• Today is: Sunday, January 19, 2020
Kristine Sorensen
January16/ 2020

You’ve heard the warning: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” but in this case, it’s not a scam.  The Pennsylvania Treasury is giving each child born or adopted in Pennsylvania $100 to go toward college or post-secondary education.  The goal of the “Keystone Scholars” program is to encourage parents to start thinking about saving for their kids’ college as soon as the kids are born.

New parents Lizzy and Larry Bigante from Millvale are thrilled to get a head start on their new daughter’s savings for college.   “There’s definitely a lot of emotions being a first-time mom, but it’s been great so far,” Lizzy said.  Lizzy gave birth to Madison at West Penn Hospital where she learned about the Keystone Scholars program through a brochure given to new parents.  She and Larry had already discussed starting college savings account for their baby, Madison, especially after they both had their own college loans to pay off.  “It’s definitely a big burden once you graduate from college, having a lot of debt, so it will be nice that she’ll have a jumpstart,” Lizzy said.

All babies born to or adopted by a Pennsylvania family after December 31, 2018, are eligible for a free $100 toward higher education.  The hope is that families will start their own college savings account in addition to this.

That’s what Sarah Turner, a nurse at West Penn Hospital, did after she and her husband learned about the program.  Now, a monthly deduction from her paycheck goes to their infant son Josiah’s 529 college savings account.  “It’s not something that we would have done on our own,” Turner said, “so it was nice to kind of have that extra boost to start saving ahead of time.”

If a family sets aside $25 dollars/month when their child is born, it can add up to $10,000 dollars by the time the child is finishing high school.  Deputy PA state treasurer, Julie Peachey, said, “That is really why we’re providing this $100 when the baby’s born, at birth, because it gives time for the money to grow.”

Right now, only 20 percent of babies are registered in the Keystone Scholars program, but it’s not too late if you missed the brochure in the mail.   You can register at any time, and the money can be accessed until a child is age 29.  “It works for any type of post-secondary education, not just a four-year college, but any type of training, technical school, community college or two-year college,” Peachey explains.

College may be a long way off for baby Madison, but her parents are setting her up for success, no matter what she chooses to do when she grows up.  She’s already off to a good start.  “She’s doing good… 2 days old and 100 dollars,” they laugh.

Money for the program comes from surplus earnings in the state’s 529 program and from donors, including the Heinz Endowment and Hillman and Mellon foundations.

According to a study from the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL), children with savings for college, even if it’s less than $500, are 25% more likely to enroll in college and 64% more likely to graduate than a child with no savings.

To learn more or to sign up, go to:


Kristine Sorensen
January14/ 2020

Women often think pregnancy issues end when her baby arrives, but that’s not the case.  In this Kidcast, Dr. Hyagriv Simhan from UPMC Magee Womens Hospital tells KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen there’s a so-called “Fourth Trimester” that’s important for women to know about. Here’s their edited conversation.

Kristine Sorensen: What is the “fourth trimester”?

Dr. Hyagriv Simhan: Most women are aware that pregnancy has three trimesters, divided into thirds. The “fourth trimester” is a term that we developed to talk about the year postpartum. While most people think pregnancy ends with the birth of their child, we know that in the year postpartum, there are very important medical and physical changes that women have that can bode well for them in the future, but can also raise medical complications and risks for them. We want to emphasize the importance of a woman’s own health after pregnancy, and that’s what the fourth trimester is — that year after pregnancy.

Kristine Sorensen: What kinds of risks could happen during that time?

Dr. Hyagriv Simhan: In the fourth trimester and the year postpartum, women are at risk for developing diabetes, developing high blood pressure and complications from high blood pressure, even things as serious as heart attacks and strokes. Women can develop mood disorders like depression, and for women who have had depression before delivery, that depression can get worse. Those are some of the more complicated and more common factors that happen after delivery.

Kristine Sorensen: So if a woman seeing a doctor and it’s not her ob/gyn, the doctor might not even realize that she just delivered a baby and a potential health problem may be related to that, right?

Dr. Hyagriv Simhan: I think that’s a really important point. Women will deliver a baby and then feel like that episode of her life is over. She may go to an emergency department or a primary care doctor, and unless that whole group is aware that she had a baby in the last year, they might not even take that into account. So it’s important for women, themselves, to make their providers aware of the recent birth of her child.

Kristine Sorensen: That’s where these bracelets come in. You are giving them out to women who deliver at Magee.

Dr. Hyagriv Simhan: That’s right. They are intended for a woman to have as a reminder to herself to tell her healthcare providers about her recent birth

Pittsburgh’s MuseumLab showcased as a finalist in SXSW’s Learn by Design competition

Kidsburgh Staff
January14/ 2020

Photo courtesy of MuseumLab.

We’ve been loving MuseumLab since it opened last April as an extension of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The addition of this haven for older kids, housed in the former Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny County, established the largest cultural campus for kids in the country. The design combines historic preservation and innovative new architecture in a space where kids experience maker learning in art and technology.

