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Carnegie Library teen space: 'Tell us what comes next'

A year after receiving $1.5 million from the Cindy and Murry Gerber Foundation to create a new teen space at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Allegheny branch, use of the space has exceeded expectations.
 
"Our goal for last year was to reach 500 teens with programs in-house," says the library's Teen Service Coordinator LeeAnn Anna, "and we reached 3,720." New features of the space include a digital learning lab and a music instrument library.
 
A new full-time teen librarian and library assistant were hired a year ago, and the new teen space opened in November 2013 with "on-demand gaming" every day after school – "obviously a way just to get the kids in the door," says Anna.
 
But the space soon added Thursday night sessions where kids can put new technologies to use for their own projects, such as making podcasts, laying down a rap and a beat, or trying Photoshop. The library wanted, Anna says, "to be able to give teens the chance to come in and not just be passive consumers of information but to take the information and create something and make a mark on their world."
 
Career and job preparation will be another emphasis of programming in the space, beginning with a free SAT prep workshop on Feb. 1, and homework help every Wednesday after school.
 
This spring, a teen reading lounge or "experiential book club" will offer kids a real-world experience along with their reading of, for starters, graphic novels.
 
The Carnegie Library will be building a similarly equipped new teen space in the East Liberty branch with these grant monies this year.
 
The value of such spaces, Anna says, "is making sure the kids know the resources in their communities. Librarians are resource people. We make connections."
 
As for their future: "For now, it's important for us to develop this rapport with the kids, so they're the ones telling us what comes next."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: LeeAnn Anna, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Ed Tech Meetup: what you need to succeed

Working Examples, which helps educators to share best practices, has reached out to the educational technology community to start a new Ed Tech Meetup for the benefit of all those aiming to use technology in learning.
 
"There's a certain slice of the education sector who aren't interacting on a daily basis," notes Abby Loughrey, one of the organizers, who works at Bloomboard, a California ed tech startup that opened its Pittsburgh office in September. Bloomboard is developing an online marketplace for ed tech professional development, and an online assessment to help teachers know which professional development they might need.
 
"Many other cities have ed tech meetups and there are all these awesome events," says Loughrey. "There are never any listed for Pittsburgh."
 
That should end with the advent of the Ed Tech Meetup. The largest group among its 60 members thus far consists of teachers and administrators, but there are also members from ed tech companies and from nonprofits and community groups concerned with educational outcomes for students.
 
The group's activities are still being planned, but they will focus on such things as educators' basic needs: learning what ed tech is available, which will work for their students, how to use them or how to help their kids use them.
 
"We decided it's not going to be happy hours," says Loughrey; instead, activities may include "a meetup on bring your own devices, [and] on the challenge of being a digital technology immigrant" – someone whose lifetime has included the development of the digital technologies younger people have always taken for granted.
 
The group may also want to include sessions on educational technology tools for older learners and tools for those with issues around manual dexterity or vision.
 
One thing Loughrey noticed about their first meetup – there were no students in attendance. "If we're really concerned about educational technology," she concluded, "we ought to have students at the table."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Abby Loughrey

Kids of STEEL's marathon program of running, healthy eating

Kids of STEEL challenges kids to get healthy by trying new fruits and vegetables every week and by running a marathon – over 18 weeks. It will culminate in the one-mile kids' marathon on May 3 this year, the day before the annual Pittsburgh Marathon.
 
Kelsey Jackson, public relations manager for the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, notes that both the marathon and Kids of STEEL have grown over the years. Now there are 80 schools participating; although no new schools are being accepted into the program at the moment, individual kids can still sign up.
 
The goal of the program, says Katie Pavlich, the marathon's event program director, "is to instill healthy lifestyle habits in every child. The miles kids have been turning in are amazing."
 
Sponsored by Giant Eagle, Kids of STEEL now involves more than 2,000 students, with four school districts topping the list of registered students: Ross Elementary, North Strabane Intermediate, Avonworth Elementary and South Fayette Elementary and Intermediate.
 
Kids of STEEL started with 15 schools just four years ago. "We've got a lot of kids coming back, and they are involving their siblings," she says.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Kelsey Jackson and Katie Pavlich, DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon

Celebrating 30 years of the Children's Festival Chorus

The Children’s Festival Chorus will celebrate 30 years this spring with a concert and gala that, says Executive Director Edwina French, will also honor the legacy of the chorus's artistic director, Christine Jordanoff, retiring after 28 years.
 
