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Sledding in North Park. Photograph by Kate Buckley.
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New school-climate theme and interactive story kiosks set for Hear Me

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Hear Me, the CMU project that gathers kids' stories to get them public notice and prompt action on kids' issues, will debut new, more interactive public story kiosks in April, and until then will be gathering stories based on a single theme: school climate.
 
The idea to focus on school climate -- whether students feel safe and engaged in their classrooms -- was driven by community activist groups that have made the issue one of their emphases, says Project Manager Jessica Kaminsky. A new partnership with the Education Law Center will help Hear Me create an audience for student stories among policymakers and local, state and federal government officials.
 
The new kiosks, Kaminsky says, will be "a way to bring that theme out into the community and get people talking about what our students are talking about."
 
Hear Me has been using a can-on-a-string design for its public kiosks, which people can turn over to hear a story. Now they have partnered with local design studios Visionary Effects and Laser Lab Studios to take the can phones and build a more attractive kiosk around them. Illustrated with different cartoon kids, in bright colors, the kiosks also now feature slots that give out and re-collect index cards for listeners to jot down their own stories on school climate, after they've listened to the recorded stories.
 
Another part of the index cards will give listeners an idea for getting involved in the theme issue. If the theme were environment, then perhaps they would be notified of a debate about Marcellus Shale or a cleanup at a local park, says Ryan Hoffman, project coordinator. Hear Me will scan the stories listeners write on the cards and place them on Hear Me's website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.
 
The kiosks will also have a scannable QR Code for people seeking more information.
 
Hear Me will be soliciting school-climate stories from local schools and community groups from now through May. "It's something everyone should be interested in," says Kaminsky. "We are looking for any group of students who want to share their stories on school climate."
 
A few demonstration kiosks are available now at Biddle's Escape in Wilkinsburg, Espresso a Mano in Lawrenceville and Carnegie libraries, currently featuring non-school climate stories.
 
Hear Me is hoping people or groups will sponsor some of the kiosks that will appear in the future, at $100 a kiosk, which will give each sponsor the chance to pick stories to feature in their kiosk. The sponsor will also be recognized on the kiosk. The official launch party for the new kiosks will take place in April at Big Dog Coffee on the South Side.
 
Hoffman hopes some of the new school-climate stories will lead to public policy changes. Says Hoffman: "It's going to be a great way to start community dialog on issues kids are actually concerned about."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Ryan Hoffman, Jessica Kaminsky
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