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Sledding in North Park. Photograph by Kate Buckley.
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Secretly teach your kids career- and school-building skills

Carnegie Library, Oaklnad
Carnegie Library, Oaklnad

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While children don’t know yet what their perfect job might be, kids in Pittsburgh are especially lucky to be able to choose from a variety of programs that can help them build skills that will benefit them, whatever path they follow -- especially since some of today’s specialized careers didn’t even exist five years ago.
 
For kids seeking a career that combines creativity with technology, the Labs@CLP -- Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh -- can open the door to that experience. The Labs are open five days a week at the Oakland main branch from 3 to 7 p.m. and once a week from 4 to 7 p.m. at their locations: East Liberty, Allegheny and Southside.
 
“Some teens have experience with a creative endeavor, maybe they’re really good at drawing and want to get to a digital level," says Molly Dickerson, Mentor for the Labs. "Others may not feel creative or talented when it comes to the arts, but one of the mentors sits with them, shows them something that requires a low level of effort like the Photobooth and then editing in Photoshop. They’re getting a taste of having more expertise.
 
“Teens mention it's a way to hang out, creative outlets, be with their peers, and the cool equipment means they can enjoy themselves and challenge themselves,” she says. “We have some teens really interested in pursuing these fields in college and this will help them take that step.”
 
From robots to … toilets
 
Sarah Heinz House, through its Boys and Girls Clubs, offers two programs that tailored just for kids in Pittsburgh. Both the Robotics program and the Design Factory tap into the expertise and work sectors that form a big part of the Pittsburgh economy and give kids a leg up on careers.
 
“Robotics is a good example of how a program grows with the kids,” says Bob Bechtold, director of outreach and corporate partnership. “As they grow and gain more skills, so do the robots. Preschoolers and kindergarteners use Bee-Bots, robots that look like a bumblebee. They can program it to go through a maze or find something on a map. First through fourth graders move to LEGO NXT robots, and use icon-based programs to program the robots to do challenges. The kids can do math and learn the real-world application.”
 
Sixteen-year old Curtis Sobien from Ross Township joined the robotics program when he was nine.
 
“He loves it,” confirms Steve Sobien, Curtis’s dad. “He wouldn’t be doing it for seven years if he didn’t like it. He’s interested in engineering … We’re looking at electrical engineering programs at colleges.” 
 
Another program unique to Sarah Heinz is the new Design Factory.
 
“It’s targeted to grades 5-8 and we have 16 students enrolled,” says Bechtold. “The kids are actually designing our new lavatory and shower building" at the residential summer camp.. "They’ve hosted focus groups, done designs, cost analyses and have lectures every week about sustainability and being green.”
 
Each session of Design Factory includes presentations from someone in the industry and trade institutes. The kids learn about construction, plumbing, electrical and ways to make the building more green, including hands-on exercises. Most recently, the kids measured the existing building and built scale models of their new designs.
 
“We’re also working with the Mascaro School at the University of Pittsburgh," Bechtold says.
"We’re building in August and the kids will be doing the marketing and fundraising to pay for the project. As the kids learn these skills, we’ll offer this service to other non-profits. They can submit proposals to our Design Factory and our kids will provide CAD drawings or 3-D models and cost estimates.”
 
Julius Romano, age 13, of Beechview, is a member of this first class in the Design Factory. He plans to be a biomedical engineer.
 
“The best part of the Design Factory is putting the whole thing together and seeing what we make,” says Romano. "The adults don’t tell us what to do. They have something set up for each week, but we pretty much get to say ideas at the beginning.”
 
Making animals a career
 
Many children think they’d like to work with animals, but kids in Pittsburgh can discover what it’s really like and whether it’s a good career path for them. The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium offers a solid line-up of classes year round to explore zoo work, animal care and conservation.
 
“We discovered it was some of the best education in Pittsburgh,” says Mary Hoglund of Penn Hills. “The classes are always hands-on, not lecturing and the teachers leave a lot of room for the kids to guide the lesson.”
 
Hoglund’s nine-year-old daughter Maja will be taking “If I could be a Zoo Keeper.”
 
“I really want to work with animals when I grow up,” says Maja. “I might want to be a veterinarian or a nature photographer. In my last class we got to see the hospitals for the animals.”
 
 “We do a number of different classes called Working Wild for 1st to 3rd grade, where students explore what zookeepers and vets do for the zoo," says Margie Marks, curator of conservation education. "Older children get to meet the keepers and see what their daily job is like. 'Keeper Conversations' happens once a month and 10- to 12-year-olds can learn how to take care of elephants and rhinos. We also have Wildlife Academy that includes 30 classes.” All of the classes have a fee and information is available on the Zoo’s website. 
 
Working in science
 
To get a sense of the workday, Carnegie Science Center offers a program for girls called Tour Your Future, where groups of girls ages 11-17 visit a workplace and meet women in different careers.
 
“It’s mix of girls from home schools, charter, private, and public, so they meet each other while learning about different careers,” explains Susan Zimecki, director of marketing and community affairs. “Groups are really small, only 15 maximum, so they can ask questions and connect with each other.”
 
“The visits last 2 hours and there’s a tour and a hands-on activity,” says Nina Barbuto, program manager for girls’ programs in the Museum's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Center. “And girls ask the role_model host what her life is like, how did she get to this career, what kind of training, even if you can bring dogs to work. They get to have a personal connection with the role models and some have even re-contacted and gotten summer internships.”
 
“We’ve learned how they use technology in the TV industry," says Barbuto. "We’re going to Alcosan and Westinghouse, and this spring we will visit ModCloth and American Eagle, as well as several start-ups.”
 
Writing: the essential ingredient
 
Any career a child chooses is sure to require good communication skills. To nurture that writing talent or just build confidence and let kids have fun with self-expression, check out The Writing Studio’s “Almost Authors” program that happens for one week every summer.
 
“Last summer was my 20th summer for the camp,” says Julie Albright, director of The Writing Studio. “From second grade I said I would grow up to be a writer, and I had a librarian in my elementary school who took me seriously. In Almost Authors I’m stressing not so much the career path, but that writing can change their lives and help them express themselves."
 
Campers Desi Engel, age 8 and his older sister Tova Engel, age 12, of Friendship, are returning campers.
 
“It’s really fun -- you get to meet a lot of new people,” says Desi. “Julie gives you a topic and you write about it and you can make it as weird as you want.”
 
“I think the best thing is being able to hang out. have fun and learn to write really well,” agrees Tova, who attends Pittsburgh CAPA for visual arts. “I do want to be a writer and I also like to draw.”
 
Their mom, Jen Bannan, loves the camp.
 
“I’m a writer and it seems to me that whatever a kid wants to do, if they have the ability to think creatively and express themselves, it makes a world of difference in how they enjoy the world.”

From top to bottom: Sarah Heinz House, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, Sarah Heinz House
Photographs by Brian Cohen
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