"It is a long stretch," says French about her organization's three decades; French herself has led the choir for a mere six months so far. "I think it's lasted so long because it's been such a high-quality organization and that's been in a large part due to the work of Christine, who wanted to emphasize choral education."
 
In fact, says French, choral education for choir members has always comes first.
 
The group is composed of 8- to 16-year-old singers from the greater Pittsburgh area, and from as far away as Ohio and West Virginia. To audition, prospective members need to demonstrate basic musical competencies, the sort kids get in their schools' music classes.
 
"They also need to be able to sing," French says, laughing. There are three choir levels: the entry-level group, called Troubadour Choir, the mid-level Talisman and top level Bel Canto. The Children's Festival Choir performs two major concerts a year – a winter concert held traditionally at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, and a spring concert to be held May 3 this year at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shadyside Academy for the first time.
      
The chorus has also performed in local churches and schools. Pittsburgh Opera has used choir members for voices in its performances, and the choir has sung with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This year they will also be performing with the Three Rivers Young People's Orchestra in partnership with Duquesne University's chorus and orchestra.
 
"The camaraderie the children develop as they go through the choral education is quite unique," French says. "The opportunities the children get as participants are pretty extraordinary." This April, Bel Canto is performing at Carnegie Hall as part of a children's choir program.
 
The organization's summer music day camps at Duquesne are very popular, open not just to choristers but to all kids.
It also runs the 1-2-3 Music program for kids in first, second and third grades. "It's designed to develop in children the skills we're actually looking for in our choristers," French says.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Edwina French, Children’s Festival Chorus

Crossing Fences: African-American boys, meet the men you could become

The Crossing Fences oral history project has ventured into new Pittsburgh neighborhoods, helping young African-American boys interview local black men about their inspirational roles as mentors and models worthy of emulation.
 
"It's interesting when a boy who is 11 years old can reflect on this experience and say that he has something in common with the 85-year-old man he interviewed," says Chanessa Schuler, multimedia specialist at SLB Radio Productions (slbradio.org), which runs the program. "When the boys complete this experience they are confident and proud."
 
Going into the North Side, the Hilltop/Beltzhoover area and McKeesport, Crossing Fences in its second year has resulted in a booklet and accompanying audio CD that includes profiles and oral histories. Audio interviews from the project are available at NeighborhoodVoices.org and in SLB's StoryBoxes in local libraries.
 
"We ask the boys to come up with characteristics of a role model, and then have them select one in their community," says Schuler. "There have been times where it has been difficult for a boy to think of a man with the characteristics they describe -- that is a problem. That gives us greater motivation to expose these boys to inspiring African American men." 
 
SLB doesn't just turn kids loose with tape recorders. "We have to build up their interviewing skills," she says. "They develop questions and, as a group, we critique them. We teach them about mic technique, room noise, eye contact, listening skills, deadlines, teamwork and organization," as well as post-production editing.
 
"Most kids, even the most talkative, are very nervous to ask questions of someone who is older and wiser than they are," she adds. "We have to assure the boys that these men want to help by spending time with them, sharing stories and giving advice."
 
The program pushes these kids toward understanding "the bigger picture – that they can do anything they want to do in life. They see these men who grew up in the same neighborhood, who are now artists, entrepreneurs, teachers, actors, preachers, community activists."
 
Overall, Schuler explains, "In the areas we work in, people don't feel a sense of community like there once was. Projects like this give them that sense of community and they want these good things to continue."
 
Public celebrations of the program are planned for Hilltop's McKinley Park Recreation Center on Nov. 12, the North Side's
Cafe 'n' Creamery on Nov. 13 and the McKeesport Library on Nov. 14. Participating boys received a Kindle Fire HD with apps, free books and Internet access. The African American Men and Boys Initiative of The Heinz Endowments supported Crossing Fences.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Chanessa Schuler, SLB Radio Productions

Miracle League matches PNC Park view for kids with disabilities

When will you be able to see the Pittsburgh skyline from the South Hills?
 
The answer: next spring, when the Miracle League of the South Hills completes its new playground.
 
The Miracle League is a baseball program designed to include kids with special needs on teams with typical children as well, as well as adult teams having the same purpose. When nice weather returns in early 2014, the League plans to have finished its new playground outside the field. It will display the cityscape (really clubhouses with a variety of learning and play activities) beyond the stands and the baseball diamond, just as the skyscrapers and rivers are visible from the Pirates' PNC Park. The three rivers will be marked on the playground's soft surface.
 
