winning effort leads a slate of videos designed to show kids how pervasive bullying is, and how they can start to combat it.
Propel’s video features students speaking directly to their peers about bullying situations that may not be obvious or gain other kids’ attention, such as sending harassing messages via text or social media. This increasingly common bullying method “is less intrusive to others and those who are being bullied … so it's harder to detect,” says foundations spokesperson Jonathan H. Rosenson. “They're trying to raise awareness -- if this is happening to you, tell someone."
The Propel students in the video also display posters with surprising statistics, showing, for instance, that one in four students is bullied during his or her pre-college school career, and "even more surprising, one out of every five students admits to being a bully," Rosenson says. "Almost half of kids are afraid of being harassed while they're in the [school] bathroom.
"We felt this type of approach would be very well received by the other kids in their school district," he adds, earning Propel Homestead the top prize of the day-long “Bullyproofing Your School” program in the fall of 2012, presented by Dr. Adolph Brown. Brown also has his own story to tell of being bullied and finding a solution.
Other winners of $2,000 each were Hyde Elementary in Moon Township School District, Highland Middle School in the Blackhawk district and the Belle Vernon Area High School. Moon’s McCormick Elementary and Penn Trafford Middle School each won $500.
Each of the schools will hold video screenings of the winning submissions and check award presentations at assemblies during the next several weeks.
Do Good:
Need anti-bullying resources at home? Check out the Carnegie Library’s page about teen violence, abuse and bullying page.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jonathan H. Rosenson, The Marcus L. Ruscitto Charitable Foundation

Pittsburgh Promise recipients give back through community service, dance marathon, more

The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fund for Pittsburgh Public Schools students is celebrating its first year of awarding $40,000 to qualified seniors – twice the scholarship level of previous years – with four events across three weekends: community-service days, a career fair, a dance marathon fundraiser and a gala.
First up is the community-service weekend.
On May 31, seniors who are eligible to receive the scholarship and graduate – potentially 1,100 district students – will be fanning out across the city to participate in up to 40 different service projects selected by Pittsburgh Cares.
“We wanted [students] to have the opportunity to say thank you to the city,” says Gene Walker, the Promise’s benchmarks manager, “and to start their life of volunteering.” Also participating that day will be students who are enrolled in the Promise’s Community College of Allegheny County extension program, which is in its third year. This program helps students who showed potential to be Promise-ready when they graduated from high school but weren’t eligible for the Promise at the time, due to a low grade-point average or other factor. If participants get through the highly structured extension program at CCAC, they become eligible for the Promise for their remaining three years of college.
Volunteering on June 1 will be some of the 3,200 current college students and graduates who received the Promise scholarship in previous years.
The upcoming service weekend will be followed by a “Career Launch” career fair June 7-8, aimed at the 400 college grads who have received the Promise, as well as those who haven’t graduated yet but who could use help with resumes and interview preparation.
The dance marathon June 14-15 at Sunrise Stage AE will feature performances by Ashanti and G. Love and Special Sauce and DJs, and will be hosted by Kiya and Mike Tomlin, with proceeds going to the Promise. 
Just as the Promise is designed to aid the academic achievements of students while keeping them in or near Pittsburgh, these celebratory events are “our way of getting [students] out there and hooked into Pittsburgh, whether it’s for a job or volunteering,” concludes Walker.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Gene Walker, Pittsburgh Promise

Human chess. Jousting. Catapulting. Must be the Medieval Faire at the Ellis School

If only history was this interesting when we were in school.

Leave it to the Ellis School to come up with The Medieval Faire, a hands-on learning, two-day event April 26 and 27 that includes subjects such as military and political strategy, art history, physics and engineering and hierarchy in social class. There's jousting, human chess, catapulting and feasting along with storytellers and musicians.

It’s pure experiential learning, in that it allows the girls to experience what life would have been like in Medieval Europe," says Kitty Julian of the Ellis School. "In history class, the girls study the feudal system.  We discuss the lives of nobles and peasants, and we learn about the roles that people played in society.  Before the Faire, girls pick parts from a deck of cards.  Twelve of the girls are members of the nobility and clergy, while the rest are peasants. Just as a person’s role in Medieval Society was determined by their birth and family (something over which people had no control), the students’ roles in the feast are determined by picking a card out of a deck. At the feast, the peasants serve the nobility and perform for the lord’s entertainment. Peasants get to eat only what is left, and only after the nobles conclude their feast."

To prepare for human chess, the girls learn about the game and what each piece represents and they play computer chess. Right after the feast, the lord of the manor and the bishop battle one another in a game of human chess, using the members of court and peasants as chess pieces. "Games of human chess were often played during the middle ages, so our game lets the girls experience a little bit of the era," says Julian.

The two-day faire, which is only for students, is a tradition at the Ellis School and takes place this Thursday and Friday on the campus at Shadyside.

Writer: Pop City staff
Source: Kitty Julian

"Write now! Education matters" event set to amplify voices in fighting education funding cuts

Education Voters Pennsylvania and the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project have set April 14 as a day for kids, parents, teachers and others in the community to come to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to help amplify kids’ voices against further cuts in the state’s public-education funding.
The plan for Write Now! Education Matters is to get together to create T-shirts, posters and banners, send out tweets, emails and letters, and use the phone, the Saturday Light Brigade radio studios in the museum and an open mic to make sure participants’ views are known by the governor and legislators. Event spokesperson Jodi Hirsh says organizers are concerned about “staggering cuts to basic education … for the upcoming fiscal year.”
Last year’s $900 million in cuts were already “drastic,” she says, and the loss of $200 million more in funds proposed for next year are ones “that local school districts cannot handle,” likely to adversely affect after-school programs, class sizes, tutoring and mentoring efforts and full-day kindergartens.
"Policy makers need to hear stories from their constituents -- they need to hear about how these cuts affect the everyday lives of the students and their parents … and how it affects their communities," Hirsh says. And local groups can be key to highlighting the specific impacts of this statewide issue, and to bringing a statewide focus to local parents and other community members, she adds. The local blog Yinzercation, for instance – another sponsor of Write Now! – has helped shift local readers from protesting about Pittsburgh alone to sharing their concern across the state.
The free Write Now! event lasts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Do Good:
The week leading up to April 14 also includes a faux “Bake Sale for Public Education," in which mock bake sales are encouraged to show that such traditional methods of raising funds to help local schools just won’t cut it. If you can’t hold a bake sale, considering sending cookies to your legislator with an appropriate message about the education cuts.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jodi Hirsh

Hear Me stories start Wilkinsburg campaign for school change

Listening to kids' ideas for changing their schools and communities is the impetus behind the Hear Me project, whose latest recordings highlight some Wilkinsburg High School students with the ambition of improving their educational experience.
Jessica Kaminsky, a Hear Me project manager, says the students are all part of a neighborhood project called FUSE  -- Fostering Skills for Urban kids through Social-emotional-literacy Education.
“They stood out at Wilkinsburg High School," Kaminsky says. "They’re very proactive in their education and they’re very concerned with Wilkinsburg High School. They asked us at Hear Me to listen to what concerns them.”
Their number one concern: the seeming lack of structure in their high school. “There aren’t enough rules -- and the rules aren’t followed well” or consistently by students, teachers or administrators, the kids say in their stories, as Kaminsky summarizes them.
“It’s been a really powerful tool for them to have talked about these issues," she says. "They brought [the stories] to the school board meeting this week. They did a very good job of opening up a dialog” with school-board members.
Ryan Hoffman, Hear Me project coordinator, reports that the students plan to pull ideas and phrases from their recordings to put on t-shirts, and then create other ways of spreading their message beyond the stories. The audio recordings will thus be a launching point for a longer campaign.
"The students were able to talk one-on-one with the school board members, many of whom were surprised to hear the issues in the high school," says Hoffman. One school-board member approached four of the students to ask questions about their stories. "He was surprised to hear that students didn’t feel safe in school and about the lack of student-teacher relationships," Hoffman reports. The board member then invited the students to a community relations and school image committee meeting, and to attend future school-board meetings as the board's youth voice.
“They’re a group of hard working students who really want a great education," Kaminsky marvels,  "and they’re willing to put the work in.”
Hear Me is a project of Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab (Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment).
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Jessica Kaminsky and Ryan Hoffman, Hear Me

Yes, more pencils; yes, more books. It's application time for Education Partnership school supplies

Thinking about back-to-school time in March?
That's what the folks in The Education Partnership are doing, as they set a March 23 deadline for applications from schools in Allegheny and its five border counties to apply for hundreds of thousands of dollars in free school supplies in the 2012-13 school year.
The Partnership has already distributed $650,000 since July 2011 to kids and to teachers, and this is only their first year in Pittsburgh. "We aim to do that, or exceed that, next year," says Program Coordinator Andrea Zimmer.
The group focuses on core school supplies, such as pens, pencils and notebooks, but has been known to give out some high-tech items, such as computer keyboards, mice and projectors, as well as what Zimmer characterizes as "quirkier items" that can be used for arts and crafts. The Partnership has even distributed the odd percussion instrument for school music classes, such as bells and wooden blocks. Supply contributions come from Giant Eagle's back-to-school shelves and the office department at Target, but even college students abandoning their dorms for the summer have been known to give the Partnership unused, excess supplies.
Eligible schools are those where 70 percent or more of the students qualify for a free or reduced-cost lunch. Zimmer says that encompasses 100 schools in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties. "Eventually, we hope to serve all the schools in the area," she says, "bridging some of the educational inequities that exist by at least making sure they have some supplies at hand."
Zimmer recalls visiting some of this year's recipient schools in December and handing out briefcase-like containers of supplies to the kids. "The students get really excited. It's probably the thing we love doing best," she says. "The students really feel like they've been selected and they are special. It seems to be creating a morale boost -- and an achievement boost, in allowing students to complete their schoolwork."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Andrea Zimmer, The Education Partnership

STREAM Academy debuts as hybrid cyber/in-person school for career prep

March 6 marked the debut of a one-of-a-kind regional charter school that mixes cyber-education with in-person group learning. To its STEM focus (science, technology, engineering and math) it also adds an emphasis on research and the arts. That all adds up to the STREAM Academy, opened by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit for K-12 students starting in the 2012-13 school year.
STREAMers at the high-school level have the choice of six focus areas, called tributaries, which AIU spokesperson Sarah McCluan says will prepare them for future careers in this region. Local business and industry leaders helped formulate the focal areas.
Once called PA Learners Online, the reconceived school was founded by 10 local districts, but kids from any district in the state can attend. The school will have 650 kids when all the spots are filled.
The school’s in-person, “On-Location” days are designed to let students connect and collaborate with each other while completing hands-on activities. They also will let students meet educational or business professionals who can give them a better picture of potential careers. Such days will be held at the STREAM Academy facility, another educational institution or even a business; business internships are part of the school’s curriculum as well.
The tributaries are meant to be career paths that children will explore from the beginning of their enrollment in STREAM but choose to focus on in their last few years. The tributaries are biomedical; engineering; logistics, manufacturing, and construction technologies; architecture, digital media arts and technology; energy, emerging sciences, and math; and finally agriculture, plant and animal science (which will be added by the 2013-14 school year).
“All these tributaries are designed to prepare our students to be productive members of the 21st-century workforce,” says McCluan.
Explore and apply to the STREAM Academy here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Sarah McCluan, Allegheny Intermediate Unit

Dolphins leap into Carlynton classroom to improve kids' reading skills

Susan Kosko has been a reading support teacher in the Carlynton School District’s Crafton Elementary School for 11 years, but this year is different: "The kids run into my classroom and they'll say, 'Is it time to leave already?'” – all thanks to some dolphins who live off the coast of Florida.
Kosko’s 17 second, third and fourth graders are taking part in the Dolphin Project, Skyping with the crew of The Dolphin Explorer boat as it tours the eco-system and wildlife of the faraway state’s ocean environment – especially the dolphins.
The idea originated when Kosko discovered the Explorer on vacation and collaborated with its crew to devise the program. Her students read the book Winter's Tail ... How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again and keep a journal of their twice-weekly virtual marine explorations.
"In the past, I could never get my students to read a chapter book," she says; now they’re reading them regularly. Apart from the kids’ enthusiasm – which is a “priceless” aid to reading skills in itself, she says – Kosko reports that her young charges have made gains in both reading and math skills on standardized tests since the dolphins swam into their lives. "When I go down into the computer lab to support my students, I've noticed a lot of them are always choosing dolphins to research. They're almost becoming the experts” in helping other students learn how to research, she adds.
She hopes the project will appear soon on Good Morning America, or WTAE’s segment of the program, since she got a positive reaction to a video about the project that she sent to the show. She and the Carnegie Elementary School teacher who is also running a Dolphin Project in her own classroom hope one day to take the kids to see the dolphins in person.
Meanwhile, Kosko says, the boat’s personnel "truly make us feel we're a part of the team. I don't think I'll find a team of people who are so good with the students. As a teacher, I'm learning from them. I hope in the future we can continue to work together."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Susan Kosko, Carlynton School District

Minority teen spots open for Pitt summer medical-research program that's gateway to a career

It's tough finding incoming high-school juniors and seniors who are ready to tackle a summer medical-research program, but Pitt has just received a $194,400 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to bring more minority students into its program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI).
Michael T. Lotze, M.D., vice chair of the department of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of this student program, says he and his colleagues are looking far and wide for under-represented and disadvantaged minorities to participate. The program tries to reach kids at an early age so they realize there are real careers at the end of these STEM (science, technology, engineering and math_ subjects.
Besides reaching out to Pittsburgh Public Schools for African-American and other local participants, Lotze has just returned from Hawaii, where he visited President Obama's high school, among other places, in the hope of attracting Pacific Islanders to Pitt.
Students receive a stipend to take part in the eight-week program. "They go into laboratories and are mentored by scientists and are doing real experiments," Lotze says. "It's not just washing test tubes and beakers."
Indeed, students present their work at the end of the summer through posters and presentations. Students also have the chance to meet professionals in a variety of medical careers, watch an operation, talk to a genetic counselor and visit the inside of an x-ray suite. And the program isn't steadfastly serious:  it includes activities such as a trip to Fallingwater, kayaking, and going to the new Batman movie this summer.
Says Lotze: "These kids become lifelong friends."
To be considered for the 2012 UPCI Summer Academy, apply here.
Do Good:
Get medical environment experience as a teen and help hospital patients -- even if you're not up to medical research. Apply to the Teen Volunteer Summer Program at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Michael T. Lotze, M.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Hear Me feature: Hines Ward visits Clairton, where students have had their say

Just before Hines Ward joined students at Clairton High School to mentor one of them as part of an NFL program (airing Feb. 10 on USA Network), the students spoke their minds to Hear Me.
Hear Me, a project of Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab (Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment), has collected thousands of stories from area students about their neighborhoods and their futures. The Clairton kids spoke out about their "desire to raise their community up, become role models and to be seen and heard as positive people," according to Hear Me Project Coordinator Ryan Hoffman.
They were participating in Hear Me 101, a year-long video advocacy program during which students focus on changes they want to create in their communities or schools, creating video projects on community service and profiles of local change-makers. The students finished a production workshop hosted by Pittsburgh Filmmakers on Feb. 4 and will begin shooting this week to complete their projects by April 23, according to Jessica Pachuta, project manager. Steel Valley, McKeesport and Woodland Hills are also in the program.
Listen to some of the Clairton students and their stories now. As 10th-grader Marcaysia says, “We want to show that we have more to offer than just football”:
Carlton, in 11th grade, who was mentored by Hines Ward, wants to see more programs for kids and discusses the need for older kids to be positive role models;
Markea, in 12th grade, talks about the lack of activities in Clairton and the power of media to inspire positive change in the community;
Chelsea, in 12th grade, discusses the value of kids speaking out about what matters to them;
Nicole, in 12th grade, addresses violence and her desire for a safer community; and
Marcaysia, in 10th grade, wants students to improve themselves and help each other, hoping to see more activities in the area and more help from adults.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ryan Hoffman, Hear Me
Audio recorded and edited by The Consortium for Public Education

'Dramatic and inspiring': TEDxYouthDay videos premiere

"The students who got up to present were incredibly inspiring, and you could tell they were very passionate," recalls Amy Cribbs about the high-school students from North Allegheny (where the event was held), Propel Braddock Hills, Andrew Street in Munhall, Pine-Richland, and elsewhere who gave short speeches, dramatic presentations and other impressive presentations at TEDxYouthDay late last year.
"It was an incredible event," says Cribbs, who helped run the show as career exploration coordinator at Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3.
Now the videos are finally ready for viewing. If you weren't in the exclusive audience of 100 -- or even if you were -- you'll want to see these TED talks by some remarkable young people:
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Lily Zhang and Katherine Zhou: A dramatic interpretation of the controversial educational views of author Amy Chua that contrast Chinese and Western parenting.
Beekeeping by Jonathan Walker and Anthony Hrubetz: An examination of the importance of saving bees and how crucial they are to the environment.
American Sign Language by Carrie Johnston and Amanda Keller: Lessons on how valuable ASL is to these students, leading to a possible career.
Observations by Anna Sinelnikova: Of life as a young ballet student.
The American Dream by Ji-Ho Park: What is the American Dream, and is it only in America?
MRSA by Michelle Lee: Lessons on how to prevent the illness, employing a stuffed bug representing the infection, and some new research.
Propelled to Read by Alex Francette: Using old old newspaper boxes donated by the Post-Gazette, a group of kids repurposed them into book distribution spots at bus stops. Now they have book drives and their own website, and they're hoping to make this a national program.
Importance of Integrating Global Communities by Ronald Reha, Jr.
Speak Your Mind by Alexandra Grese: It's a new twist on an old story: a boy and a girl who like each other but are afraid to say it directly, so they employ an intermediary, who is sworn to secrecy. Except this time the intermediary tells the boy and girl the truth.

