• Today is: Sunday, May 28, 2017

5 Pittsburgh community schools will launch new strategy in September

Candy Williams
May26/ 2017

Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education has taken a giant leap forward in its efforts to implement a district-wide community schools strategy.

You could call them super schools. They reach beyond the classroom to serve families and their neighborhoods.

This innovative, full-service approach to education focuses on academics, family support, health and social services, plus coordination of services and resources for students, their families, and surrounding communities.

The first community schools for the 2017-17 school year include Westinghouse 6-12 and Faison K-5 in Homewood, Lincoln preK-5 in Larimer, Arsenal 6-8 in Lawrenceville and Langley K-8 in the West End. Additional schools will be named later.

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet had experience with the community schools concept at a Florida school district.

“I’m excited as teachers and administrators see the unique benefits and worth of community schools,” he says.

To research the idea, a team of Pittsburgh educators visited schools in Oakland, CA, where a successful community schools plan is in effect. They looked at other districts, too, including Cincinnati and Philadelphia, where the initiative is working.

“They are part of a national trend among schools across the country,” says Errika Fearby Jones, executive director of internal and external affairs in the superintendent’s office.

The model is designed to enhance the connection between schools and neighborhoods by addressing outside barriers to learning, which impact students’ day-to-day lives and impede their academic progress, says LouAnn Ross, community schools coordinator..

Those improvements — ranging from health care services to learning opportunities for parents — can lead to a multitude of benefits, she says, including more family engagement, better school attendance and higher graduation rates for students.

“In schools across the nation, teachers say they are much freer to teach,” Ross says.

The first step toward achieving the new initiative will be to conduct a needs-based assessment beginning this fall to determine each school’s assets and liabilities.

All traditional schools in the district eventually will incorporate the concept.

The school board previously approved several actions to help schools meet students’ needs beyond the classroom. They include increased nursing support on every campus, positive behavior supports in every school, expansion of restorative practices, improved library, and adding four regional attendance assistants.

“Community schools recognize that children and their families are integral parts of their communities,” Ross says. “Our goal is to provide comprehensive support for all students, and a base for transformative parental engagement on behalf of children and schools.”

The challenges faced by many students in Pittsburgh schools “do not stay at home,” says Board President Dr. Regina Holley.

By adopting the community schools initiative, she says, “we will unpack those challenges to meet the holistic needs of students.”

Kristine Sorensen
May24/ 2017

Some local high school students are learning more in their jewelry class than just how to make necklaces, rings and bracelets.  They’re learning life lessons and having an impact on people outside the classroom.

It started with Allderdice High School jewelry teacher Julie Farber. She used to donate the jewelry her students made to local charities like the women’s shelter, but the students never really understood how happy it made the recipients. When the mother of one of her students died from cancer 5 years ago, Farber decided to directly connect the students with individuals living with cancer, and it’s been a life-changing experience for all.  She calls the program “Jewelry Love”.

“I wanted to teach my kids what it feels like to do things for other people,” Farber says. “No matter what path you choose in life, whether it academic or the arts, you can always make a difference in the world, big or small.”

In the spring semester, it starts when Farber connects each pair of students with a woman with cancer or other diseases. There are 39 recipients this year.

The students call the patient and ask questions about jewelry, their health and about themselves.

Student Leah Simpson says, “We try to incorporate what they love and colors they like and things they enjoy so it’s truly a specialized piece of jewelry they can wear.”

The students then design and make the jewelry. For example, they made a bracelet cuff with a cutout of mountains and a brown and turquoise stone for a woman who said she likes Earthy colors and the outdoors.  They put the words “strength, beauty, courage” inside three bracelets for a woman who uses that as her mantra.  They created jewelry with a rose motif for a recipient who loves the movie “Beauty and the Beast”.

One student, Kaileen Daniher, made jewelry for her mom before she died from a rare disease in June. “My Mom, it always made her feel better,” she remembers. “She liked to wear them. She said it made her feel pretty, and it’s nice to know someone else will feel that way too,” she says of making jewelry for other recipients this year.

The students give their jewelry to the recipient in person at a special celebration. Lindy Duty has been a recipient for the past four years.

“When you’re sick with something like cancer and the treatment is almost as bad, sometimes worse, than the disease, it’s really lonely,” Duty says. “It was really encouraging to have these young people, these teens who have a reputation of not caring, do this spectacular thing,” she says of getting the specially-made jewelry. “It took away the loneliness feeling and made me feel like people cared about me.”

The students are learning the lesson Farber hoped they would.  Student Sara Goldstein says, “I love the feeling of giving to someone who cared and loved what I gave them so much.”

Emily Pressman says, “I was able to help someone else. It made me feel really important and good about myself to be able to help someone in that big of an impact in their lives.”

To contact Mrs. Farber to learn more, go to her Facebook page:


Maker Monday: Ping Pong Ball Poppers

maker monday
Kidsburgh Staff
May22/ 2017

This Ping Pong Ball Popper Maker Monday project is a blast to make and fun to play with, too. You can create lots of group games with the Ping Pong Ball Popper. Line up friends and see whose ball can shoot the farthest or highest. Take target practice across the yard and record your results.

Making Ping Pong Ball Poppers would be a great diversion at a birthday party or family picnic. Don’t be surprised if grownups want to play, too.