A year ago, says League Executive Director Maura Rodgers, the group began meeting with occupational and physical therapists, doctors, teachers and staff from the Children's Institute of Pittsburgh. Their quest: "If we could take a clinic or classroom outdoors, what would it look like?" says Rodgers.
 
It would have to be a site "where children truly learn through play," she says. "We wanted to dream up something remarkable.
 
"What a parent with children with special needs will tell you is," she adds, that "while the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] helps playgrounds meet certain requirements, those are the barebones …" Placing ramps leading up to slides, rather than steps, won't do any good for a kid in a wheelchair who can't use the slide anyway.
 
The Miracle League playground will put developmental tools, in the form of games and play panels, throughout the site. There will be a variety of more traditional playground fare, since kids with certain disabilities may gravitate toward spinning apparatus, while other kids may be big climbers and explorers.
 
"How are all these kids who develop and learn differently able to learn on this playground?" Rodgers says. Children working on navigating steps may be intimidated or discouraged by a long staircase at home, but they will have an incentive to climb a few steps on the Miracle League playground if it leads them toward a game or activity.
 
Like the League's baseball team, she says, the playground will be designed to attract typical kids as well. Concludes Rodgers: "We can all benefit when we work together as a team."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Maura Rodgers, Miracle League f the South Hills

PAEYC's Unconference includes hackathon, field trips to Google and more

A conference with field trips and a hackathon?

Call it the "unconference," happening Nov. 15 and 16 as an innovative new idea from PAEYC – the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. It's being billed as an event "where educators and technologists can play together.”
 
Right now, you can go online to vote for your favorite app idea submitted by early childhood educators. The winners will be turned into open source apps by teams of tech developers and marketing professionals, to be presented at the end of this Unconference. Some of the app ideas will monitor kids' school progress, manage the voluminous paperwork a teacher faces and help parents be a part of their kids' education.
 
"Children today are digital natives, whereas the adults who care for children are digital immigrants," says PAEYC's Operations Director Cara Ciminillo. "We need to help bridge that divide. For some educators, access to digital media is their challenge, for others, it is both access and experience in integrating its use to strengthen their lesson plans in developmentally appropriate ways."
 
The expected 200 participants will have a chance to choose among field trips to Google Pittsburgh, TechShop, the MakeShop at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, MAYA Design and other creative places. At the end, the day trippers and hackers will bring their experiences together for a final unconference happening.
 
Ciminillo says her organization hopes, in the end, to create "a diverse community of learners, representing early childhood educators, technologists, and innovators, who have an increased awareness of the importance of quality early childhood investments …"
 
The hackathon will take place at Google Pittsburgh's East Liberty offices, while the field-trip participants will start and end their day at Rashid Auditorium in the Hillman Center at Carnegie Mellon University. Email here for more information.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Cara Ciminillo, PAEYC

Girls on the Run: So much more than sports

Kids need exercise perhaps even more than adults do – and they may get more out of it.
 
Girls on the Run, a program for 3rd- through 8th-grade girls sponsored by Magee-Womens Hospital, teaches exercise as a gateway to a healthy life in so many ways, says Meredith Colaizzi, program director. When begun at those young ages, she notes, exercise can result not only in a healthy body and a great lifetime habit but all sorts of developmental skills, from social and emotional competencies to greater self-esteem and what she calls "higher body-size satisfaction."
 
Girls on the Run combines a track program with an interactive curriculum that teaches girls how to avoid risky adolescent behaviors. The girls also take on a community-service project and complete a 5k race together. There are 380 girls in the program this fall; last spring's session attracted 860.
 
"We hope that the program inspires girls to continue healthy habits," she says, "such as running while breaking out of their comfort zone by trying new sports and activities." 
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Meredith Colaizzi, Girls on the Run

Making 'Common Sense' of media and tech tools

Parents and teachers in Pittsburgh now have Common Sense Media's help in finding the best ways to navigate online learning – and improving kids' overall online experience. 
 
Common Sense aims to make children's online journeys responsible, ethical and safe, teaching students about cyberbullying and enlisting its experts and teachers in the field to rate and review apps, websites, videos, and other media for educational use and for parents' edification. Local Common Sense Education Program Manager Jennifer Ehehalt calls their services "almost like Trip Advisor for apps in the classroom." The company opened up its Pittsburgh office in March, thanks to support from the Grable Foundation, and has been working at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3 in Homestead.
 