Concludes Cribbs: "It was a nice way to wrap up the day with an inspiring message."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Amy Cribbs, TEDxYouthDay

Fallingwater residencies open to rising students, teachers

Fallingwater is offering a new, more in-depth summer residency for the first time to area students to supplement the long-running program for high-school kids at Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous architectural masterpiece.
"Student programs are really here to satisfy the students' curiosity about architecture," says Roy Young, curator of education at Fallingwater. "We're allowing them to understand what it's like to be given a design problem to solve, to become more aware of their environment, and to look at it in a new way."
The Studio 1 residency, held at Fallingwater for the past dozen years or so, is July 10-17 for kids after their sophomore or junior year. They'll solve design problems using hands-on building projects related to Fallingwater and its site, and take advantage of drawing, design studio and materials workshops. The new Studio 2, Aug. 7-14, is for kids headed to college to study architecture or design. Here, students will work toward three portfolio projects for their college applications while getting to know the design process. 
K-12 teachers can also enjoy Teaching through Architecture week, held July 24-31. This program, Young says, "is meant to be transformational, to broaden their comfort level with what they can do as a teacher." Everyone from dance instructors to history teachers has attended in the past, he says. Afterwards, they should be able to view their own teaching subjects through the lens of architecture.
Application deadline is April 30 (and March 31 for early admission). To apply, or for more information, click here or call 724-329-7826.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Roy Young, Fallingwater

'Creative Clash!' brings titans of tech and art together to plan the future

Pittsburgh Technology Council is billing "Creative Clash!" as "The future of creativity, technology and a new innovation community in Pittsburgh." As the first event of PTC's new Creative Technology Network, in partnership with the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Jan. 26 presentation, panel discussion and reception will bring together some heavy hitters in the tech/arts community:

  • MK Haley, Associate Executive Producer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center;
  • Gregg Behr, Executive Director of the Grable Foundation, and founder of Pittsburgh Kids+Creativity;
  • Carl Kurlander, Executive Producer of Steeltown Entertainment, and film/television screenwriter and producer;
  • Rob Deaner, Partner at Market Street Sound, and Vice President of the Pittsburgh Advertising Federation; and
  • Tim Fletcher, Business Development Manager, Daedalus, and US Government Liaison Officer, Industrial Designers Society of America
 "The idea is to have a conversation about how this group is growing in Pittsburgh, and what our strengths and weaknesses are, and what we can do as a next step to facilitate our growth as a community," says Kim Chestney Harvey, managing director of the Creative Technology Network. The group also may help point to current successes that other organizations at the intersection of the arts and technology can replicate. The current panel will be moderated by Lynn Zelevansky, director of the Carnegie Museum of Art.
Harvey says the Network, using events like the "Clash!" will be a hub to bring people together who will learn from each other and help each other find investors, employees and publicity, raising awareness of what is happening in this important regional sector.
Register by emailing here or by calling 412-918-4229.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Kim Chestney Harvey, Pittsburgh Technology Council

We are not making up this story: Young Writers Institute seeking creative kids

The Young Writers Institute is looking for kids in 4th through 12th grade who want to take their poetry, fiction, flash fiction, memoirs and other writing to the next level. The Institute is teaming with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to hold its Winter sessions beginning Jan. 28. Registration deadline is Jan. 23.
This is not an academic program, says Matthew Luskey, director of the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project at the University of Pittsburgh, where the Institute has been run for many years. Think creative writing, he says. Still, with students learning the art of journaling, drafting, and revising on their way to a fun final product, “that whole process approach to writing is helpful for school.”
Sessions will be held on six consecutive Saturdays downtown in the Cultural Trust’s education center, which has “a really a nice space for the kids to write in,” says Luskey. It also has the black-box Peirce Theater, where students will share writing in a celebration at the end of the program. Families can attend and the entire event will be filmed – plus, student writing will be collected into an online anthology.
Scholarships are available for up to 20 percent of students.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Matthew Luskey, Western Pennsylvania Writing Project

Girls have chemistry with chemistry and other science and tech careers at ChemStars

“We recognize that there’s a definite gap between girls pursuing careers in science and technology compared to boys," says Kim McDonald, marketing manager for the EcoCommercial Building Program at Bayer Corporation. That's why McDonald joined other female mentors from Bayer and four other companies locally -- BASF Corporation, LANXESS, NOVA Chemicals and PPG Industries -- at the Carnegie Science Center on Nov. 12 for ChemStars. More than 125 girls in fourth through ninth grade locally participated in this hands-on program designed to get them excited about careers in chemistry and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. 
The companies held a STEM career café for boys and girls last month, but McDonald says it is particularly important for girls to find in such technical fields as chemistry a practical application to their lives -- and fun. The experiment stations at ChemStars, for instance, related chemical processes to everything from cooking to going green. "It gives girls a way to see that chemistry applies to their everyday lives," McDonald says. “Once people feel a connection, they can really find a way to apply themselves. It’s important for girls to feel like they can have a connection to [STEM], that it’s something that they can get involved in and make a contribution.”
As Bayer MaterialScience spokesperson Lauren Dorsch points out, the years between fourth and ninth grade are “a time when girls lose interest in math and science,” so it is crucial to reach them at a young age. McDonald recalls how she maintained her own interest in science at that age: "I’ve always loved animals and that was probably the big driver for me. Parental involvement is important – my parents always motivated me, and I had I-don’t-know-how-many pets. Between grades 4 and 10 … I had that connection, that passion.”
Do Good:
·Explore the ways Bayer's Making Science Make Sense program is bringing STEM subjects to local kids here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Kim McDonald and Lauren Dorsch, Bayer Corporation

‘Shock the educational system’ with Tech Council’s Future of Play conference

Diana Rhoten, one of the featured presenters at the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s “Learning Innovation: The Future of Play in Education” on Nov. 15, wants to create “a whole new model for educating children through play, technology and digital media,” says the PTC’s Kim Chestney Harvey. “The educational system right now is in crisis, and her goal has been to reimagine education. She really wants to shock the educational system.”
Harvey is Managing Director of the Creative Technology Network, which the PTC is rolling out this fall to foster local companies and nonprofits in this field. “Learning Innovation” is its first event, and Harvey says, Rhoten is a perfect addition to this event, which kicks off the annual Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference.
Rhoten will examine how knowledge is created and shared, based on her decade as a faculty member at Stanford University’s School of Education and co-founder of Startl, a nonprofit that has supported innovative educational technology efforts
That includes Launchpad Toys, run by this event’s other presenter, Andy Russell. Launchpad designed Toontastic for the iPad, which records kids’ online figure play and turns it into a cartoon. He’ll be focused, as will the entire event, says Harvey, on “how kids can play and learn at the same time.”
School teachers, school administrators and those in the entertainment technology world will all benefit from “Learning Innovation,” she adds. “It’s a great outlet for any aspiring companies working in this genre.”
Do Good:
ท“Learning Innovation,” funded by the Grable Foundation, is free at the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry Township, but you’ve got to register by emailing here or call 412-918-4229.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Kim Chestney Harvey, Pittsburgh Technology Council

Apply now for Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarships--undergrads and grad students

If you're in college or grad school and interested in working in children's media, tune into this. Four Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarships worth $10,000 will be awarded to selected candidates working in areas of early childhood education, child development and child psychology, and media ranging from television production to animation. While the scholarships are open to candidates nationwide, there's a special push to encourage Pittsburgh region candidates to apply. (Why? Because you're special!)

Underwritten by Ernst and Young and in partnership with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation, the scholarships will be awarded to those with the ultimate goal of working in children's media. The idea is to "further the values and principles of Fred Rogers' work," says Nancy Steingard of 2Friends Entertainment who was in Pittsburgh recently to promote the scholarships.

While the group receives numerous applications from across the country, they receive very few from the Pittsburgh region, home of Fred Rogers. They hope to change that this year.

In addition, the Grable Foundation is underwriting a special scholarship for candidates from Pittsburgh-based schools only, which will be awarded for the development of an interactive concept or project.

Deadline for applications for both scholarships is February 28th. For more information, visit www.emmysfoundation.org

Writer: Tracy Certo
Source: Nancy Steingard

Free 'Empowership' conference leads students to leadership, role models

The Student Empowership conference is bringing together local experts to conduct sessions on leadership and empowerment for high-school and college students.

The free event (including breakfast and lunch) at Carlow University on Oct. 1 opens with keynote speakers Penny Semaia, assistant athletic director for student life at the University of Pittsburgh, and Chaz Kellum, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ manager of diversity initiatives.

Kellum’s experience with the baseball team’s community relations is coupled with his work on the Consumer Health Coalition and Pennsylvania Youth Leadership Network. Semaia, who helped Pitt’s football team go to four consecutive bowl games, now runs the Panther Game Plan, which helps student athletes plan for college and career success.

"He really knows the significance of leadership skills and appreciating your education; he'll be a great inspiration," says Tim Lessick, program associate at Global Solutions Pittsburgh, which created the conference in collaboration with Baker Leadership.

At lunch, students in attendance will hear from former City Councilman Sala Udin, who also participated in crucial civil-rights campaigns in the 1960s.

Workshop presenters that day include:

• Lani Redinger of Nakturnal, with expertise in the marketing of everything from music to professional conferences;

• Holly McIntosh from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s office, who will relay her fundraising experience;

• LunaMetrics’ Brian Honigman, who is "one of the best in the city for social media," according to Tim Lessick;

• Jasiri X, who will pass on his activist toolkit; and

• Kristina Elias of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, who will speak about her event planning experience.

Lessick says the conference was created to help teen and young-adult students "get skills to create real change at schools or on campus. We're hoping that they walk away with a game plan."

Do Good:

• Pre-register (it’s required) for Student Empowership 2011 here

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Tim Lessick, Global Solutions Pittsburgh

Don't PASS it by: Free student training to respond to anti-LGBT bullying

A school where bullies target kids who are lesbian or gay "makes for an unhealthy learning environment for those students, or for any students," says Ian Syphard.

That's why Pittsburgh's Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) chapter, where Syphard is co-chair of the board, is holding its next free anti-bullying training on October 22 and 23 for eighth through twelfth graders in Allegheny and Washington counties.

Called PASS -- Peer Advocates for Safe Schools -- it is designed to create young LGBT leaders and peer educators who know how "to handle tough questions about the LGBT community in a strong and appropriate manner," says Syphard, "giving them the tools to help push for equality." They'll also learn how to build a community of non-LGBT allies.

GLSEN held a similar training earlier this year at the Women and Girls Foundation office. This session, unlike the earlier seven-week version, will be compressed to two days but involve several follow-up gatherings through January. Vanessa Davis, secretary of the GLSEN board, will conduct the training.

"We just had another suicide in upstate New York," Syphard notes, referring to the death of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer of Buffalo, who had been bullied at length on social networking sites. Rodemeyer, who became an activist, posted a video as part of the It Gets Better project in May.

"It's extremely relevant to build a strong, safe network for students who are identified as LGBT, or who are perceived to be LGBT," concludes Syphard.

Do Good:

• The deadline to apply for PASS training is Oct. 1. PASS will be held at Washington Hospital Teen Outreach, 22 West Maiden Street, Washington, PA. Call Vanessa Davis at 716-863-2028 or click here to email and reserve a spot.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ian Syphard, GLSEN Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Promise continues success, paves way for future

Pittsburgh is set to host PromiseNet 2011 -- the country's fourth annual conference of groups that offer hope to eligible students through college scholarships. And it's fitting that Pittsburgh do so, says Pittsburgh Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril.

The Pittsburgh Promise offers all Pittsburgh Public Schools graduates who are city residents $20,000 to attend a Pennsylvania college if they maintain an 2.5 GPA on average and a 90-percent attendance rate. The scholarship amount is set to double, to $40,000, for the graduating class of 2012. Only two cities had a Promise program before us, says Ghubril, and none has a larger one. Denver, for instance, will use its $100 million donation pool to target only select schools.

While Ghubril won't have final numbers until the end of November, he says about 3,200 scholarships will have been awarded by then, covering students from the classes of 2008-11. UPMC alone has pledged $100 million over the next 10 years to the Promise, which has a fundraising goal of $250 million by 2018. For the most recent fiscal year, the Promise raised $12.2 million in total donations -- $1 million more than the previous year. 

A recent report shows that more and more students are taking advantage of the Promise: 78 percent of eligible 2010 graduates, compared to 72 percent in 2009 and only 58 percent in 2008. And a RAND study found that the Promise is increasingly a factor in parents' decision to choose Pittsburgh Public Schools.

"We are pretty sure the Promise will be around for 32 to 36 years," Ghubril says. "We're pretty confident that in the year 2040 we'll still be making scholarships."

PromiseNet Conference speakers will include officials from the W.E. Upjohn Institute (talking about the first Promise program in Kalamazoo) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who will give the keynote address.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Saleem Ghubril, Pittsburgh Promise

United Way aims to recruit greatest number of volunteers ever to mentor school kids

Can Allegheny County recruit 4,000 new volunteers to help school kids learn to read over the next three years?

Can we afford not to?

“It’s enormously important that we help more children understand the great futures they can have if they work hard at school and graduate,” says Bob Nelkin, president of the United Way of Allegheny County, which is teaming with the Youth Futures Commission to launch the Be 1 In a Million campaign. It’s part of a three-year volunteer initiative, spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama, to recruit 1,000,000 mentors, tutors, and readers nationwide for the country’s youngest school-age kids.

The county has a head start, Nelkin says; its Be A 6th-Grade Mentor program should already have 400-450 volunteers by Oct. 1. The new Be 1 In a Million volunteers will concentrate their efforts on children through the third grade in as many as 30 local schools, chosen because their students face the greatest challenges. These are schools underperforming academically, schools with a larger number of children who have been abused or neglected, and schools with a greater number of students whose parents are incarcerated.

The United Way and other local agencies will be available to connect volunteers to needs in specific schools. All types of volunteer are desired, whether they can spend an hour a week or an hour a year – although, as Nelkin emphasizes, “The greater commitment of time and effort, the greater the results.”

Do Good:

• To Be 1 in a Million, click here or simply call 211.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bob Nelkin, United Way of Allegheny County

Play Summit philosophy: Where kids spend their time, playtime is constructive time

"It’s a big play date for adults," says Ernie Dettore about the Play Summit at the University of Pittsburgh's University Club on Sept. 17.

Dettore, an early childhood education consultant and director of the P.L.A.Y. Academy at Summit-sponsor the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), will be helping to lead a discussion of local experts on the value of play for children, alongside PAEYC head Michelle Figlar.

The day starts with Dr. Walter Drew, founder of the Institute for Self Active Education in Melbourne, Florida, who will spend the entire morning promoting play-based learning among participants through, well, play. The purpose of his Hands, Heart & Mind workshop is "to help rekindle their play spirit," Dettore says.

But of course it has a higher purpose: To allow adults to reflect on what they’re doing and learning while playing.

"Often adults don’t realize that children’s play is way deeper than they give them credit for," Dettore says. "It’s the first way that [children] learn and the first way they construct knowledge on their own." It’s also a great physical and stress release. "Adults are putting a lot of their values on kids, so they keep [kids] busy" with sports and camp. "Their lives are too hurried, just like ours are. Kids need time to decompress … That’s what we give up in the work world."

Panelists for the afternoon session include Dr. Roberta Schomburg of Carlow University, Dr. Karen VanderVen of Pitt, Gregg Behr of the Grable Foundation and Julia Williams of Duquesne University.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ernie Dettore, PAEYC

STEM Summit aims to prepare students for real-world demands

"Many of the careers our students are going to work in, in the next 10 years, aren't even invented," says Justin Driscoll. "Who is trained to work on the Chevy Volt?"

Driscoll, director of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Talent Acquisition for the Pittsburgh Technology Council, says making sure young people have the building blocks for high-tech careers is the reason for the 2011 Pittsburgh STEM Summit on Aug. 31. Such sessions as "School Redesign," "Making Standards Count" and "Rethinking Teaching" will bring industry reps from first-year participants Google and UPMC, plus long-time attendees Bayer, Lanxess and others, together with regional leaders in education.

IT will be the it topic as well, of course, since that's where technology probably changes most rapidly. "You can't train for the new technologies coming out," Driscoll says. "You have to have an underlying education" in STEM concepts. At the Summit, he adds, educators can network with "business leaders who are consumer of their products" -- that is, the students -- and let businesses help them produce graduates with great STEM talents.

This year's conference features Claus von Zastrow, the COO of the influential Washington D.C. nonprofit Changing the Equation, which partners with major education associations to try to influence educational policy changes.

Do Good:
•To register for this or any other Pittsburgh Technology Center event, click here.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Justin Driscoll, Pittsburgh Technology Council

Where in the world is Reading Creature? Encouraging kids at county libraries

The summer reading program shared by Allegheny County's many libraries has had a new mascot all summer, and librarians say the orange Reading Creature has lived up to his name.

"RC" has been featured on billboards, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a Flickr account, and Caf้ Press merchandise, not to mention a website and blog. But mostly he's a stuffed animal and poster-thing (a head with two dangly feet and a visible brain -- but cute!) for the kids in libraries' summer reading programs.

So far, he's been an encouragement to the kids, who really need to keep up their pace of reading over the summer months.