We found this activity at the Remake Learning Days session at Avonworth Primary Center.

maker monday


Plastic disposable cups with the bottom cut off


Duct tape


Ping pong balls

maker monday

Cut duct tape into strips. Apply to the cut bottom of the cup to safely cover sharp edges.
maker monday

Tie off the end of a deflated balloon and cut off the top.

maker monday

Turn the cut upside right and stretch the balloon over the top of the cup.

maker monday

Add a ping pong ball, and you’re ready to go!

maker monday

Ready, aim, fire!

Pittsburgh Foundation’s Critical Needs Alert focuses on vital family services

Critical Needs Alert
Sally Quinn
May17/ 2017

The Pittsburgh Foundation has raised a call to arms – or at least a call to pocketbooks – for Tuesday, May 23.

That’s the day you can make a difference in children’s lives across Allegheny County by participating in the Critical Needs Alert fundraising event. The $1.2 million goal is the largest the Foundation has set for this type of fundraising event. The foundation offers a $600,000 match pool for the one-day, online fundraiser.

With increased pressure on struggling nonprofits which provide essential human services and the prospect of federal and state government aid being slashed, Foundation officials have seen the necessity for a Critical Needs Alert to provide a safety net for children and families. Previous Alerts targeted areas such as food insecurity and housing, raising $2.5 million.

The 93 nonprofits which will benefit from this Alert work in five areas of basic needs: child care, food and nutrition, housing, physical and mental health, and transportation.

“We work in response to what we see currently happening,” says Kelly Uranker, director of the Foundation’s Center for Philanthropy. “We’re focused on what we call 100 Percent Pittsburgh.”

Despite the prosperity that we’re experiencing in Pittsburgh, she explains, at least one-third of the region’s population live at or below the federal poverty line, with 70 percent of that population being single mothers.

“The idea is that 100 percent of us need to be moving forward,” Uranker says. “Now is the time and the opportunity to shore up those organizations that service those populations and give donors a little bit of incentive to do so.”

This time around, the pool of matching funds has a new twist. You can still go online and choose the organizations to whom you wish to donate, but the matching funds are no longer first come, first served.

“Usually, if you have a match pool, if the money runs out in an hour and a half, people stop giving,” Uranker says. With this pro-rated match pool, “people can give throughout the day and give at their convenience. So, we end up raising more funds at the end of the day.”

How it works: At the end of the day, the Foundation will look at the total amount raised and divide it by the match pool. Then every organization will get the same percentage on top of the total they raised.

Prior to the May 23rd giving effort, you can visit the website and wander through the benefitting nonprofits listed on the Leader Board to get a sense of their missions.

Critical Needs Alert
Children often benefit from hands-on activities as part of lessons, in this case, the importance of healthy food was the focus of creating a garden at Child’s Way Daycare.

One of those is Child’s Way Daycare at the Children’s Home & Lemieux Family Center. The pediatric, extended care center offers an alternative and a supplement to in-home nursing and therapy to medically fragile kids, who would otherwise be unable to attend traditional daycare.

The Critical Needs Alert fundraising helps Child’s Way provide tuition and scholarships for kids from infancy to young adults.

“We assist parents in maintaining employment because of the consistent quality of care that we offer,” says Kristina Waltman, director of external affairs. “Child’s Way lifts barriers to child care for families in the community by providing extra support for children experiencing disability and health disorders.”

Teachers and nurses work side-by-side, providing educational curriculum to kids while caring for their special health needs.

A more traditional daycare, but no less special, is the 60-year-old Arsenal Family & Children’s Center in Friendship.

“One of the things you need to know about child care and preschool is we can’t charge enough to make ends meet,” says Melissa Hankin, executive director. “That’s the critical need there.”

Parents need to work and they want a high-quality day care and preschool they can trust, she says. And they need it to be affordable.

“Most often the families that we serve cannot afford to come here,” Hankin says. “We try to get scholarship money for them, and we try to get extra funds for them.”

Donations through the 16 hours of Critical Needs fundraising will be a big help.

“We believe Pittsburgh’s community foundation must lead now on the moral imperative,” says Maxwell King, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation. “The Critical Needs event is key to jump-starting the legendary generosity that residents are known for in assisting the most vulnerable.”

Keep the discussion going under the banner #SafetyNetPGH.

My Favorite Pittsburgh Thing To Do With Kids: Ben Alper

Mu favorite thing
Sally Quinn
May17/ 2017

Pittsburgh-raised singer-songwriter Ben Alper has been entertaining local music fans for well over a decade with his original band, Cranberry Sanders; his Dave Matthews Band tribute band, One Sweet Burgh; or playing solo and duo acoustic shows.

More recently he’s added his 8-month-old son, Jackson, to his fan base.

Ben, who has a day job working as a relationship strategist at PNC Wealth Management, and his wife, Katie, an elementary special education teacher, live in Cranberry, along with their canine compadre, Lennon.

Their favorite thing to do?  In good weather, the family enjoys walks around North Park Lake. They love the natural setting – as well as getting in a workout at the same time.

When the weather doesn’t cooperate, Ben gets a kick out of introducing his small son to music.

“Jackson is already discovering his favorite songs, whether he’s playing tambourine along to Dr. John or settling down to Paul Simon’s ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,’ ” says Ben, who is looking forward to many days of jamming out together.