There, Ehehalt runs teachers' professional development sessions called Appy Hours, highlighting three or four apps that work well for certain subjects and grade levels, including an app "play time" for the teachers.
 
"We hope most of them will leave with the motivation of taking it into the classroom and trying it out themselves," she says. She also holds App Flows, which help teachers take an established lesson plan and figure out how to incorporate apps, websites and other tech elements into each section. Two teachers from Marshall Elementary School in North Allegheny, for instance, found the lessons so useful that now 25 Marshall teachers are headed to the Common Sense office for help on adapting tech to their building, Ehehalt reports.
 
Next, Common Sense is working with the Shaler school district and others on their rollout of tablets for every student, helping teachers adapt to this new learning environment. The company also puts out a family tool kit for best Internet practices, guiding parents on how to find good-quality, age-appropriate content.
 
Explains Ehehalt: "You want to make sure parents are modeling behavior at home."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jennifer Ehehalt, Common Sense Media

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

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh expanding into old Allegheny Regional Library building

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is pursuing a plan to expand into the former Allegheny Regional branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as it looks to both extend its program offerings and alleviate overcrowding in its current space.

“Plans are not completely set in stone,” says Chris Siefert, the museum’s deputy director. “We’re working with the city and exploring the possibilities to get that building occupied.”

The former library’s proximity to the museum and the museum’s need for more space make the expansion a natural fit.
“We’ve had a significant growth in our attendance. We’re seeing over 250,000 people per year,” Siefert says. “Over the last two or three years, we’ve really noticed pressure on our physical space. This is sort of a continuation of our cultural campus and growing our space.”

According to Siefert, the museum has established an agreement with the city under which it will conduct an engineering assessment of the building to begin evaluating how to bring it up to code, make it more accessible and suitable for use. Constructed between 1886 and 1890, the building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.

Siefert also says that the museum plans to hold events to “check in with the community” every 90 days to get feedback on what people want and how to best include it in the renovation. The first such event will be held today from 4:30 to 6:30 at the vacant building, and will include guided tours of the first and second floors, as well as opportunities for people to present feedback.

Siefert anticipates the first phase of the project will cost between $5.5 and $7 million, with another $10 to $15 million to insure the location’s financial stability. He says it’s conceivable the space could be ready for the museum to use by mid-2015.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Chris Siefert

Why we should cheer on kindergartners and more ways to help your community

The Month of Living Generously is the time when businesses kick off their United Way workplace campaigns, but you don't have to wait until your company does it – you don't even have to have a workplace. United Way of Allegheny County is holding three Days of Caring in August and September, where individuals and companies can sign up to serve any of United Way's traditional three focal areas: youth, seniors and struggling families.
 
The Days, says Christy Stuber, the organization's volunteer initiatives director, "are really important to give people a first-hand perspective on the needs of the community."
 
Children and Youth Day (Aug. 29) will give volunteers the chance to cheer on parents and kindergarteners at their first day of school at Pittsburgh Arlington, Faison, King, Langley, Miller and Weil. The Day for Seniors and Adults with Disabilities (Sept. 4) will help assess seniors' homes for falling and fire hazards and perform health and safety repairs for Homewood families. For the Sept. 12 Day for Financially Struggling Families, volunteers will sort food at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and pass out food at its Produce for People site, as well as conducting more home repairs in Homewood.
 
"To go out and cheer a kindergartener on their first day seems like an easy and fun activity," Stuber says. But she points to a report from the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, which cites research showing that encouraging attendance pays off. Not only does chronic kindergarten absenteeism result in lower school performance in first grade, but the first day itself means a lot. Kids who miss their first day go on to miss twice as many days as those who attend school from the beginning.
 
Last year, United Way had 2,000 participants in their Days of Caring events; Stuber believes volunteering is a very important part of giving: "It's the interaction that we have with the people that we serve," she says, "that is really special."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Christy Stuber, United Way of Allegheny County

Yo Bro brings socially conscious fashions for little dudes to Lawrenceville

Marybeth Mahoney and Lori Sipes are moms on a mission. That mission: introduce a trendy line of boys’ fashions that helps raise money for charity.

“We wanted to design something affordable and cool,” Sipes says. “A lot of children’s clothing stores are 75 percent girls’ clothing and 25 percent boys’, but the boys’ designs tend to be kind of cheesy.”