At the Community Library of Castle Shannon, for instance, Children and Youth Services Coordinator Heather Anderson has held several weekly reading programs. On Tuesdays, she has used the county's "Around the World" reading theme this summer to introduce a weekly story and activity. There's been food around the world, games around the world, and even chocolate around the world.

"The kids love the Reading Creature," says Anderson. "They're very excited to come into the library and see where he's hidden every week. The families love finding him, and I really do think having his picture throughout the library and having him in stuffed animal form really ties the program together.

"RC is a guest; he comes to programs," she adds. "He was definitely at Food Around the World. I have a picture of him with a box of spaghetti."

"Families have changed, kids' activities have changed, and there's so much competition for kids' time," says Kelley Beeson, Youth Services Coordinator for the Allegheny County Library Association. "We felt we had to step up our program." Beeson says the program will likely be expanded next year, alongside a pilot program rewarding kids for reading progress.

"When I was growing up, libraries were seen as a strict place, not a ton of fun," she recalls. "We're hoping it puts a new face on reading that kids are attracted to."

Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Heather Anderson, Kelley Beeson

Two foundations get in line to combat online bullying

"There aren't a lot of community resources invested in this new challenge" of cyber-bullying, says Chris Sweeney, board member of the Marcus L. Ruscitto Charitable Foundation.

That's why Ruscitto family members -- the late Marcus was founder and CEO of Stargate Industries -- decided to team with The Pittsburgh Foundation to create a new $50,000 regional initiative to combat bullying, and particularly the variety that sometimes plagues the Internet.

Sweeney says it will be the six-year-old Ruscitto foundation's signature issue.

In November, the foundations will convene up to 400 local educators, school counselors and administrators to hear Dr. Adolph "Doc" Brown, III. The inspirational anthropologist, who is a psychology and education faculty member at Hampton University, brings a message for students about how bullying can affect other kids, and how very serious the issue ought to be among students today. And he does that, at least partly, through song and dance. He addresses the bullies, the victims, and the bystanders, who do not feel confident enough to seek help.

Sweeney says the foundations will then solicit educators to submit creative ideas to stanch the flow of bullying in our schools, and will give funding to selected school districts to implement the best ideas.

"Hopefully then," he concludes, "we'll be able to announce any new ideas that have emerged."

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Chris Sweeney, Marcus L. Ruscitto Charitable Foundation

Three shades of green: fountain, treehouse, wishing well are therapy at Children's Institute ...

"It's going to be immeasurable, the change for the kids," says David K. Miles, president and CEO of The Children's Institute, about the new Nimick Family Therapeutic Garden that opened June 18 at the Squirrel Hill facility.

What was once a few flower beds amid crumbling flagstone is now a 10,000-square-foot garden designed to be enjoyed by children with severe disabilities. Along its path are a sunflower-shaped fountain whose flow can be changed just by rolling past; a ramp-accessible treehouse; a bench that plays sounds; a large variety of shrubs, flowers and ornamental grasses; and raised planting beds for the kids to practice fine motor and language skills as they learn to garden.

It also features special lighting, a wishing well, sculptures and a pavilion. The idea is to engage the senses and provide a relaxing escape for both kids and their loved ones. The garden is accessible via a new path running from the Institute's Shady Avenue parking lot along the garden to Northumberland Street.

Miles, once a teacher in the Institute's day school, is certain current teachers will be using the garden for lessons in the fall. But he was happy to see families already enjoying the place -- including neighborhood kids. "It's only been a few days and I'm already overwhelmed with how many people are using it," he says. "We're really inviting the community in to find out what we're about."

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: David K. Miles, The Children's Institute
Image courtesy of The Children's Institute

No bug spray, Kool-Aid or sleeping bags, but how about some protocol? Try 'Ambassador' camp

Here's one camp where you won't need a baseball glove or the ability to light a fire by rubbing two sticks together. In fact, the whole idea of this camp may be putting fires out. Metaphorically, that is.

The second annual "I Want to be an Ambassador!" camp is seven days for 8th to 12th graders to learn negotiation, analysis and communication. It's likely the only camp that includes a roundtable of local business leaders, apart from that Northern Virginia tennis camp, "Lobs and Lobbying."

Set for June 21-29, "I Want to be an Ambassador!" takes places mostly at the Senator John Heinz History Center and concludes with a trip to Embassy Row in Washington, D.C. trip, where students will glimpse the workings of ambassadors on their very doorsteps.

"Through the art and skills of diplomacy, [campers] will learn leadership qualities and a very broad range of skill sets you aren't normally exposed to in a classroom," says Jacqueline McWilliams, coordinator of Luminari, the nonprofit behind the camp. Other highlights of the seven days include cultural field trips, guest lectures, an intro to foreign languages and writing systems, lessons on media literacy, and kickball.

Okay -- no kickball.

Luminari hopes to match last year's total of 19 participants. Sign up before the country gets involved in yet another war.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jacqueline McWilliams, Luminari

Trying to ensure summer has a happy ending: "One World, Many Stories"

If the shoe fits -- read it.

That's the message (sort of) behind the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's summer reading program this year, which has "One World, Many Stories" as its theme.

"Everyone has a Cinderella story," notes Georgene DeFilippo, the library's youth services coordinator. So it's possible for kids to find attractive, familiar stories while exploring unfamiliar cultures, she says.

Whatever your kid finds to read over the summer, it's mostly important that his or her eyeballs continue to cruise across the prose (or poetry) during the months away from compulsory learning.

"That's one of the important things about summer reading -- that kids read what they want to read," DeFilippo says. Magazines, graphic novels -- just keep the words flowing. She even recommends that vacation car trips include a few borrowed audio books from the library's collection.

"There is a lot of research out there that kids who read throughout the summer are more likely to retain more of what they learned the previous year," she says.

To encourage kids to read outside school, the Carnegie will hold its annual Extravaganza on June 12 outside the main library branch in Oakland. It will feature a steel band, balloon art, belly dancing lessons, and the chance to play cornhole with the Pirates, complain about the heat and/or rain with WTAE Chief Meteorologist Mike Harvey, shop for craft items at the I Made It! Market, and more.

Plus, of course, you can sign up for the Summer Reading program, get your free t-shirt and check out a season's worth of activities at your local Carnegie branch.

Do Good:

• Find the right Summer Reading event for your kids by searching the Carnegie's online list by date, location, age, subject and other factors.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Georgene DeFilippo, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Schoolkid in landmark case is now woman inspiring new Pitt Constitution course for highschoolers

Mary Beth Tinker was only 13 in 1965 when she, her brother John and other junior-high kids decided to protest the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands. Her school in tiny Atlantic, Iowa banned her and four others from returning until they gave up the armbands. With the ACLU, Tinker was the lead plaintiff in the subsequent Supreme Court case, which ruled that students need not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

Tinker didn't find the courage of her convictions on her own. "We were motivated by examples we had in our lives, like so many young people," she says. That included both her parents; her father, a Methodist minister, lost his church after helping its youth group protest a whites-only pool. "They taught us you should act out your principles, not just on Sunday, but every day," Tinker says.

On June 2, she helped kick off a new University of Pittsburgh program that will bring Pitt law students into local high-school classrooms this fall to teach a course on the U.S. Constitution, leading to possible participation in the National Moot Court competition. It's part of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, which is only in 10 other U.S. cities.

Kevin Deasy, associate dean of students at Pitt's law school, says he hopes the program will not only help students understand the legal system and their rights, "but also instill in them an appreciation for what education can do in their lives," leading to college and careers – perhaps even in the law. It should also be a useful experience for Deasy's own students; there's no better learning tool than needing to master a subject in order to teach it.

For her part, Tinker hopes the program teaches kids how to be active citizens. In 1965, young people "were saying, in a democracy we can do better. And that's been the role of young people so many times throughout history," Tinker observes. "We have ideals in our own country, but we haven't met them. We have a justice system that is not always just -- that's true -- which is all the more reason why young people need to be aware and a part of finding solutions."

Do Good:

• Get inspired by reading more about the Tinker case.

Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Kevin Deasy, Pitt School of Law; Mary Beth Tinker

Teenie goes huge: Photos gets $250,000 NEH grant to travel

The whole country is about to learn the importance of Teenie Harris in documenting the last century's African-American life in the Hill District -- and how much of an impact that life had on the nation.
Thanks to a crucial National Endowment for the Humanities grant of $250,000, an exhibit of 125 of Harris' best and most representative works will travel to Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta and other major venues the museum is still finalizing, says Louise Lippincott, the Carnegie Museum of Art's curator of fine arts. But first a much larger version will go up in Oakland, from Oct. 29-April 8: 1,000 of the 80,000 images Harris amassed in a lifetime of photojournalism for the Pittsburgh Courier.

"What they're going to see in Harris' photographs is African-American life seen from the inside," says Lippincott. "They're going to discover that in Pittsburgh, at least, for African Americans in the '30s, '40s and '50s, it was a time of prosperity and progress, of increased rights and access … It was an extraordinarily creative and productive time in Pittsburgh's African-American community, and the photographs show it quite clearly."

The exhibit, subtitled "An American Story," will show the campaign Harris and the Courier undertook during the '40s -- seeking a double victory over the enemy overseas and the evil of prejudice here. The photos depict everyday life as well as the celebrities in the vibrant Hill, from jazz artists to sports figures.

Lippincott is quite pleased that the exhibit was recognized nationally with such a large award.  She believes the photos will afford the public a much better understanding of both Harris's work and its impact: "I hope people will come away understanding why Teenie Harris was such a great artist."

Do Good:

• Explore the Teenie Harris archive and help identify the subjects and locations in some of the many unlabeled photographs

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Louise Lippincott
Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art

Girls of Steel: taking over the robots to compete nationally at FIRST contest

Patti Rote's dream of creating an all-girl robotics design team has finally been realized -- and they're headed for the national championship competition April 27-30 in St. Louis after winning All-Star Rookie awards locally and in Washington, D.C.

Rote, Carnegie Mellon University's robotics industry program director, had witnessed teams of 90-percent boys at national contests for years, so this fall she got CMU Robotics Institute faculty to mentor the new all-female team. Calling themselves Girls of Steel, the group of mostly high-school freshman hails from 11 different school districts and uses the Rosie the Riveter logo on their uniforms -- with a robotic arm in place of the strong right she usually brandishes.

In St. Louis, they'll face 2,000 other teams -- 11,000 competitors -- at FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which offers about $15 million in scholarships as prizes.

Their previous awards came because the girls, who have never been on a robotics team before, have done their own website, business plan and marketing, and helped other teams with their efforts in the process. When they heard about the recent tornados near the contest site, they even decided to raise money for the victims.

"It's just wonderful to see them work together," says Rote. It is hoped that the team involvement will provide experience with technology not always offered to girls in today's classrooms.

They have already mastered some of the skills needed for the competition, says Rote, such as building a larger robot to deploy a smaller robot to perform a designated task, with the larger robot working autonomously for part of the time.

"I think we're going to see a change in the type of people who apply at the Robotics Institute, or robotics programs across the states," Rote concludes.

Do Good:

• Watch the Girls of Steel team in a promo video, in a Pittsburgh match, and receiving the Pittsburgh Rookie All-Star Award.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Patti Rote, Carnegie Mellon University

Up to $50,000 on the line for creative kids online (or in other tech worlds) via Super Spark

"Making Sparks 2011," set for May 3 in the Carnegie Lecture Hall in Oakland, will bring local experts in technology and media use in early childhood education together with local groups that hope to win up to $50,000 in funding, as the Sprout Fund prepares its third year of these important grants.

It's one of the larger grant programs Sprout offers, notes Ryan Coon, the fund's programs and communications associate    . "This event starts people thinking, encourages them to be creative and thoughtful" about their approaches to potential grant-winning ideas, Coon says. Past awards have helped create everything from new math learning tools to kids' animation workshops.

Past grantee The Schmutz Company will be offering demonstrations of its "Papermation" as a lead-in to this year's fresh takes on the subject. Presenters are headlined by Dr. Alice Wilder, co-creator and head of research and education for PBS's Super Why!, which teaches reading fundamentals. She also helped create Think It Ink It Publishing, which promotes creative writing, and a pilot program for the National Science Foundation that starts 3- to 6-year-olds on the path to caring for the planet's water resources. In addition, Wilder is a Grable Foundation Fellow.

Other presenters include Dave Edwards of Art Energy Design, Sarah Tambucci of Arts Education Collaborative, Drew Davidson of the Entertainment Technology Center,
Dave English and Don Orkoskey of The Schmutz Company, and Eben Myers and Mac Howison of Sprout.

The evening concludes with a chance for small groups to collaborate on idea development, after which they will present their best ideas to select presenters, who will act as judges.

Super Spark grant applications are due June 3 and will be announced in early July.

Do Good:

• Register for Making Sparks here.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ryan Coon, The Sprout Fund

Give Gov. Corbett an earful about his budget, before a group he chairs

Acting Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis is headed to town on April 29, and he's expecting people who are concerned about the state education budget to give him good suggestions.

If that's what you want to call it.

Jennifer Cleghorn understands the public's concern about steep budget cuts, but she says this public meeting – the last of a statewide series that started April 18 in Harrisburg – is the chance to bring citizens, school districts, local businesses and others together for something productive.

As education director for sponsoring group Team Pennsylvania Foundation – the public-private partnership chaired by Commonwealth governors since Tom Ridge – she has already heard "a really robust discussion" at the first session. It attracted a diversity of individuals not often seen at public meetings, and the ensuing question and answer period was hard to draw to a close, she reports.

"This is the key time in which folks really need to come out and voice their concerns before they go into the next cycle" – before the legislators get to affect budget line items directly, she explains. And with Bayer providing room on its local campus for the gathering, "we should be able to fit everyone who wants to come."

Do Good:

Sign up to attend this free event: seating is limited.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jennifer Cleghorn, Team Pennsylvania Foundation

Hear 'em now at Hear Me art exhibit, because kids never phone it in

One of Michelle Figlar's favorite stories from the new "Hear Me" exhibit downtown is the tale of a boy's boat. At the show, you can hear him describe how he got everyone he loves on board. You can even see the boat, which he built out of wooden pieces. "These stories are really about all the things that young children value and love – they're about their families, their friends, their pets," Figlar says. A story such as this " amplifies the value of a great preschool learning environment," she adds, showing learning in every facet, from the child's ability to count, to his welcome feeling of belonging.

The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, with Figlar at the helm, has teamed with the CREATE Lab (Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment) (createlab.ri.cmu.edu) at Carnegie Mellon University present more of these wonderful creations through "Hear Me," an April art and sound exhibit on the first floor of the Carlyle Building at Fourth and Wood streets. Radio's Saturday Light Brigade, Carnegie Library and others have been busy gathering kids' art and stories all year, and "Hear Me" shows off the talents, thoughts and feelings of the youngest among them, from 2 to 6 years old.

"The end goal is to boost the value of children's stories to get policy makers, business leaders and the community to make a commitment to youth," says Figlar. Plus, she emphasizes, the collaboration between all the organizations has been unprecedented.

Receptions for the public will be held April 13, 21 and 29, and a preview reception for local officials is April 1. The exhibit is supported by the Benedum Foundation, Buhl Foundation, Grable Foundation, Held Fund, the H. John Heinz III Fund and the Melinda Morrow Hicks Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Do Good:

• Child-care agencies are invited to schedule special visits that include storytelling sessions and art activities. Contact David Pribish at 412-421-3889 to make an appointment.

• Get inspired: See and hear more kids' stories and art at the CREATE Lab

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Michelle Figlar, Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children
Image courtesy of David Pribish, Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children

Out of school, out of mind? There's an APOST for that

There are about 500 organizations in Allegheny County that provide services for kids when they're out of school – before and after the school day, in the summer, and every other moment when the teacher doesn't have their attention. But there's no coordination for parents to find the right place for their kids – or the organizations to find each other, says Aimee LeFevers.

Enter APOST: Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time. LeFevers, its quality campaign director, says the two-year-old group aims to provide professional development and technical assistance to organizations while helping them share needs and talents.

The third in the APOST Symposium Series this year, "The Power of Service and Volunteerism in Youth Development" on March 25, is part of that effort.

Guest speaker Stephanie Wu from City Year will speak about this program that gets college students to commit to a year working with young people. Because the mayor's office is partnering with APOST, Pittsburgh's Chief Service Officer Rebecca Kottler-Wein will also introduce servePGH, which aims to promote citizen service.

The symposiums continue on May 23 with a focus on professional development for youth workers in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh course on May 26 to prepare such workers for national certification.

"There are a lot of good programs out there who are doing good stuff, and groups who want to do good stuff," says LeFevers. "We are ready to share best practices."

Do Good:
• Attend the symposium: More details are available here.
• Stay informed about out-of-school groups and partner your organization with them through APOST.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Aimee LeFevers, APOST
Image courtesy of APOST

Fearing state budget cuts to education, elsewhere, nonprofits set talks, advocacy

Even before Gov. Tom Corbett announced deep education funding cuts in his budget on March 8, Arlene Levy believed there was reason to worry about the future of public education.

"The major concern we have," said the co-president of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, "is that funding for public education is adequate -- to make sure public school students can have a proper education, whether they are regular education or special education." Will there be new, unfunded special education rules? she wondered. And where will the state legislature's fiscal priorities be -- on public schools or elsewhere?

To discuss and influence the budget before it passes, the League and other groups are already calling for several public meetings.

The PA Budgetwatch Series, focused on budget changes that may affect all nonprofits, will have its first session on March 25, 2-4 p.m. at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District. Featured speakers are Karen Snider, the state's former Secretary of Public Welfare, and Chuck Kolling, a lobbyist and government relations professional for Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney LLC. The Series is sponsored by the United Way of Allegheny County, the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, The Forbes Funds, The Pittsburgh Foundation and Dewey & Kaye.

The League of Women Voters has set four gatherings in March, titled "State Funding for Public Education: Progress or Retreat?" and featuring Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center and former chair of the state House's Education Committee.

The sole evening meeting (March 15, 5 p.m.) is at Pittsburgh CAPA High School downtown. It includes a light supper and is co-sponsored by a variety of groups, from A+ Schools and the Black Political Empowerment Project to the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children and the Coro Fellows.

Daytime meetings are March 10, 12:30 p.m., at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library; March 11, 1:30 p.m., at the Squirrel Hill Public Library, and March 16, 10 a.m., at St. John's Lutheran Church in McCandless.

Do Good:
• Lend your voice to a League meeting: For more information, email or call 412-261-4284.
• RSVP for the PA Budgetwatch meetings: Click here by March 11 to register. For more info, click here or call Jason Bernard at 412-434-1335.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Arlene Levy, League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh

PICT seeking schools that want more of the Bard, less of the bored

If Shakespeare had written "All that glisters is not cash money," kids might still be listening.

But it's sometimes hard to get them to read and understand the Bard much beyond the few major plays usually assigned in class.

That's why Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre is looking for local schools that want to take advantage of PICT's 2011 National Endowment for the Arts grant and bring their students to a new production of Antony & Cleopatra -- and draw PICT expertise and resources to their schools.

Theater spokesperson Gale McGloin says the group is still looking for 10 schools to participate. They will receive NEA's Shakespeare tool kit, a teacher's guide to the play and other PICT productions, a writing exorcise to help students with the play and a pair of visits to their school -- one from a PICT teaching artist and the other from PICT's Producing Artistic Director, Andrew Paul. The production stars Sam Tsoutsouvas and local acting standout Helena Ruoti, and student tickets are $10.

PICT is one of only four Pennsylvania companies to receive an NEA grant this year, and the only one locally. Already participating are Hampton High School, Aquinas Academy in Gibsonia and South Side High School in Beaver.

The idea behind the program is to get kids "to really embody the language," McGloin says, by understanding the poetry and experiencing it as theater interpreted by today's sensibilities, not just as old-fashioned printed words. "It's a really exciting opportunity for students."

Schools wishing to take advantage of this opportunity should contact McGloin at 412-561-6000, etc. 204 or via email.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Gale McGloin, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre

Robots, gems, space, skeletons ... hands-on kids' science from college profs at C-MITES

Gifted and other high-achieving students aren't always challenged by their everyday school projects, notes Ann Shoplik, director of C-MITES -- the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Talented Elementary and Secondary Students. The program's spring Weekend Workshops bring these students together from all over Allegheny County for such classes as "Build a Robot," "Ice Cream Science," "Inside the Beehive" and "Neuroscience and the Learning Brain." And that's important, Shoplik says, because "research has shown us that gifted students learn better when they are grouped with other gifted students, both academically and socially."

Classes are also fun -- and a rare opportunity for younger children to learn from university professors, in many cases, and use university software, tools and facilities, such as CMU's machine shop and mechanical engineering software.

Robotics class students, for instance, use the Lego Mindstorm robot-building kits but also work with the CMU Robotics Institute professor who has developed the Institute curriculum. "That's not something they can just get out of a box at a toy store," Shoplik notes.

To see available classes, just click on "View classes with openings" on the C-MITES spring course website. Summer programs should be clickable soon on the website as well. C-MITES serves 5,000 kids a year, with additional offerings in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the state.

"There are just a handful of university programs for gifted students in the country," Shoplik notes. "Pittsburgh is lucky to have such a program right here."

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ann Shoplik, C-MITES
Image courtesy of Ann Shoplik, director of C-MITES

Carnegie Science Award winners blast off on another mission to inspire

John Tucker is the Business Groups President of a $2.5 billion company, Kennametal, that's about to launch an innovative new tooling and coolant product called Beyond Blast on March 1. It took three years to develop, both at company HQ in Latrobe and in India and Europe. Yet he seemed most pumped up about winning a Carnegie Science Award for the product.

"For Kennametal, it was quite an accomplishment," Tucker said before the announcement of Kennametal's Advanced Manufacturing Award at the Center on Feb. 3. "Here in our hometown, to be recognized by the Carnegie Science Center, is an extra-special recognition."

Other awards went to educators and scientists at many levels, including John Pollock of Duquesne University (Special Recognition in Science Education Award), Thad Zaleskiewicz of the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg (University/Post-Secondary Educator Award) and Sara Majetich of Carnegie Mellon University (Emerging Female Scientist Award), as well as Richard Gebrosky of North Allegheny School District (Middle Level Educator Award).

The Catalyst for Science Education Award was given to ASSET Inc., a South Side nonprofit focused on science and math education programs. Last fall they received a $20.2 million U.S. Department of Education grant to establish Regional Professional Development Centers and associated sites throughout the state to help train 450 new teachers in special science curricula over the next five years. Says spokesperson Karen Ahearn: "We're really serving as a model for the nation."

As Carnegie Science Awards co-chair Ron Bailey noted: "Our larger mission is to inspire scientific curiosity in the next generation of leaders."

The awards ceremony is May 6 in the Carnegie Museum in Oakland, with keynote speaker Anousheh Ansari, the first civilian and first Iranian astronaut.

Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: John Tucker, Kennametal; Karen Ahearn, Asset Inc.; Carnegie Science Center
Image courtesy of Carnegie Science Center

Ryan Clark had his dad, Max Starks had his chess teacher – whom can you mentor?

Steelers safety Ryan Clark says his father was his biggest mentor, teaching him how to do the most important job of all – being a father. For offensive lineman Max Starks, his mentor was the man who taught him chess at the local youth center.

For more than 24,000 local kids last year, the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania was the key to bringing the right adult into their lives to read to them, or play sports with them, or just to serve as a positive role model. More than two thousand others remain on waiting lists for mentoring programs here.

"And there are thousands more who can benefit from a mentor," says Kristan Allen, director of marketing and communications for the Partnership in the Strip District, which is in the midst of National Mentoring Month. The organization assists about 140 youth-focused groups with starting and maintaining mentoring programs – from offering best practices to recruiting new volunteers (sometimes with videos involving the Steelers).

Those programs include Be a Sixth Grade Mentor, started last year in Pittsburgh Public Schools. Designed to help kids understand how many more options they'll have in life if they stay in school, it places 250 mentors one hour a week with children in many schools. It's been so successful it's being expanded this year to the seventh grade.

If you're interested in being a mentor, but have a limited amount of free time to volunteer, the Mentoring Partnership can still use your help, says Allen, and will happily match your availability, talents and interests to the appropriate local program.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Kristan Allen, Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania
Image courtesy Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Storehouse for Teachers brings benefits to schools before schools can come to it

"We didn't want to wait – we wanted to help teachers right here, right now," says Katherine Harrell, director of marketing and programs for Storehouse for Teachers, the free classroom-supply spot for educators that is in the midst of its pilot year – but not ready to open its West End location. "We're packing up our program and taking it on the road."

When the building opens at 281 Corliss Street, teachers from schools where 60 percent of the students qualify for meal help under the National School Lunch Program will be able to show up, grab a shopping cart and fill it for their young charges – at no charge.

The problem is acute and widespread, Harrell says. "On a national average, we have found that teachers spend $1,200 of their own salaries buying essential school and classroom supplies each year." That's everything from pencils and paper to hand sanitizer and toilet tissue. "We have found that teachers will do whatever it takes," she says.

To start filling that need, the Storehouse will present supplies to kids at assemblies at several Pittsburgh Public Schools, including charter schools, as well as a local Catholic school. Most schools plan to assemble their children for a special presentation, which includes new backpacks from Operation Backpack, on Dec. 16 and 17. Some of the assemblies will feature an appearance by Schenley High School grad Darnell Dinkins, who was a New Orleans Saints tight end on last year's Super Bowl team.

There are 24 similar Storehouses across the country, affiliated with the Kids in Need Foundation. Pittsburgh's Storehouse – a pre-affiliate at the moment – will be the first in Pennsylvania.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Katherine Harrell, Storehouse for Teachers
Image courtesy Storehouse for Teachers

Sprout's Super Spark grants to light up early childhood education innovations

The deadline to apply for the second round of the Sprout Fund's Super Spark grants is Dec, 13, just as the projects funded last year are about to take off.

The grants, supported by the Grable Foundation, give up to $50,000 to early childhood learning projects that link kids to age 8 with media and technology. Unlike the Mini-Spark grants, Super Spark requires a team of applicants.

Debuting tomorrow, Dec. 9, at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium is 2009 Super Spark grantee Reefbot, a robotic submersible for kids to steer through the two-story ocean tank, capturing images and using interactive software to identify and learn about its creatures. Last year's other funded project was Isabel's Playground, currently being developed at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University and Ohio-based Southpaw Enterprises, this special inpatient playground for kids with health issues will be embedded with fiber optics and other materials that interact with the children. It is set to open in March, 2011.

Sprout Programs and Communications Associate Ryan Coon says the new focus on connecting children to technology and media emerged this year: "In Pittsburgh, we've got a lot of energy and experimentation going on developing new media, coming from the universities and startups and traditional media. And there's a community of people dedicated to early childhood services. We wanted to bridge those two worlds. They are perhaps farther apart than we thought they were."

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ryan Coon, The Sprout Fund
Image courtesy The Sprout Fund

Book drive has read on benefiting, creating young writers

There's still time to donate books to the National Novel Writing Month Book Drive to benefit their free Young Writers Program – even though it's too late to try writing an entire novel in November.

NaNoWriMo (as participants call it) has reached The End this year, so you've missed your chance to pen a bestseller, or at least put 50,000 consecutive words on paper, in a mere 30 days. But the charitable arm of the group behind the annual word marathon, the Office of Letters and Light, is attempting to collect 5,000 books in Pittsburgh alone by Dec. 15 to sell online. The effort will benefit its programs that encourage school kids to attempt fiction and scripts of their own. The Young Writers Program offers everything from downloadable lesson plans to forums for teachers and students – and occasionally the loan of laptops for student use.

Kelly Thomas, local volunteer book-drive coordinator, hopes this will aid both local schools' efforts to increase reading proficiency and the need for top communications skills in the job world.

"Even though this is fiction we're talking about" during NaNoWriMo, says Thomas, "writing in general is one of the most important skills you can have once you finish school and enter the workforce. Every job application I've looked at in the past two years has asked for a candidate who can communicate clearly."

The group has collected n early 2,000 books so far. Donation can be dropped off at Phantom of the Attic in Oakland, Squirrel Hill's 61C Caf้, Bistro Soul on the North Side and Robert Morris University's Nicholson Center in Moon. Arrange for the pick-up of large loads by contacting Kelly Thomas.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Kelly Thomas
Image courtesy Kelly Thomas

"Take a Shot" student video contest aims lenses at ridding world of polio

The people of Pittsburgh know the story of Jonas Salk developing a vaccine to prevent polio, but do our youngest citizens? And does anyone realize that polio still rages in India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan?

The "Take a Shot at Changing the World" video contest is offering big rewards for an effort that will have a big impact on the world. Middle- and high-school students in Western Pennsylvania are being offered $5,000 (to be split with the winner's school) for the most creative and compelling video showing the connection between Salk's efforts here 55 years ago and what is being done to rid the world of polio today, such as the fundraising efforts of Rotary International and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The winning video will be shown on WQED television and posted on Gates Foundation website.

Carl Kurlander, whose Steeltown Entertainment Project created the contest, knows how to make videos himself, of course; he's best known for his writing and producing credits on the movie "St. Elmo's Fire" and the television show "Saved by the Bell."

Now he's hoping the medium of the moment, viral videos, will make the world pay more attention to what was done, and still needs to be done, about polio's eradication. Participating students can use their school's video equipment – or cameras offered by The Pittsburgh Foundation. The most popular "Take A Shot" video, by students' or judges' vote, will win $1,000.

"This is kind of experimental, but we already have 25 schools signed up," Kurlander says. "We're hoping we have 250 schools signed up" by the contest deadline of March 31, 2011. "It was the greatest story ever told … you'd think everyone would know about it 50 years later!"

To watch the contest announcement, click here.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Carl Kurlander, Steeltown Entertainment Project

New Pittsburgh Collaborative: Finding the leaders of the 21st century in our region

The leaders of tomorrow may be growing up in the local classrooms of today, but they won't be leaders only locally.

That's the idea under examination by the New Pittsburgh Collaborative during its next HUB (Host. Unify. Blend) event on Dec. 9. With the World Affairs Council, the National Association of Asian American Professionals Pittsburgh, and Leadership Pittsburgh, the group will host Dr. Michael G๖ring, head of the ZEIT Foundation in Hamburg, Germany, alongside local education leaders. Their discussion is titled "Who Will Run the 21st Century? The Role of Education in Global Leadership."

G๖ring has done a great deal of education research in the United States as well as China, Japan, and other countries, and will lend a world perspective to what has too often been a merely regional concern, says Amiena Mahsoob, education program manager for the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. He and the other participants will address what impact education, as well as different countries' education policies, have on global economic competitiveness.

Locally, notes Mahsoob, "there is a lot being done to improve education. But those efforts are not necessarily even. Some schools are doing fabulous things, and other schools are just starting to grasp the idea that students don't just need to have success in college." The districts also need to focus on preparing young people to work for local companies that have a global presence, she says.

The event, with a $10 admission that includes food and drink, is 6-9 p.m. at the Bricolage Production Company, Downtown.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Amiena Mahsoob, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh

Health knowledge grows faster than bacteria in Duquesne prof's planetarium shows

When animated creations come alive in a child's room – a jellyfish on a wall mural, a stuffed chicken, the bacteria in his sneakers – and help him with a science project, that must mean Duquesne Professor John Pollock is preparing yet another episode of How We Grow.

It's the 9th in a series of planetarium presentations for elementary and middle-school kids that has just garnered Pollock his latest large grant from the National Institutes of Health – a $250,889 Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources. Pollock – associate professor of biology in the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences – will also use the grant for the production of more TV episodes of Scientastic!, aimed at young children and their families.

This latest planetarium show covers reproduction and stem cells; other episodes have taught about cell biology, the inner workings of the brain, tissue engineering and type I diabetes.

Pollock's work has earned $4 million in support over the last decade, he says, because there's a huge need to teach kids health literacy. The difficulty starts with the large number of Americans who have trouble simply understanding what they read. "When something new is happening in science that takes more than a sound bite to make sense of, a huge swath of the population won't get the information," he says. "So I thought, let's rescue the kids."

Pollock also posts science activities on his project website for teachers, many of whom were not trained to teach this discipline, he notes. He plans to release his latest animated creation in the spring.

Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon students have done much of the animation through the years, and Pollock continues to partner with former student Laura Gonzalez, whose company, Green Eye Visualization, is animating the current episode.

"If you're teaching science, the way that the story is told, students will connect with that," Pollock concludes, adding: "We recognize it has to be as good as their videogames – or better."

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Dr. John Pollock, Duquesne University
Image courtesy of Dr. John Pollock, Duquesne University

Strong Women, Girls pumps up South Side presence

A mentoring program for girls is expanding from schools, churches and social agencies to include library sites for the first time in Pittsburgh.

Strong Women, Strong Girls matches college women with elementary girls in an effort to promote success in school and later in life. It has 21 program sites in Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg and Steel Valley. There are sister programs in Boston and Miami, but Pittsburgh is the first to see whether libraries can attract more participants. The new sites for this free, once weekly after-school program include the Carrick and Brookline Carnegie libraries, as well as the Brashear Association, all on the South Side.

"A lot of research tells us that some girls, as they reach their adolescence, shut down on their dreams," says Lynne Garfinkel, head of the Pittsburgh SWSG. "We want to nurture their dreams as much as we can."

The program, which is serving 350 girls in its fourth year here, aims to provide female college-student role models, encouraging the younger girls to pursue higher education and greater career success. It also offers a comfortable space for them to develop their self-esteem, Garfinkel says.

"We're trying to help break the cycle of poverty," especially with women earning less and seemingly avoiding careers based on high performance in math, science and related academic subjects. The fall session ends shortly but resumes in mid- to late January, culminating in an April 9 Jump Into Spring jump-roping event as a kind of graduation.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Lynne Garfinkel, Strong Women, Strong Girls
Image courtesy of Lynne Garfinkel, Strong Women, Strong Girls

Women and children first at La Roche Global Solutions Conference

For the past five years, the local Global Problems, Global Solutions conference has focused on a set of what it labels "millennium goals," and this year it will hone in on the problems of women and children worldwide.

Its goals are lofty – eliminating poverty and hunger, reducing gender inequities and child mortality, fighting AIDS and poor education – but its focus is on the local and practical, says conference coordinator Dr. Tom Schaefer, who is associate vice president for academic affairs at host La Roche College

"The workshops have been designed [to determine] what's our next step, so people can walk away feeling empowered themselves – especially the student workshops," Schaefer says. They will offer practical applications for working toward these goals, connecting people to groups keying in on each issue, for instance.

The free conference Nov. 12-13 will feature keynote speaker Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, who has been keenly addressing global issues at other conferences recently, Schaefer says.