Late last year, they launched Yo Bro Apparel. And what started as an exclusively internet business has taken root at 3818 Butler Street in Lawrenceville. Yo Bro launched its first brick-and-mortar operation as a pop-up store, which ran from January of last year to February of this year. It became a permanent fixture earlier this month.

“We decided that we wanted to do something where we could donate portions of profits to children’s charities. We wanted to do something that allowed us to give back,” Sipes says.

For the rest of this year and most of next year, Yo Bro will donate 10 percent of its profits to the Noah Angelici Hope Foundation. After that, it will contribute to a different children’s charity during the spring/summer and fall/winter seasons.
Yo Bro is also among a host of Pittsburgh businesses featured in the PBS documentary series “Start Up,” which will air in Pittsburgh later this year.

“We do all the designs ourselves, and it’s all imprintable apparel,” says Sipes, adding that they get their materials from American wholesalers and employ a local screen printer. “We’re kinda scrappy and trying to do everything ourselves.”

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Lori Sipes

Luke Skurman takes College Prowler to the next level with Niche, K-12 school rankings

Helping students pick the right colleges for themselves has been College Prowler’s sweet spot for 11 years running. So where does the successful Shadyside startup, one of the largest college content websites in the country, go from here?
 
Founder and CEO Luke Skurman has launched a new company and brand called Niche, a site that provides the same trusted in-depth reviews and analyses that has made College Prowler successful, but with expansive content for public and private schools across the U.S., kindergarten to 12th grade.
 
“It was time to think about a bigger vision and brand,” says Skurman, always the forward-thinking entrepreneur. “We’re very pleased with how far we’ve come. We want people to continue making great life decisions.”
 
Niche has amassed 400,000 user-generated reviews and has graded 80,000 public and private K-12 schools since its launch four months ago. More districts will be added with 120,000 public and private schools as the ultimate goal.
 
Families on the move--or merely interested in how their school district stacks up--will find information on popular high school classes, racial diversity, where students go to college, graduation rates and student-written reviews.
 
Many of the same students and parents who had generated reviews for College Prowler participated in the school district surveys, says Skurman. In addition to user-generated reviews, Niche draws on government databases and school administration surveys. 
 
The K-12 school letter rankings—A, B, C, and D—are calculated by comparing a school’s assessment scores on state assessment tests with other schools in their state. 
 
The point is not to become an advocacy group, but to report impartial data, Skurman says. “We want to keep tackling big life decisions…providing as much transparency, insight and clarity on the educational system as possible.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Luke Skurman, Niche

Ever go sideways Hula Hooping? That's Fun Day at Clayton

Before kids were allowed to shake and shimmy in public using Hula Hoops, there was hoop rolling – and badminton, croquet, sack races and other activities for the overly dressed kids of Victorian times.
 
Now, in the name of 21st-century fitness, kids can take part in these games from the early 1900s and more at Let's Move Family Fun Day at the Frick on Sept. 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Let's Move is First Lady Michelle Obama's program focused on healthy eating and active lives for kids, but the Frick Art and Historical Center has managed to adapt it to include activities in and around Clayton, Henry Clay Frick's house.
 
Spokesperson Greg Langel anticipates that more than 700 people will attend this year. "We hope to provide our visitors the opportunity to use the Frick site in a new way," says Langel. "We have these grounds – five beautiful acres – and this day provides guests the chance to learn about historic, turn of the century Victorian games the Frick children participated in, and to be active on the site."
 
Other lawn games, of a more modern nature, include challenge hopscotch, bean-bag toss and a wacky obstacle course. Kids can also follow an activity guide on the site produced for a previous Let's Move event.
 
Langel hopes visitors will also tour Clayton. "A good portion of the displays and rooms in Clayton are children's rooms," he notes, "and much of what we talk about are the lives of the children." The day will also feature Yoga and a Story, for kids and their families, which combines a reading of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” with simple yoga moves, such as tree, boat and rock poses.
 
A free Victorian photo booth will give kids mustaches, hats and other props to use. And if they want to see nearly real Victorian photos, they can venture into the gallery for Clayton Days Revisited: A Project by Vik Muniz. Back in 1999, Muniz used Victorian-era camera equipment to take new photos at Clayton from children's point of view. His 65 prints were originally exhibited in 2000, but they're being redisplayed now with a selection of works by Muniz from the subsequent 13 years.
 
The event is sponsored by UPMC Health Plan.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Greg Langel, Frick Art and Historical Center
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