La Roche hopes to hold the event on its North Hills campus annually; previously, the event has been hosted by other institutions that continue to be among its co-sponsor, including Carlow University, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Global Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

"We don't want people to just walk away with philosophical knowledge," concludes Schaefer, "but with the ability to apply it to their daily lives."

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Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Dr. Tom Schaefer, La Roche College
Image courtesy of La Roche College

Teachers feeling fury over Shakespeare learn sound teaching techniques at Pitt

If all the world's a stage, too many instructors find themselves frozen in the footlights when trying to teach Shakespeare. The University of Pittsburgh's 12th annual Shakespeare-in-the-Schools teacher workshop aims to fix all that.

"More Shakespeare Alive!" will be held Nov. 12 in Pitt's Stephen Foster Memorial, with openings for 40 participants. Leading them into the breach this year is University of Northern Colorado Assistant Professor of Theater Education Gillian McNally, who has taught Shakespeare to young people and written extensively about the Bard.

"Teachers are very resourceful, but they're always looking for new tools to engage students in Shakespeare, because it can be very daunting material," notes Tamara Goldbogen, program director for Shakespeare-in-the-Schools. "Alive!" will use the techniques of theater – body movement and speech – to help teachers interpret the text and give it more emotional impact for their students. If Shakespeare is writing about jealousy, for instance, teachers will learn how to make a personal connection for their charges between the issue and all those olde, olde words.

The workshop will serve not only grade-school English teachers but theater and visual art instructors, teachers in training and Pitt's own graduate students. "What we find to be really effective is breaking it all down so that teachers leave the workshop with lesson plans and activities," Goldbogen says.

The fee for the workshop is $75 and includes a boxed lunch. Click here or call 412-624-3459 to register.

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Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Tamara Goldbogen, Shakespeare-in-the-Schools
Image courtesy of Shakespeare-in-the-Schools

Million-dollar 'milestone' for NEED scholarships

So successful was this year's NEED fundraising efforts that the venerable scholarship organization will award an unprecedented $1 million in college tuition assistance to local African American students for 2010-2011.

"It is the first time in our 47-year history that we've given out $1 million in scholarships to students in one academic year," says Arlene Holland, NEED's student services manager. "So it is certainly a milestone for us."

The average need gap – the difference between one year's college costs and the available grants and scholarships – is edging toward $6,000, Holland notes, and higher education is only getting more expensive.

Still, the group – the oldest financial assistance organization for minority students in the state – was please to hit this high mark. They awarded 600 scholarships in the current school year, and will be able to up that to 700 for next year – an increase of 17 percent. But it will still leave hundreds of deserving kids without NEED's help; in 2009-2010, the group had more than 1,900 scholarship applications, or more than three times the number of awardees. The total number of applicants this year has not yet been tallied.

Recipients for 2010-2011 will be recognized at a NEED dinner in March.

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Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Arlene Holland and Amanda Brettholle, NEED

Allegheny Voices 2: Inspiration from North Side memories old and young …

Larry Berger calls what happened when 8th-grade students recently interviewed 10 North Side elders "transformative."

Berger, a host of The Saturday Light Brigade radio program broadcast from The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, has just released Allegheny Voices 2, a book and CD collection that is more than just recollections of the area's rich history from residents (ages 62-95) who lived it.

The purpose of the project was to teach the new generation – eighth graders from Manchester Academic Charter School – greater understanding of the older generation, as well as listening, interviewing and story development skills. "I've begun to think of the children on this project as muses for these elders," says Berger. They're fresh ears for these stories."

Interview subjects include jazz drummer Roger Humphries; Father Jack O'Malley (involved in the social justice movement); Moses Carper, who grew up in an almost rural section of the North Side called The Hollows and has run horse stables on Observatory Hill; and Warren Gottschalk, an inventor who sang with bandleader Lawrence Welk on WJAS radio.

The project also includes student reflections about the project's meaning. One student who interviewed Humphries, for instance, was inspired to "realize things I really thought weren't important actually were important."

Berger and project partner Jeff Baron, SLB Radio's director of education and outreach, hope to repeat the idea in other communities. The book and CD are available at the museum as well as the North Side library, businesses and schools.

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Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Larry Berger and Jeff Baron, SLB Radio
Photo by Larry Rippel. Image courtesy of SLB Radio

New collaboration inspires kids with art at Manchester

The Manchester Craftsmen's Guild has begun a pilot program to encourage kids from Holy Family Institute and other local residential foster agencies through MCG's forte: art.

With a $125,000 grant to the Allegheny County Department of Human Services from Seattle-based Casey Family Programs, this new collaboration will put 60 kids in MCG's top-line digital arts, photography and ceramics studios. During both in- and after-school components, the children can learn to make their own music through the latest software or stay old-school with lessons about perspective and lens apertures.

Program creator Paulo Nzambi, vice president of administration for the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, hopes the "unique alchemy" of positive artistic experiences and a caring atmosphere will inspire these kids to believe more in themselves and their futures. The arts will be used to educate and to motivate these young people to grow into productive citizens, he says.

The experience may also serve to decrease their time before placement in a foster or permanent home. Even if the community they grew up in didn't leave them feeling cared for or excited about the possibilities of life, Nzambi adds, this program is designed to help them envision a future worth striving for.

"When they walk through these doors," he says, "we believe they get a very strong message about their dignity as a person."

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Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Paulo Nzambi, Manchester Bidwell Corporation

Major Major Major: R.K. Mellon, Bayer, NSF grants to have big impacts

The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University has received its largest gift ever: $2 million from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

The grant will endow the 11-year-old Bayer Center, which supports nonprofits with business and technology planning assistance as well as board and fund development and other services. In addition, the foundation gave $3 million to the university's new school of business facility under construction in Moon Township.

"The R. K. Mellon Foundation has been our biggest financial supporter since the inception of the center," says Associate Director Scott Leff. "This kind of philanthropic support allows us to respond more flexibly to whatever need is in the community."

Bayer is at the center of yet more local largesse: Bayer Corporation has given an unspecified amount to rename the Carnegie Science Center's 300-seat Science Stage as the Bayer Science Stage. The company is also sponsoring a new Making Science Make Sense interactive educational kiosk in the Center lobby. Both changes are slated for early 2011.

The partnership developed as part of the company's efforts to encourage new generations of engineers and scientists, according to Bayer President and CEO Greg Babe.

Student scientists will certainly also be encouraged by the biggest renovation grant in Duquesne University history, awarded late this month by the National Science Foundation. Nearly $1.7 million will revamp the research laboratories in the school's Mellon Hall, some of which date to its origins 42 years ago.

Work will begin in February to improve labs focused on chemical analysis of autism and environmental issues, on bacteria used to change metals, and many others.

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Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Scott Leff, Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management; Bayer Corporation; Duquesne University

Propel propelled further by $3.4 million federal education grant

Propel Schools received a generous $1.1 million grant this week from the federal government's Charter School Grants Program of the Dept. of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement, one of only a dozen charter schools in the country to land the funding.

The grant will cover the next two years, while a follow-up grant of $2.3 million is likely for the three years after that, helping to nearly double its offerings from 6 to 11 charter public schools in the Pittsburgh area.

"We have another 2,000 students who would like to go to a Propel school," reports Executive Director Jeremy Resnick. With schools already in Turtle Creek, Homestead, McKeesport, Montour, Munhall and Braddock Hills, Resnick isn't ready to say what districts his organization will target for future facilities. But he's certain Propel will continue "providing high-performing school choices where communities don't have access to them."

The organization says it now has the fastest-growing and largest group of charter schools in the state, and claims the top achievement level among public schools in districts that also serve the highest poverty areas.

"It's validation for what we've done from a national source," Resnick says. "It's great to have a Pittsburgh organization up there with the organizations that get written up in The New York Times."

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jeremy Resnick, Propel Schools

Image courtesy of Propel Schools

Read All About It: Lit Council, Others Help Everyone Back to School

Local educational groups are expecting 500 kids to attend the 21:03 Back-to-School Concert on Sept. 3 at the New Hazlett Theater to hear an uplifting message for the new school year. The three-man gospel group 21:03, which tours the country, will help counter negative influences such as bullying and peer pressure, say organizers.

The concert will also attract parents who can serve as role models for their children, says Greg Mims, spokesman for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, which is co-sponsoring the concert along with Familylinks, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, and Bynums Marketing & Communications, Inc.

"Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council is for the most part an adult literacy organization," Mims explains. "But … we do have a family literacy [focus], because we find that when families read together and value education, the kids get it. The parent is the child's first and best teacher.

"The tough thing about adult literacy, in terms of publicizing it," Mims adds, "is that you can't necessarily feel the effects until later."

GPLC will have some of its younger adult students at the event to talk about the need to stay in school now, in order to develop computer and literacy skills.

For tickets and more information, click here.

Author: Marty Levine
Source: Greg Mims, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council

Tools for success: Help Storehouse for Teachers prep kids for a fabulous school year

Last year, Storehouse for Teachers was launched with the goal of helping teachers in recession-strapped schools equip their classrooms with all the necessary supplies.

A year later, the program has been thriving. And it's looking to get an additional boost, just in time for the new school year: As they did last year, Storehouse for Teachers is working with Giant Eagle on a fundraising project that is expected to help complete the renovation of their new space and stock the shelves of the Storehouse to help teachers in need.

The in-store donation campaign runs through August 26th at 70 Giant Eagle locations in the Pittsburgh area. Shoppers can donate cash at checkouts or buy school supplies and drop them in donation bins at the entrance. And they're also reminded of the option to donate directly at www.storehouseforteachers.org.

"It is now incredibly easy to support teachers, kids by simply making a donation at your local Giant Eagle. Just a few dollars will communicate to teachers how grateful we are for their service," says Hilary Brown, one of the organizers of the Storehouse. The donations will also, Brown says, help underprivileged students see that the community believes strongly in their "right to learn."

Any school with at least 60% of students on a free or reduced-price lunch program qualify to receive school and classroom supplies from Storehouse at no cost. Storehouse plans to open a retail-style resource center where teachers from these districts can shop for free. Storehouse for Teachers is the 25th facility of its kind in the United States and the first in Pennsylvania under the Kids In Need Foundation program model.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Hilary Brown, Storehouse for Teachers
Image courtesy of Storehouse for Teachers

Grable Foundation grants $50,000 to help the High School Urban EcoSteward Program grow

Last spring, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy teamed up with City Charter High School and the Student Conservation Association to create High School Urban EcoStewards program.

Urban EcoStewards are ordinary citizens who make a long-term commitment to care for a specific section of park land. With help from the Frick Environmental Center, the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation, a group of students learned to perform the same ecological restoration work that adult Urban EcoStewards do.

Twenty students from City High's 10th grade class cared for a section of parkland by Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park during the Spring 2010 trimester.

They also brought science-journaling into the process, which helped build their observation and recording skills and encouraged them to reflect on the importance of what they were doing.

Initial funding came through a grant from an initiative of the Heinz Endowments Youth Philanthropy Program. The Grable Foundation has now awarded a $50,000 grant to fund the High School Urban EcoStewards program for the next year.

The Grable Foundation's funding will allow the program to expand to other schools this fall, including the SciTech Academy and the Homewood YMCA Lighthouse Project at Westinghouse High School. Enrollment will likely triple in size: The coming year's program is expected to serve a group of approximately 60 students.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Laura Cook, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Image posted by mcgraths via Flickr

An open book: Carnegie Library continues community dialogue

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is continuing its efforts to communicate with as many Pittsburghers as possible, seeking "the perspective of the entire community as we develop a plan about Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and its future."

This weekend, they will host another round of community workshops (July 17, 18 and 19 -- see website for details). In addition, they are offering an online discussion guide and accompanying "I Will Help" survey. The online discussion guide is designed to give people an opportunity to explore the issues and consider their positions before attending these meetings.

When a previous round of community meetings was held in May, about 200 people attended in person and more than 370 responded online with questions, comments and opinions, says Library communications manager Suzanne Thinnes.

As the Library grapples with budget challenges and a surplus of aging buildings, they are faced with trying to please a diverse community of people with widely varying opinions.

"People use the library in different ways. Some really like having a building in their community to take their children to for story time," Thinnes says, while others prefer to only access the Library system online for downloading books and researching databases.

"We are trying to reach as many people as we can," Thinnes says, because "we want to make sure everyone who has an opinion is heard."

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Suzanne Thinnes, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Image courtesy of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

How it went: Black Male Leadership Development Institute at RMU

It happened just like Rex Crawley hoped it would. On the third day of the Black Male Leadership Development Institute at Robert Morris University, even the young men who had been wary of the program began to respond.

This intensive 8-day residency program, run by RMU in close cooperation with the Urban League, brings dozens of young men from the Pittsburgh area to the Robert Morris campus for workshops, lectures and discussions. The goal? To prepare these high school students to become community leaders and encourage them to pursue education beyond high school.

It's an immersive experience and some are skeptical when they arrive. But within a few days they discover the remarkable opportunity they've been given.

"They went through the whole range -- some showing up afraid, and some having been made to come by their parents," Crawley explains. "But by the time Wednesday came, they were really into it. We call it 'magical Wednesday,' because that's when it starts to click for all of them."  

Now in its third year, the program has been garnering increasing attention. "We were budgeted for 65 kids and had close to 150 applications," Crawley says. Some students had been nominated by the school board, and others applied after their parents saw advertisements about the program. "This year we went viral with the application online," Crawley said. "Also, the Urban League's role in all of this is tremendous."

This year's group seemed to gain a great deal from the experience, Crawley says, and on Sunday they had a chance to celebrate what they had learned at the Institute's graduation ceremony. "We had close to 250 guests, and it was really an opportunity to share with the kids' parents and families the success of the week."

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Rex Crawley, Black Male Leadership Development Institute, Robert Morris University

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Today Pittsburgh, tomorrow the Oscars: This summer's coolest Youth Program

There are many cool and creative summer programs for Pittsburgh's young people -- the Summer Dreamers Academy is just one example. But a program happening this summer in Monessen at the Douglas Education Center offers a combination of hands-on job training and high-tech artistry that is hard to beat.

One group of the summer students participating in the Youth Program at DEC are learning about cutting-edge graphic design. The other group is studying video and film production. Both groups are being taught by industry experts -- people who can share real-world advice about these industries while encouraging the students' individual creativity.

What's especially unique about this program is that the students are using the same studios and equipment that are used by DEC's full-time students, who are pursuing advanced degrees in these fields. Often those full-time students are on campus, editing films or doing other work that the summer students can learn from. The program also includes follow-up training sessions after the summer ends, which extend through the coming school year.

"We have a wonderful response from the students," says Patricia DeConcilis, director of education at DEC. "They're working with people who are experts in these fields," and they're given both artistic encouragement and exposure to real-world career possibilities.

Students (ages 14-18) come to the program through the Westmoreland-Fayette Workforce Investment Board. Many are from lower-income families and would not normally have access to equipment and training of this kind. They are also offered transportation to the program and -- perhaps most crucially -- are given a healthy, full meal each day.

"They really do seem to appreciate that," DeConcilis says. "For some of the students, this may be the best meal of the day." And the creative experiences they have this summer may be the most exciting of their young lives.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Patricia DeConcilis, DEC
Image courtesy of Douglas Education Center

World Affairs Council gives high school students a global view

A group of 56 high school students from all across western Pennsylvania spent last week learning about the world and the challenges it currently faces. They learned a bit of history, explored international politics and even tried their hand at finding solutions for global dilemmas. All this took place during a week-long intensive summer seminar at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.

The daily sessions began with an hour-long briefing from a foreign policy expert. Then the students were given policy scenarios and asked to respond.

"Each day we focused on different region," says Christina Unger, education program manager at WAC. "On Monday it was Asia, and Tuesday was the Middle East, with a focus on Iran. It was very timely, because they hear about Iran and the UN sanctions."

One goal, beyond educating the students about specific world issues, was to show them how complicated and delicate international policy decisions can be. Students and teachers discussed how one choice impacts many others, and the ways that global issues overlap. "A speaker on first day described it as layer cake," Unger says, which was an analogy the students enjoyed.

On the final day, while learning about Latin America, the group was given an added challenge: "We chose a crisis scenario, with them being told there's about to be a coup, and the military has come to you as a representative of the State Department, looking for your approval," Unger said. The students were told they had one hour to prepare a briefing for their bosses on how the United States should respond.

At the start of the seminar, a poll was taken: Less than one-quarter of the students had traveled outside the country. But about one-third had valid passports, and all were excited about traveling globally as they grow older.

Where do they want to go? "We asked," Unger says, "and it was neat to hear the places they mentioned. You got things like Italy and Ireland, but also Japan and Africa."

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Christina Unger, World Affairs Council
Image of seminar students courtesy of World Affairs Council

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Changing children's lives: Be A Sixth Grade Mentor grows with infusion of cash and commitment

After a highly successful year in which 6th-graders across the city were mentored by caring adults, the United Way of Allegheny County announced this week an expanded version of the "Be a 6th Grade Mentor" program. Continued federal support from Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA, 14th District) in the form of a $100,000 grant and a new corporate commitment of $125,000 from First Niagara are further steps toward the goal of mentoring every 6th grader in Pittsburgh.

First Niagara isn't new to mentoring. Since 2006, they have provided more than $1.5 million to 77 mentoring organizations across New York and Pennsylvania through the Mentoring Matters program. But rather than launch their own program in the Pittsburgh region, they decided to support "Be a 6th Grade Mentor."

"When we entered Western Pennsylvania, we looked at how we would deploy our efforts in terms of mentoring," says Todd Moules, president of First Niagara, Western Pennsylvania. "We chose this program because it is research-based, the program has shown success and it really has mobilized a community, both the private and public sides, to form a great partnership. "

Research indicates that 6th grade is an extremely pivotal time in a young person's development. "If you can get them at that time and stay with them until they complete junior high," Moules says, it's more likely that you can make a real impact. Students who work with mentors are 86 percent more likely to attend college, and are also more likely to get good grades and avoid drugs.

"Last year, recruitment for 'Be a 6th Grade Mentor' and the support we received from the community exceeded all expectations," said Bob Nelkin, president and chief professional officer at the United Way of Allegheny County, in announcing next year's program. "We have a whole new class of 6th graders this year who need caring adult role models to guide them in developing career aspirations and the tools for a successful future."

"Be a 6th Grade Mentor" has inspired widespread community support and cooperation between the Pittsburgh Public Schools, The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Community Human Services Corporation, Communities In Schools, the Duquesne University Center for Competitive Workforce Development, the Hill House Association and Mt. Ararat Community Activity Center.

"This tremendous private-public partnership is a wonderful complement to the generosity of United Way donors in Pittsburgh, who have shown strong support for all of our youth initiatives, including mentoring," Nelkin said.

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Todd Moules/First Niagara
Image courtesy of the Be a 6th Grade Mentor program

Read them here: Winning essays in AE's contest explore a new vision for the 'burgh

Today's high school students will build the Pittsburgh of tomorrow. Last week, 23 of those students were honored by the AE Better World Foundation for writing exceptional essays exploring their personal vision of Pittsburgh's future.

At a lunch event last Thursday, these graduating seniors were given new laptop computers and American Eagle Outfitters gift cards for a new back-to-school wardrobe. "It was literally the ultimate graduation gift," says AE foundation director Marcie Eberhart.

But AE's giving went beyond cool clothes and sleek electronics: The foundation also presented a $100,000 donation to the Pittsburgh Promise. Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Promise, addressed the students and accepted the donation from American Eagle's CEO, Jim O'Donnell.

This is the first time AE has given to the Pittsburgh Promise, which Eberhart describes as "a perfect fit for American Eagle, because they're supporting the same demographic that are our customers." What inspired the donation?

The goal was to give back locally. "In addition to our national charity partners," including Jumpstart, Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Student Conservation Association, says Eberhart, "we're committed to supporting charities right here in our own hometown."

The award-winning writing included these striking words by Naomi Ritter from Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, who plans to found an organization dedicated to diversity: "Being the only black person in a room full of white faces for close to five years now has taught me how important diversity in a work environment is."

"My organization, ChangeWorks, will focus on internships in the workplace, study abroad opportunities in the schools, and networking for everyone. ChangeWorks will host events that invite Pittsburghers to cross boundaries both socially and professionally." She ends her essay by saying, "This is my dream: that no child will feel the alienation I felt while in school, and will have the opportunity to excel to the best of their abilities."

Julian McMillan of Perry High School envisions a high-tech city where free Wi-Fi for all brings equal access to success and prosperity. To help boost the city's employment future, he plans to found his own tech start-up.

And Allerdice student Anne Sternberger describes a Pittsburgh still solidly anchored by the elements that make it great today: "I cannot imagine living anywhere else when I graduate from college," she writes. "This is my town, one that encompasses the best of city living along with thriving suburban areas."

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Marcie Eberhart, AE Foundation
Image courtesy of the AE Foundation 

After Get Ur Good On Day, inspiration lingers

For a group of teenagers at Academy Charter School, volunteering had always been a form of punishment. But last week, finally, it was different.

During an innovative program called Get Ur Good On, funded through the Pittsburgh Foundation's online Voices of Youth grant competition, a group of 40 high school juniors and seniors from Academy spent the day doing good just for the sake of doing good.

"They are court-adjudicated youth," says Meg Schreck of Pittsburgh Cares, who supervised the program. "When they think of service, the first thing they think of is orange jumpsuits and litter patrol on the side of road." Get Ur Good On was designed to change that. "We've been trying to instill within them that you can do good in your community," instead of as a teen who gets in trouble.

"It was a fantastic day," Schreck says. "Throughout the day the students rotated through a variety of different stations," making things like pillows for a women's shelter and Memorial Day wreaths for a senior living center in the South Hills. They also filled more than 75 bags with small toiletry items for homeless people and did creative jobs like painting their own artwork onto picnic benches.

The impact was visible -- the students encouraged each other to do a good job, behaved well, and took real ownership of their artwork. "They finally got it," Schreck says. "They understood, 'Wow, that was fun and I did that out of the goodness of my heart, and I'm not expecting anything in return.'"

That epiphany seems to have lasted. The students had been given "Get Ur Good On" t-shirts to wear during the event, and many returned to school the next day still wearing them to celebrate what they had accomplished.

"They were so appreciative that people went out on a limb for them" by creating this event and also catering a beautiful lunch, Schreck says. "They didn't know what to expect… they don't like to get their hopes up, because they've had so much disappointment. It was nice to give them an event that was everything I promised them it would be."

"They don't want to be stereotyped the way they are," she says. "We said, 'Let's give them opportunity to break those stereotypes, an opportunity for them to really shine, and they did."

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Meg Schreck, Pittsburgh Cares
Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Cares

Global Connections: Arts Education in Nicaragua and Teach Africa Summit

As an art student at CMU, Mauren Antkowski approached her professor of Hispanic Studies, Therese Tardio, for advice on teaching art to students in a Spanish speaking country. That led to an incredible experience -- traveling in 2007 to the city of Granada, Nicaragua, where Antkowski brought an arts curriculum to students who normally have little art instruction.

The students were inspired, and so was Antkowski. Since then, she's collaborated with Tardio to create the Granada Arts Education Project (GAEP). They first envisioned the GAEP as an actual school, but staffing and managing a physical school remotely from Pittsburgh wasn't practical. So the project has evolved into "a collaborative between us, and teachers and artists here in Pittsburgh, and in the city of Granada," says Antkowski.

GAEP arts instruction is now being used at two schools in Granada, and the plan is to expand to several additional schools later this year. Antkowski travels to Granada for part of each year, and while in Pittsburgh she sends ideas and information to her counterparts there.

"It's sad in the U.S. that the arts and music are being cut more and more," she says, "but what we have is still a lot more than students have there."

Tardio and Antkowski are planning a fundraiser for June 19 at AVA Bar and Lounge (126 S. Highland Ave). "When Teresa and I go (to Granada), we pay for the trips out of our own pockets," Antkowski says. "Any money from the benefit goes to art supplies and field trips for students." Several Pittsburgh artists will have works for sale at the benefit, and others have volunteered ideas for the teachers in Granada to incorporate in their lesson plans.

In other global education news, two Pittsburgh area students have been chosen as finalists for the U.S. Agency for International Development funded Teach Africa Leadership Summit. Alexa Little, a junior from Shaler Area High School, and Nora Fergany, a sophomore from Gateway Senior High School, have been selected to travel to Washington, D.C. tomorrow to join over 300 high school student leaders at the U.S. Department of State.

They will spend the day with leading experts working on Africa, and will talk via video conference with their counterparts in Liberia, South Africa, and Cameroon, according to an announcement by the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa.

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Mauren Antkowski, GAEP
Image of students in Granada courtesy of GAEP

Creative curriculum: Mt. Lebo schools earn award for prioritizing arts education

The Frick Art and Historical Center has awarded Mt. Lebanon's school district with the 2010 Roy A. Hunt Foundation Award for Commitment to Education in the Arts and Humanities.

In creating the award, "the idea was to honor teachers who successfully integrate the arts into their curriculum throughout the year, and don't just make a field trip because it fits in specifically with one element of their curriculum," says Susan Bails, the Frick's assistant curator of education. "It's an award for infusing the arts throughout the curriculum."

When times are tough, "arts education usually is the first thing that gets cut," Bails says. "But I do think there are angels out there that manage to pursue an arts agenda in their schools and make it happen. … We try to establish relationships with teachers like that and we get a lot of teachers coming back year after year."

Student programs at the Frick are designed to meet specific academic goals, and that's a priority for teachers. But Bails says many also appreciate that "it's about so much more than meeting an academic standard. It's about all kinds of other things… problem solving, engaging them in the world around them" and inspired kids' own creativity.

The teachers at Mt. Lebanon's schools, Bails says, really understand that. And their community benefits from that approach.

"When the adults around them value the arts," she says, "it means something to children."

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Susan Bails, Frick Art and Historical Center
Image of students from the Markham Elementary School kindergarten in Mt. Lebanon courtesy of the Frick

Changing the lives of single mothers: Nieves Stiker

Each day, Nieves Stiker tackles a problem that plagues every city in the nation: How do you help single mothers on public assistance find good jobs and build self-sufficient lives? The roadblocks -- lack of skills, shortage of affordable childcare, the depression that comes with poverty -- often seem insurmountable.

But Stiker and her staff at Carlow University's office of Community Education have found a formula that has more success than most.

"What we're trying to do is improve their skills. So they can provide a job that will provide self-sufficiency," Stiker explains. "That's easier said than done. But we look into the things they would like to achieve, wherever they are going, where they would like to be and the steps to get there."

"We talk about the need for a survival job, but it's just that -- barely surviving," she says. "So they do it under one condition: Decide, before you take it, how long you are going to do this. Maybe it's 'I'm going to do this for six months, because it will take me six months to get my computer skills upgraded. Or I will do this two years, because it will take me two years to get my Associate's degree.'"

That approach has been vital, she says, to the success of many single mothers in Pittsburgh.

"It works," she says, "as long as they limit the time and start working on their skills day one." If they don't begin classes to improve their skills at the same time they begin their survival job, "they get stuck in the job, can barely make it, their self-esteem goes down and depression sets in. They're more discouraged, overwhelmed ... in a way it is a worse situation than they were in before."

Since survival jobs require such long hours to earn a living wage, "they don't have time or energy to see possibilities," she says. "Those possibilities must be in sight before you take that job."

Stiker is blunt about the challenges. "It's a difficult time," she says."People are in survival mode and when they are in survival mode they have a hard time looking into the future." But she is encouraged by the progress she's been seeing.

She's also encouraged -- and a bit surprised -- to have been named a recipient of the Dignity and Respect Champion Award, a component of the Dignity & Respect Campaign, a community initiative created by the Center for Inclusion at UPMC. "It was an amazing thing," she says, "and I am still sort of in awe."

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Nieves Stiker, Carlow University's Office of Community Education
Image courtesy of the Office of Community Education  


Pittsburgh's Global Travel Scholars get ready to see the world

Next month, a dozen students from our region will embark on a journey likely to change their lives. They have been named Global Travel Scholars by Pittsburgh's World Affairs Council, and will travel overseas in conjunction with the Experiment in International Living. They will live for about four weeks in a host country, discovering new cultures and friends.

"They have the experience between junior and senior years, so they can come back and can share it with their classmates," says Julie Maloney, special projects director at the WAC. "We obviously want to have, and do have, an impact on the individual students. But we are also looking for the bigger impact they can have on their fellow classmates, and their community."

"We send students some years from schools that don't have these kind of opportunities," Maloney says. "A student from Westinghouse was sent to France, and it totally changed her life. When she came back and told classmates about what she was able to do… what an impact it had on the student body as a whole. They could see that maybe there were opportunities available to them beyond what they see every day."

In addition to these 12 students, 41 Pittsburgh-area students have spent time abroad since the program launched in 2004. Many had never traveled by plane or even left the region before their trip.

Students are nominated by teachers and must submit several essays. There are also personal interviews to help determine which students are best prepared: "It takes a certain student and a certain maturity," she says, "to make sure they can do this without their family. ... They're part of a group of ten students, and with a group leader, so they're never alone," but there is still some culture shock.

A former participant, Allyce Pinchback, is now working at the WAC and credits the program for giving her a global perspective. "It really opened my eyes to international affairs," she says.

At one point during her trip in 2004, Pinchback sat in a Mr. Donut shop in Japan, watching people "hustling and bustling to the next place they have to go… dealing with work, family things." She realized the trip was teaching her that even if another country has starkly different food or customs, "humans are all pretty much the same. ... You can definitely relate."

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Julie Maloney, WAC
Image, of last year's Global Travel Scholar Kelsey Cloonan during her trip to Turkey, courtesy of WAC

Stunning stats: Northside Urban Pathways has record 100% college acceptance

Well-funded suburban high schools with affluent students often boast that as many as 97% or even 98% of their senior class is accepted to college. That's a notable achievement at any school.

But one Pittsburgh-area school has achieved something even more remarkable: At Northside Urban Pathways charter school, every member of this year's graduating class has been accepted to a college program. And within that 100% acceptance rate, 54% have been accepted to four-year institutions.

Unlike the students at many high-achieving suburban high schools, "many of our students are economically challenged," says Linda Clautti, CEO at NUP. "Many of these kids, they're the first generation to go to college," so their families may not be equipped to guide them through the admissions process or help determine what college admissions officers are seeking.

That's where NUP comes in: "We have somebody who's dedicated to working with kids on an individual basis on getting them into college," Clautti says. "The counselor goes out of his way to really help the kids with the paperwork."

But the process begins long before the applications are filled out. At NUP, college is put forth as a goal as early as 6th grade. Students learn what it takes to get accepted, and they begin working toward that goal. "We have a rigorous curriculum and expectations are high," she says. "It doesn't matter what the child's background or situation. We treat them all fairly and work with each one individually."

NUP's mentorship program also plays a big role. "We have two mentoring programs: BAAM (Benefiting African American Males) and WISE (Women in Sync Everywhere)," explains Clautti. Mentors and students meet at least once a month. "We seek out professionals and we have great people working with our young kids. And they stay with them through the first year in college."

That's another unique aspect of NUP: Students are offered ongoing support and encouragement during their freshman year of college, to help with the transition.

In the end, though, Clautti says the 100% college acceptance rate is an accomplishment that belongs to the students. "They're great kids," she says. "We just give them the attention they need."

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Linda Clautti, NUP
Image posted by bionicteaching via Flickr

Forget Tiger Woods -- First Tee of Pittsburgh's young golfers are pros at self-control

First Tee of Pittsburgh was ahead of the curve. A decade ago, this local spinoff of the national First Tee program began working with kids in our region to teach communication skills, conflict resolution and self-control, with a healthy dash of exercise and exposure to nature.

"We started 10 years ago at the Bob O'Connor golf course, one of many locations we have now," says Marc Field, executive director of the program. "We're part of a 200-plus chapter youth development program that's in every U.S. states and four foreign territories." Field estimates that 4.5 million kids nationwide have gone through the program in the past ten years.

Here in Pittsburgh, First Tee teaches kids the game of golf while weaving in lessons about making good life choices. Their written curriculum covers 27 life skill lessons, each "seamlessly integrated with golf instruction," Field says. One lesson explores the feeling of swinging a golf club out of balance, then touches on what life feels like when other things are out of balance.

"Another example is interpersonal communication skills, the ways you meet and greet others," he says. "You need to introduce yourself to the folks you'll play golf with that day, so we'll cover that." The kids are perceptive, he says, "connecting the dots" and seeing how this relates to their daily lives. "We try to keep the focus very much on golf. That way they don't get defensive, and we're not criticizing life choices they make."

"The program gives them processes to use," he says, "rubrics for use in golf but that have life applications, like how to set goals."

First Tee is designed to be inclusive, he says. "We work with autistic preschoolers, at-risk foster girls who've been abused, kids in the juvenile justice and so many other kids. … No child or group is every turned away for lack of funds."

Some children attend just a few lessons, while others have stayed with the program for years. Find more info and enrollment details here.

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Writer: Meliss Rayworth
Source: Marc Field, First Tee of Pittsburgh
Image courtesy of First Tee of Pittsburgh

Summer Dreamers Academy: Pittsburgh Public Schools offering premier summer program free

As the end of the school year approaches, many parents begin to worry: What will my child do all summer while I'm at work? Can I afford a full-day program that is safe and at least reasonably enriching? For middle school parents, Pittsburgh Public Schools offers a new solution: The Summer Dreamers Academy , a full-day camp for students currently in 5th, 6th and 7th grades that includes a wide range of classes (including kayaking, judo, photography, world music and dozens more) and plenty of opportunity to play.

The best part? The camp, which runs for five weeks, is free. That cuts the cost of summer childcare in half.

"The idea was born about a year ago," says project manager Allison McLeod, and the goal is to focus on middle school students and literacy. "We wanted to make use of the time in the summer to have three hours in the mornings to focus on academics and enrichment, and then the afternoons to give kids an opportunity to purse a passion and gain a new interest."

"Summer should be all about choice," McLeod says. At Summer Dreamers, kids can "choose what they want to do," exploring science, art or other areas that appeal to them.

A registration packet has been sent home to parents. "Parents are thrilled," McLeod says. "The response has been, 'This is free??' It's a premiere camp, we have the experts come and join us, and we give the kids a chance to really get engaged." More than two dozen organizations are partnering with the schools to offer this program, including the Pittsburgh Zoo.

At the end of the program – which coincides with the end of summer – "there is a culminating activity that we'll be working up to," McLeod says. So the students can demonstrate what they've learned and see the fruits of their hard work. The timing is deliberate. "Usually summer programs begin the week after the last day of school," she says. "We're shifting the mindset with this program, beginning mid-summer and running through Aug, 13, to jumpstart their return to school." 

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Allison McLeod, Pittsburgh Public Schools
Image courtesy of Summer Dreamers Academy/Pittsburgh Public Schools

Pitt's Office of Child Development brings a carnival to The Hill, encouraging school enrollment

The Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh knows how vital it is for young children to get registered for kindergarten and have a positive start to their school years. But it can be difficult to motivate some parents in at-risk neighborhoods and get them invested in giving their preschool-age kids the best start possible.

Through their Ready Freddy program and other school-related events, the OCD has been working to change that. But, says Ken Smythe-Leistico, director of OCD's Pathway to School Success program, progress can be slow. "We've had events in the past in the schools," he says, "and we would get a handful of families."

Last weekend, Smythe-Leistico and his colleagues pulled out the big guns: They partnered with Kennywood and other organizations to stage a Carnival in the Hill at the Ammon Recreation Center in the Hill District. They brought more than a dozen carnival games from Kennywood's Kiddieland, Sandcastle, and Idlewild parks, plus a petting zoo, the CitiParks Roving Art Cart and the Beginning With Books Storymobile. The Ready Freddy frog mascot was also on hand.

How was the response from the community? Instead of a handful of families, he says, "this weekend we had several hundred. Through the day, we reached 1000 people. We were thrilled with turnout."

Children of all ages who will transition to the next grade in September were welcome. But the focus was on pre-K and kindergarten families. Families had a chance to talk with teachers and discuss the importance of prepping kids for their first day of kindergarten, and could register their kids for school. In the coming months, these children will be invited to visit their new schools and get to know their teachers.

"National studies show that nearly 50 percent of children struggle with the transition to kindergarten," Smythe-Leistico says. "Late arrival at school and poor initial attendance are reliable predictors of early- school failure and high school dropout. Studies find that involving parents in the transition process is one of the most promising practices to ensure greater student success." 

This carnival may have gone a long way to ensuring that success for the next generation of Hill District students.

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Ken Smythe-Leistico, Office of Child Development, Univ. of Pittsburgh
Image courtesy of the Office of Child Development

As bullying makes national headlines, Pittsburgh schools find solutions

School bullying has been making headlines nationwide in recent weeks. As teachers and parents around the country grapple with the subject, Pittsburgh's PROPEL Schools is taking a broad approach at handling -- and whenever possible, preventing -- instances of bullying among school students.

Educating kids about bullying is the first step, says Carole Wooten, superintendent at PROPEL. That education takes slightly different forms at each of PROPEL's five locations, but the approach is always focused on getting a conversation going before problems arise, rather than waiting for trouble to emerge.

At PROPEL East, students go through a Bully Awareness Program, working in groups to produce a two-minute video about bullying. They also work with faculty and staff to come up with a definition of bullying, which is then placed on posters around the school. Getting kids invested in this way can really make a difference in preventing bullying, says Wooten.

At the McKeesport location, kids have specified six "school-wide habits" that go a long way toward preventing bullying. The words the students chose are: academics, attitude, behavior and pride, no excuses, do unto others and teamwork. At PROPEL Montour, parents are asked to discuss the school's anti-bulling program with their kids. Students read a novel that explores the subject, meet in lunch groups to talk about it and learn conflict resolution.

Education about bullying has to start early, says Wooten. PROPEL has an anti-bullying assembly for grades 3-8, and has even created an anti-bullying presentation for students in kindergarten through 2nd grade. That presentation uses puppets to explore this difficult subject.

It's vital to have proactive plans in place, says Wooten, including having school staff go into every classroom during the first week of school to talk about bullying. But, she says, it's incredibly difficult for a school to completely prevent instances of bullying.

"The toughest part is cyber-bullying," says Wooten, especially when it's taking place off school grounds. "We have a tech coach who works in all the buildings and he talks with the kids about it," she says.

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Carole Wooten, PROPEL Schools
Image posted by House of Sims via Flickr

PACE School students get the ultimate music class from members of Rusted Root

Many of the students in the developmental and emotional support classrooms at PACE School struggle to express themselves.

"We have kids all over the autism spectrum, and with ADHD, kids who are schizophrenic, bipolar. They get here because they've exhausted every other school, every option," says Kelly Uzzo, community outreach coordinator at PACE. "Most have had some severe trauma… they come to us because they don't know how to express their emotions, their anger."

An innovative program, spearheaded by Liz Berlin of the band Rusted Root, is helping middle school students use music to express their feelings in a whole new way. Berlin is teaching them the basics of Music engineering, while her fellow bandmember Preach Freedom leads a drum circle. They are also a producing a video with the students.

Berlin and Freedom began visiting PACE in mid-March and will continue working with the kids through mid-May. The course will culminate with the recording of an original song and a live performance on May 13th and 14th. They'll also shoot a video.
"We're pushing the arts really hard this year," says Uzzo, because creative expression can really help these students with their challenges. Having the kids work with professional musicians only adds to the impact.

"They know who Rusted Root is," says Uzzo, "and Liz has gotten very involved in working with kids."

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Kelly Uzzo, PACE School
Images of Liz Berlin and Preach Freedom courtesy of Rusted Root

Policymakers, educators and media experts share ideas at the inaugural Fred Forward conference

It can be easy to talk about the right way to do something. It's often a whole lot harder to actually do that thing right.

In planning two days of discussion about the role of media in young children's lives, the organizers of the Fred Forward conference had an interesting challenge: How do you create the most effective atmosphere for collaboration among educators, researchers, policy makers, child development experts and media producers?

Among their strategies was an ingenious breakout session. During the first day of Fred Forward, participants were divided into small groups and charged with creating their own idea for a children's media product. With little more than an hour to collaborate, they had to determine what to teach, how best to teach it, and find the best way to pitch their idea to a panel of industry experts when the full conference group reconvened.

Most of these participants, of course, will never create their own media property. It's not the work they've chosen. But the breakout session allowed them to approach children's media from a fresh perspective. It provided an opportunity for a substantive exchange of ideas about how children learn and how they consume media.

Each group was a mix of Pittsburghers (including representatives from dozens of organizations, such as the Children's Museum, the Sprout Fund, the Saturday Light Brigade and many others) and visitors from around the country. So the breakout session also did what all good conferences should do – offered moments of small group interaction that leads to effective networking. 

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Bob Fayfich/Maxwell King, Fred Forward Conference
Image courtesy of Family Communications

Propel McKeesport receives top honors among charter schools

Propel Schools describes its McKeesport location as an "inconspicuous charter school on a tough street, in a tough neighborhood." Many people would assume few students at this school would excel academically, given the distractions and challenges they face. But teachers at Propel will tell you that any child can succeed, despite the difficulty of their circumstances.

The staff at Propel McKeesport knew they made major progress last year in closing the achievement gap between their school and more affluent schools in the Pittsburgh region. But they were surprised earlier this week when word came that Propel McKeesport was named the top performing elementary school in a nationwide consortium of 89 elementary charter schools.

The school received the Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC) Award from New Leaders for New Schools and was put in the organization's "Gold Gain" category, which is EPIC's highest honor. They had won the silver-level award last year, but the gold came as a pleasant surprise.

Propel McKeesport principal Tina Chekan credits her staff for making this achievement possible. "We've very purposefully hired high-quality teachers," she says, and "it's a collaborative culture where teachers share best practices." Chekan also mentions the role of parents at her school. "For the past five years we've had 100 percent participation for parent/teacher conferences," she says. "We want parents to be advocates for their children, and we've had results."

Dr. Carol Wooten, Propel Schools' superintendent, says this honor has an impact beyond the school community. "This puts us as one of the top performing elementary schools in the country," she says. "It makes us realize what a vital component we are to the city of Pittsburgh." In many struggling communities, Wooten says, the presence of a Propel School draws new people to the neighborhood, fostering progress.

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Tina Chekan/Carol Wooten, Propel Schools
Image by Brian Cohen

Pittsburgh Cares gathers nearly 1000 youth and adult volunteers for service events this weekend

Young people from across the country -- plus additional youth volunteers from Japan and Germany -- are here in Pittsburgh this week to participate in service efforts organized by the Youth Engaged in Service team from Pittsburgh Cares.

Throughout this week, a group of 85 student volunteers are participating in something called the FISH (Fellowship in Senior High) Week of Service. They are volunteering at a host of North Side nonprofits, including Carnegie Science Center, Gwen's Girls, LIVING Ministry, Light of Life Rescue Mission, National Aviary, New Hazlett Theatre, and North Side Leadership Conference.

Then on Saturday, nearly 800 youth and adult volunteers will gather for the Boys and Girls Club of America National Keystone Conference Day of Service. These student volunteers will begin their day with a kickoff celebration at the Hilton downtown, and then will travel to a variety of nonprofits, where they will volunteer for the day.

Participants hosting volunteers include Allegheny Cleanways, GTECH Hilltop Alliance, Larimer Green Team/ Get-Larimer, Sojourner House MOMS, UPMC Canterbury Place, Book'em: A project of the Thomas Merton Center, Humane Society-Fallen Timbers Animal Shelter, Heritage Place, Kane Glen Hazel Regional Center, Pretty Up Beechview, KEYS Service Corps & Sherwood, Troy Hill Community Garden Co-Operative, Wilkins Township, Habitat for Humanity Allegheny Valley, and Lawrenceville United.

Additional events happening this weekend include the Pittsburgh Social Venture Partners (PSVP) Kids Day of Service (where 30 volunteers will participate in a service project at Kane Glen Hazel) and the Boys and Girls Club Service Learning Workshop, where 200 youth participants will learn about local, national, and global service, including information about AmeriCorps, national days of service, student grants and volunteer abroad opportunities.

Pittsburgh Cares is no stranger to coordinating large groups of volunteers. But even for their staff of veteran organizers, this week's events are something special. "What's really neat about partnering with the Boys and Girls Club is that kids are coming from all across the country and Germany and Japan, and serving together here in Pittsburgh on tons of cool projects," says Holly McGraw, program manager for Youth Engaged in Service. 

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Holly McGraw, Pittsburgh Cares
Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Cares

Child welfare conference at Cal U. of Pa. will examine the impact of recession on kids' lives

As the nation continues to struggle with tough economic times, children can be the ones who suffer most. For some families, meeting basic needs for food, clothing and shelter is difficult. For others, the stress of bills and job woes can raise the risk of neglect and even child abuse.

In response, California University of Pennsylvania is hosting a conference titled Building a New Foundation: Child Well-Being for a New Era. Registration has begun for the day-long conference, happening Mar. 26 at the Natali Student Center on Cal U's campus in California, Pa.

The conference, sponsored by the Master of Social Work program at Cal U's Dept. of Social Work, is open to public and private child welfare service providers, social workers and social work field instructors, social work alumni and students, and others involved in education and human services.

Other departments at Cal U have hosted conferences -- their Dept. of Special Education is hosting their third annual autism conference today, and expects several hundred attendees). But this is the first event of its kind for the Dept. of Social Work. "It's billed as the 'first annual' Conference on Child Welfare, and we have high hopes this will become an annual event," says Christine Kindl, director of communications for the university.

Kindl says the conference will be a valuable gathering place for human services professionals, but it will also be a great benefit to social work students: "It gives them a chance to hear from tremendous speakers, to sit in on presentations, and to network not only with the presenters," she says, "but with the folks who sign up to attend, people in the career fields that they are hoping to join."

Registration is open through Mar. 15.

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Christine Kindl/Bruce Wald
Image courtesy of California University of Pennsylvania

Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council helps Pittsburgh's doctors offer more effective care

Rebecca Carpenter works with many students at the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. But some of the most challenging ones, oddly enough, are the most literate -- third and fourth year medical students. Carpenter spearheads an innovative outreach program for the Literacy Council to teach doctors and med students how to talk with patients with lower literacy levels.

The program grew out of what Carpenter calls "a 'duh' moment: After several years of teaching at the Council, she found that students who struggled most with literacy often had high rates of illness. She began to realize that they had trouble understanding advice from doctors and reading prescription labels or paperwork doctors had given them.

It was only logical, she says: "If people are struggling with literacy, they're going to struggle with the things that are hardest to understand, like medical information." So Carpenter began training the Council's staff and volunteers to work with students on what's called "health literacy." Then the Council began approaching members of Pittsburgh's healthcare community to discuss the problem.

"About 5 years ago, we began to reach out to health care institutions," she says. The Council has since collaborated with Gateway, Highmark and UPMC to reach as many doctors and doctors-to-be as possible.

"I'm able to go there (to UPMC) once a month to talk to third- and fourth-year medical students," Carpenter says. She tells them "I know you spend all this money and all this time learning a brand new vocabulary, and thinking in all these terms. And then we ask you to change that." Fortunately, she says "they are very open to it. Some are surprised by the great number of people struggling with literacy."

That number is estimated at 1 in 5 people in Allegheny County, she says. But even for those with normal levels of literacy, it can be vital for doctors to speak more plainly. "People going into the doctor's office might be intimidated," she says, which can make medical information harder to understand.

One reason "health literacy" programs are growing nationwide, she says, is that accurate communication between patients and doctors saves lives and saves money by avoiding wasted care or emergency room visits for those who've misconstrued medical instructions. "So the things we're asking doctors to do really are just good practices in dealing with the public," she says, regardless of literacy levels.

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Rebecca Carpenter/Greg Mims, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council
Image, of Carpenter teaching an outreach class, courtesy of the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council

Spring is coming, we promise: Grow Pittsburgh teaches urban veggie gardening

Sure, there's still snow on the ground. And snow in the forecast for today. And tomorrow. And next week. But spring really is on the way, and Grow Pittsburgh wants to make sure you're ready.

Beginning on Mar. 11, they're offering a new series of classes on urban home vegetable gardening, called "A Garden Primer." Growing your own vegetables lowers your grocery bill, teaches you a new skill, gets you involved in the "eat local" movement and may encourage you to eat better, says Grow Pittsburgh's Julie Pezzino.

Pittsburghers appear to be enthusiastic about learning to grow their own veggies this spring: "People have been asking as early as the beginning of 2010" when classes will be offered, Pezzino says. "So we really feel like there's a need."

The bonus for students is that they're not only learning to grow vegetables at home, but they're also supporting Grow Pittsburgh's programs, including the creation of new community gardens in the city. "What they're paying for the class is going back into our organization," Pezzino says. "They feel good about that."

Classes include hands-on instruction from trained gardeners and a packet of reference materials. Classes happen at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church (116 South Highland Ave.). Details and registration info here

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Julie Pezzino, Grow Pittsburgh
Image from a community garden posted by ItzaFineDay on Flickr

Employment counselor teaches 500th workshop, advising Pittsburghers on the ever-changing job market

For more than a quarter-century, the Career Development Center at Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh has offered workshops and career counseling to people in a wide array of industries.

Some are fresh out of school and seeking advice on launching a career. Others have reached a plateau, and want guidance on pushing further ahead. Still others, especially during times of economic slow-down, seek advice on landing a job after losing one. Workshop leader Joe D'Anna has seen it all.

"We've been around for 25-plus years, and anybody is welcome here," says D'Anna, who recently taught his 500th career counseling workshop at JFCS. How does D'Anna advise workers coping with the current recession? Preparation is more important than ever, he says, if applicants want to stand out in a crowd. Pittsburgh's job market is highly competitive, with top-notch talent vying for many positions.

Resumes must be polished, and job seekers must be proactive about networking.

"Over the years, it's always proven to be that about 80 percent of jobs found are found through the networking phase," D'Anna says. "The other 20 percent is the posted job market." People are beginning to realize that networking is vital, he says, and are pushing themselves to pursue contacts and publicize their job search even if networking doesn't come naturally to them.

Although Pittsburgh has fared better than many cities during this current economic downturn, D'Anna's workshops often include participants in their '50s who have been downsized. Networking is especially vital for these mid- and late-career workers. Many are finding that as the whole nation copes with unemployment, they feel little stigma in spreading the word that they are job-hunting, he says.

The nonprofit Career Development Center, located at the JFCS headquarters in Squirrel Hill, is open to any person at any stage of their career.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Joe D'Anna/Kelly O'Brien, Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh
Image of D'Anna teaching courtesy of Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh

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My Money, My Life: Financial literacy program for at-risk teens looks back at five years of progress

It started in 2004 with a simple plan: Create a program offering low-income teens a real understanding of financial literacy. Teach them how to handle money, how to save it and use it wisely, and how to avoid financial pitfalls. And do it in a friendly group atmosphere that will encourage these students to really learn.

The first classes were taught in January, 2005, and five years later My Money, My Life has become a flourishing program for Pittsburgh teens. "The goal was to reach 1000 students in five years," says Courtney George of NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania, which administers the program. "We reached 1000 students in November," and nearly one-quarter of those who graduated from the main program have opted to attend advanced classes.

"It's not mandatory in Pennsylvania schools to teach financial literacy," George says, so for many low-income teenagers this program is their only introduction to handling finances. Graduates of the 14-hour course get more than an education. They are also given a fee-free savings account with a beginning balance of $100.

My Money, My Life was created by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh (FHLBank), a congressionally chartered cooperative made up of many local banks. Seven of these (ESB Bank, First Commonwealth Bank, First National Bank of Pennsylvania, Northwest Savings Bank, PNC Bank, Sewickley Bank and Huntington Bank) remain among the primary partners of the program.

"It's going so well," says George. "We've had people calling and getting on waiting lists for the program," which has been renewed for 2010 and is expected to continue on a year-by-year basis.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Courtney George, NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania
Image courtesy of My Money, My Life

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Keeping great teachers, attracting new stars: Ellis School receives grant for teacher compensation

When Randie Benedict decided last summer to take the job of Head of School at the well-respected Ellis School in Shadyside, there was much about the school that impressed her. But she chose the job for one main reason: The remarkable faculty.

"As I looked at head-of-school positions," Benedict says, "this was an outstanding group of very long-term, committed, highly skilled teachers" who are passionate about their work.  

The Ellis School, she says, has always made its talented faculty a top priority, and that focus will be ensured in the coming years thanks to a matching grant awarded to the school this week by the Edward E. Ford Foundation. The grant will be used to increase faculty compensation and attract "the brightest new teachers" to Pittsburgh to teach at Ellis.

"It's our ongoing legacy to be sure we're doing the best we can in terms of compensation for our faculty," Benedict says.

The $50,000 grant is made on a 5:1 matching basis. The companion $250,000 donation was made by an Ellis alumna who "is all about supporting everything that is represented in Ellis," Benedict says. "She agreed without hesitation," because she sees the importance of attracting and retaining the best possible teaching staff. The total sum will be used to seed a $1,000,000 endowment to perpetually enhance faculty salaries.

The school, established in 1916 and located in Shadyside, is the city's only independent, private all-girls day school for students pre-K through 12th grade. Among the school's diverse student body, 30% receive need-based tuition aid and 100% of graduating seniors go on to college.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Randie Benedict, The Ellis School
Image courtesy of The Ellis School

New prize for teachers announced at TEDx LP conference in Pittsburgh

Last weekend, Leadership Pittsburgh hosted a local iteration of the TED conference -- an independently organized "TEDx" -- focusing specifically on bettering children's lives in southwestern PA. There was much fruitful conversation, brainstorming and debate. Among the initiatives that emerged from the weekend is a new creative competition for teachers:

"What we will be doing is encouraging teachers in Allegheny County to view the TEDx conference video, via links on the Allegheny Intermediate and Leadership Pittsburgh sites," says Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. We're hoping teachers will be "inspired and motivated to be creative" after viewing the TEDx conference and "seeing that these people have done some tremendous things."

"After viewing the conference," Hippert says, "the hope is that they will take the ideas and be creative and apply them to their classrooms."

The teachers will design and develop new activities and programs for their classrooms with the goal of improving their students' educational experience. Then they will let the award organizers know what they've created. Details and specific criteria are still being finalized, but one possible plan is that these teachers will each create a three-minute video that will "not necessarily show us the whole thing they've created, but explain what they've developed," Hippert says.

Those videos will be posted online, and after a round of electronic voting a few top programs will be awarded funding at the Fred Forward conference this spring. Although only a few would be winners, all the videos would serve a valuable purpose: Because all the submitted videos will be available online, other teachers across the country can take further inspiration from the ideas on display.
This new (and not yet named) initiative will be funded by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, the Frick Fund of Buhl Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation and Leadership Pittsburgh.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Linda Hippert, Allegheny Intermediate Unit
Stock image

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Forget "Twilight" and the Jonas boys: Pittsburgh's Braincake has teen girls swooning over science

The Pittsburgh-based Girls, Math & Science Partnership (GMSP) has been inspiring and educating girls here in southwestern PA for nearly a decade, offering them encouragement and information about careers in math and science. And in recent years, this unique resource has also begun developing a huge following among girls nationwide: Braincake.org, the web presence for GMSP, now boasts more than 1 million hits per month.

Last week, Braincake was awarded he Roy L. Shafer Leading-Edge Award for Visitor Experience (large center) at the 2009 Annual Conference of the Association of Science-Technology Centers. And GMSP, which has been based at the Carnegie Science Center since 2005, has recently expanded its physical programming beyond Pennsylvania's borders to include programs at the ArizonaScience Center.

"The growth has been really exponential," says Emily Sturman, assistant director of GMSP, and girls everywhere are responding to the site. In 2006, they counted 1 million hits for the year. That doubled in 2007 and reached 7 million in 2008.

The site's design screams teenage girl. But amid the butterflies and vivid shades of pink, girls visiting Braincake find a community of friends who want to talk about math and science. They also find scholarship information, blogs by other teens, homework help, research and virtual mentoring.

"Mentorship is one of the most critical components of our website," Sturman says, because it gives girls real-life role models in the fields of math and science. "No matter what your interests in terms of what discipline of science you're looking for – archeology, zoology, or engineering – or what your racial background is or what your age is, you can pretty much find someone who kind of looks like you might look," she says. "We can connect them, at least virtually."

Braincake's weekly eblasts reach more than 12,000 members (membership is free). Many are teen girls, says Sturman, but "we also have a ton of parents and teachers who are just interested in keeping engaged in their daughter's or their students' education."

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Emily Sturman, GMSP
Image courtesy of GMSP

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Silver Eye Center receives grant to empower at-risk kids through the art and science of photography

Sometimes a modest sum of money can make a huge difference: The Silver Eye Center for Photography has received a $2,500 grant through The Pittsburgh Foundation's Wish Book Project, which will allow the Center to expand and enhance its work with at-risk city youth.

The grant money has gone toward the purchase of digital cameras that young people will use to learn the art and science of photography. In addition to developing these skills, the students will have a chance to make visual statements about their community. That experience -- commenting on their daily lives and discovering that they can make their voices heard -- can have an immeasurable impact on the way a young person approaches their future.

In past years, the organizers of Silver Eye's summer program for kids have "borrowed cameras for use in the program" or had kids bring their own camera, says Silver Eye's education coordinator, Sylvia Ehler. With this grant, the program can serve more students and "won't exclude kids who can't get their hands on one," she says.

Rather than waiting until the launch of next summer's annual program, "we're hoping to get some programs off the ground this spring" in collaboration with other nonprofits, Ehler tells Pop City. "Hopefully we can work with some other people who essentially have the kids and we have the cameras." Thanks to this grant, "we've got 10 cameras, and we'll use them in small groups" to get the maximum impact for each student, she says.

More education news from Silver Eye: A scholarship has been established there in memory of veteran photographer Clyde Hare, who documented so much of Pittsburgh's history. Contact the center if you're interested in contributing.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Sylvia Ehler, Silver Eye Center for Photography
Image courtesy of Silver Eye Center for Photography

Allegheny County math teacher named Pennsylvania's Teacher of the Year

Chalk up yet another Teacher of the Year win for a Pittsburgh-area school district: Michelle Switala, a math teacher at Pine-Richland High School in the North Hills, has been named Pennsylvania's 2010 Teacher of the Year by the state's department of education.

During the past five years, at least one teacher from the Pittsburgh area has been chosen as a finalist for the state's highest teaching award, and several have won. This year, Switala was chosen from among 12 finalists. One of these fellow finalists, 3rd Grade teacher Barbara Cornibe, also teaches in the Pine-Richland school district.

Switala serves as chair of the mathematics department, works on curriculum mapping and teaches a range of math courses. "Michelle inspires her students with her enthusiasm for teaching and love for mathematics and her job," education secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak said in announcing Switala's Golden Apple award.

During the awards ceremony, held last week, Switala was praised by one of her students, a high school senior named Tom Robinson. "Ms. Switala is a great teacher that truly inspires her students to enjoy and learn math," he said. "Not only does she expect her students to learn and challenge themselves, but she also expects the same of herself. She is currently taking classes to get a doctorate in mathematics education."

Switala will serve as spokesperson for teachers across the state for the coming year. Pennsylvania has participated in the teacher of the year program since 1965. The program is co-sponsored by the state Department of Education and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National State Teacher of the Year.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Leah Harris, PA Department of Education
Image courtesy of PA Department of Education

Thanks to the United Way, kids all over Pittsburgh are Caught Being Good

Kids and teenagers, I think you'll agree, care about few things as much as they care about being cool. But unfortunately, being good has never really been synonymous with being cool.

The Youth Futures Commission and the United Way of Allegheny County are seeking to change that. And they've created a new community program, called Caught Being Good, that is making that change happen.

This new initiative, which was launched last Thursday, seeks to promote academic achievement and success by rewarding elementary school students (pre-K through fifth grade) in four city neighborhoods for "doing good." To reinforce the message, parents and neighbors are being encouraged to get involved.

The goal: combating the pervasive anti-education message that can influence kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods. "So many of these kids think it's not cool to do well in school," says Laurie Moser, project director for Caught Being Good. With that in mind, the organizers sought to turn the equation around, describing "being good" as a "naughty thing you'd be caught doing," says Moser.

Here's how it will work: Afterschool programs, faith-based organizations, schools and other learning-based organizations will distribute Caught Being Good cards to students as they achieve academic effort benchmarks. Kids will be recognized and receive points when they do things like have perfect attendance, are punctual, improve academically or complete homework.

As kids earn points, they can exchange them for things like event tickets and video rentals. Parents can help their kids earn points by joining in parent-teacher organization activities, attending parent-teacher conferences and participating in parent-training sessions. Moser says it's key that this program involves the adults in the community.

For the moment, this pilot program is happening in Homewood, the Hill District, Northview Heights and Braddock. But, in a sense, the whole city is being caught doing good: Caught Being Good is funded partly by donations that Pittsburgh residents and businesses make to the United Way.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Laurie Moser, Caught Being Good director
Image courtesy of the Caught Being Good program

Birds, Bees and Fundraising: Sex Ed event slated for Oct. 3

Tarot card readers, puppeteers, clowns, DJs, even Lucky the Painproof Man -- Planned Parenthood is pulling out all the stops to bring in a huge crowd for their upcoming fundraiser.

Consider yourself cordially invited to their Sex Ed Sideshow at The Nerve gallery (500 Dargan St.) in Bloomfield, happening from 8 p.m. to midnight on Saturday, Oct. 3. Brillobox will host an after-party with drink specials for Sideshow attendees. Rebecca Cavanaugh of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania tells us you'll find something for everyone, from cotton candy (courtesy of Pittsburgh's own Goodie Truck) and to sex-ed themed carnival games.

Despite the celebratory atmosphere, the topic of the evening is a serious one: Although sex education has recently become mandated in Pittsburgh's public schools, in many other schools throughout our region this basic aspect of education is missing. Students are left uninformed and unprepared for navigating the dangers of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

This event is an effort to change that. Money raised on Oct. 3 will help fund the work of the Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, which includes research and production of a pro-choice/pro-family planning voter guide, grassroots organizing and education, and lobbying efforts on behalf of reproductive health care and education.

Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door and there is a student discount. Details and tickets here.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Rebecca L. Cavanaugh, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania
Image courtesy of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania

Bookstock: Independent fundraiser for Carnegie Library

One more don't-miss-it event to add to your social calendar: Bookstock. This independently organized fundraiser for the Carnegie Library is happening tomorrow night (Thursday, 9/24) at Remedy (5121 Butler St.), a Lawrenceville nightspot known for cool events.

Librarian Jude Vachon and a colleague have put together this hybrid dance party/arts & crafts auction for the Carnegie on their own time. Vachon promises, in an email to Pop City, that we'll find "an art auction, live silkscreening with D.H., crazygood lady djs DJ Mary Mack, DJ Drop That, DJ ja(m) (bo)x, video projections by Blissy, music by Dean Cercone, Renee Alberts waxing poetic, library-themed coloring books, and more!" at this homemade event.

Suggested donation is between $5 and $10, but give what you can. With the state budget still hovering in mid-air, the library you save may be your own.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Jude Vachon
Stock image, public domain

Triple Play: Propel Schools, Sima Products and CMU collaborate on math learning device

Here's a bit of news that involves education, nonprofit grant-giving, technological innovation and the importance of family. It's such a perfect illustration of modern Pittsburgh:

Propel Schools, a successful charter school program here in the Pittsburgh region, has received a grant from Spark (a new initiative of the Sprout Fund) to collaborate with consumer electronics company Sima Products and the innovation whizzes at Carnegie Mellon University. They're seeking to create a prototype for a low-cost, handheld electronic device that parents and kids would use together to promote math literacy.

The participants took inspiration for this high-tech project from a surprising and decidedly low-tech place: books. Consider the way that parents sit with children to read books, and how that shared reading experience leads to conversations that connect family members, foster learning and promote literacy. This project seeks to create that same dynamic around math. Playing with the device, says Propel Schools' executive director and founder, Jeremy Resnick, is something that "parent and child would do together at home that would be fun and would lead to conversation, and the conversation would be the kind that develops math concept understanding."

The math games and programs that currently exist, says Resnick, are "usually things kids do alone." This device is being designed to be shared, and will hopefully lead to "very rich conversation."

The project has just begun, but it's already been enriching for the participants. "It's really fun for us to be able to collaborate with partners like Sima and CMU. They have a completely different way of thinking about things than we do," Resnick says. "Their kind of questions are so different from ours." By January or February, he says, "we will have tried out the object with families at Propel and have a sense of whether we've succeeded. Then we'll think about what next step is."

The grant covers the cost of creating the prototype, but participants at all three organizations are devoting time to the project free of charge. The Spark initiative supports small projects to engage kids through technology and media. This grant came from their second round of funding, which took place this past summer.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Jeremy Resnick/Anne D'Appolonia, Propel Schools
Image courtesy of Propel Schools

Pitt's Ready Freddy gets at-risk kindergarteners off to a great educational start

Sometimes the smallest moments are the most important. Last Friday, kindergarten students at Weil Elementary School in the Hill District were greeted on their first day of school by nearly 100 well-wishers in a ceremony organized by Pitt's Office of Child Development. The event was part of the ongoing "Ready Freddy" program, designed to give young students a positive and supportive start to their academic lives.

As in past years, program organizers worked all summer "to raise awareness about the start of school, canvassing the community to find kids who weren't in programming," says Ken Smythe-Leistico, director of the Pathways to School Success at Pitt's OCD. Among those surveyed recently in the Hill District, he says, 60% of children who are due to begin kindergarten had not attended preschool. Some of their parents were not aware that Aug. 28 was the first day of school.

This year's program extends well beyond the first day of school. "We wanted to make this year a bigger event, raise even more awareness about the start of kindergarten," he says. "In the past we kind of said, 'OK, now we've got them to the door.' This year, we're working with kindergarten teachers, … creating a place and space for parents to continue their involvement with the school."

Among other projects, they've created a club where parents can talk about their own school experiences and overcome negative feelings that linger from their past.

"In research we've done nationally, especially in lower income neighborhoods," he says, "often the first encounter between parents and teachers is adversarial or negative." But at last Friday's event, says Smythe-Leistico, "we saw that anxious and excited child, and you saw, hand-in-hand, the parents. It was a new school experience for them, too."

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Ken Smythe-Leistico, Office of Child Development, University of Pittsburgh
Image courtest of the Office of Child Development, University of Pittsburgh

Jewish Family & Children's Service introduces city teens to healthcare careers

Malecha Israel seems mature beyond her years. At 15, she is poised and bright, the sort of teenager a parent might hope to raise. But in today's difficult job market, even talented teens like Malecha need something more – encouragement, opportunity and on-the-job training.

A new program offered this summer by the Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh offered her just that. And she excelled.

"Our Career Development Center worked with Pittsburgh Partnership through a grant to place at-risk teens/young adults in healthcare jobs at UPMC and the Jewish Association on Aging for the summer," says Kelly O'Brien, a publicist for the organization. Ten teenagers, including Malecha, were given job placement, career training and professional development. The counselor working with these teens, "gives a lot of 'tough love' in addition to real advice that this group may not be getting from anyone else in their lives," says O'Brien, "and the kids responded wonderfully."

At a celebratory pizza lunch earlier this week, Malecha seemed thrilled at having completed the program. And she's now focused on working towards a career in healthcare. "Being in a hospital" was great training for the future, she says, and it was exciting to "learn something new."

"As part of the program, we also helped the teens receive certification through the state's 'YouthWorks JumpStart Success' program, which is a work-readiness and career exploration program that tells future employers about the youths' "valuable exposure to the soft skills so critical to success on the job," O'Brien says. All 10 students enrolled in the program completed their work assignments. And while the state's passing score for certification was 70%, these teens scored an average of 93%.

The organization is already gearing up for next summer's program.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Kelly O'Brien, Jewish Family & Children's Service
Image courtesy of Jewish Family & Children's Service
Caption: Malecha Israel (right) interned at UPMC Presbyterian this summer. She is pictured here with her mother, Rhonda Little (left).

Storehouse for Teachers Helps with Supplies

Most media coverage about back-to-school supplies focuses on what to buy your kids and where to buy it.  But what about families and schools right here in the Pittsburgh area that can't afford even the most basic supplies?

That's where Storehouse for Teachers comes in: This fledgling organization is collecting financial donations and school supplies so that local teachers will have a storehouse of supplies to choose from. The need is especially great during the recession, says founder Justin Brown. "We have one graph of research, from over last three years, of how many student and schools qualify for free or reduced cost lunch. It's gone straight up like the moon shot to the corner of the chart."

Families who were just getting by last year are likely in much worse financial shape this year. And school budgets have been slashed, says Brown. That leaves a growing number of students in danger of beginning this school year without even the most basic learning tools.
You can donate to Storehouse at nine Allegheny Valley Bank locations and 70 Giant Eagle during August, and at Joseph Beth Booksellers at the South Side Works on the last weekend of this month. Along with donations, Storehouse is also seeking volunteers.

Given the economy, does Brown expect generosity for this worthy cause? "Time will tell," he says. "I'm cautiously optimistic. I do know that when our community is faced with a real and present need, they have a real reputation of stepping up to meet it."

Along with donations, Storehouse is also seeking volunteers.

Keep an eye on Developments News for the scoop on Storehouse for Teachers and their new headquarters.
Writer: Melissa Rayworth

Source: Justin Brown, Storehouse for Teachers

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