The space wows all of us who pass through its doors. The rest of the world has taken notice, too.

MuseumLab, along with the project’s lead architect, Koning Eizenberg Architecture, has been named one of five finalists in this year’s SXSW EDU Learn by Design competition.

The international competition honors imaginative and impactful approaches to the design of physical learning environments and how they impact teaching methods and learning outcomes. Eligible spaces include classrooms, libraries, museums and special exhibitions that help solve challenges in education and the designers, educators and architects who create them.

Clockwise from left, Dreamscapes Immersive Art Experience, Canyon View High School, The Cheryl and Philip Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning, and The Living Lab.

Other Learn by Design finalists include:

Canyon View High School. The Waddell, Arizona, school fosters academic and curricular exploration by expanding the definition of a “place-based” high school. Blurring the lines between age and abilities, the new facility offers an open-source incubator for the art of teaching and learning.

Dreamscapes Immersive Art Experience. Salt Lake City, Utah, is the home of Dreamscapes, which manifests the surreal nature of the subconscious in a 14,000-square-foot labyrinth suitable for all ages

The Cheryl and Philip Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning. Designed as the heart of Barnard College in New York, NY, the Milstein Center reimagines the role of the library in higher education.

The Living Lab. Ocean Discovery Institute in San Diego, Calif., uses ocean science to empower young people from urban, underserved communities. The institute’s latest addition, The Living Lab, continues to strengthen the organization’s mission by engaging thousands of students.

The SXSW honor is another in a growing list: MuseumLab is on track for LEED Gold certification and to meet the standards for WELL Building and the Pittsburgh 2030 District initiative. It is the first building in the nation to receive certification in Innovative Solutions for Internal Design from the University of Buffalo’s Center for Universal Design and Environmental Access. MuseumLab is also a finalist in the Master Builders’ Association of Western Pennsylvania’s Building Excellence Awards of 2019.

The Learn by Design competition takes place at the SXSW EDU Conference & Festival in Austin, Texas, from March 13-22. We’re looking forward to hearing the outcome.

This is why Joe Welch of North Hills Middle School is PA’s Teacher of the Year

Sandra Tolliver
January14/ 2020

Joe Welch explains his philosophy on teaching with a simple story: He was walking along a Delaware beach this past summer with his daughter Julia, then 6, who was searching for seashells to put into the bucket he carried.

“She picks up one shell and shows it to me and I remember saying, ‘That one has a hole in it. Why do you want that one?’ And she said, ‘Well, I can make an ornament out of it.’ Another one was broken, and she said, ‘I can make something out of it.’ She kept putting these shells in, even a dirty one. ‘That one’s still beautiful,’ she said.

“And just like that, she put it all into perspective,” says Joe, also father to 4-year-old Noah. “Everybody comes with their own story. How often do you get that situation where somebody doesn’t need help to be made into something better?”

Welch, of North Hills Middle School, is Pennsylvania’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, nominated by fellow history teacher Larry Dorenkamp. A teacher in the North Hills School District for 13 years, Welch has a knack for engaging students in the classroom and on field trips, nudging them to learn by relating history to their lives, and making them care about the world around them.

He’s in it 24/7, practicing lesson plans at home after school, often trying out ideas by rapping, which amuses his kids and his wife, Sarah. Last year, Joe was named National History Teacher of the Year.

He exemplifies the school district’s motto of “pride, tradition and excellence,” says Superintendent Patrick J. Mannarino. “This is an amazing accomplishment for Welch, and we thank him for representing our district with pride and for all he does for our students.”

Welch humbly credits others — his father, Tom, who taught at North Hills before him, and Dorenkamp, a friend with whom he texts daily to test out ideas — with inspiring him to teach and helping him to grow in his career. He talks animatedly about his job, as if it really isn’t a job but more a way to connect with people when they’re young and, hopefully, as their life goes on.

“People ask what this award means to me,” he says. “It’s a testament to the great people I’ve had the opportunity to work with, and continue to work with, every day. [Teaching] is, without a doubt, such an invigorating and inspiring experience. You don’t know the impact you’re going to have, from a day-to-day standpoint, but also longterm. It’s so fulfilling to have a previous student come back and let you know that you made them feel positive about themselves, or inspired them to take a career path, or even that you just made some difference in their life.”

On the day he spoke with Kidsburgh, Welch took his class to the Carnegie Library in Oakland to explore microfilm as part of an oral history project. The kids are putting together a documentary to show how history impacts everyone’s lives. They can interview anyone they choose. Some students talked with a local person, but others looked beyond Pittsburgh, choosing to Skype or FaceTime with a Holocaust survivor or a witness to the first post-apartheid election in South Africa.

Through the project, the students are learning much more than how to tap community resources, use the microfilm machine or produce a short documentary. Welch quotes a line from the musical “Hamilton” to illustrate it: “If you have skin in the game, you stay in the game, but you don’t get a win unless you play in it.”

“It’s learning how to talk to people, and how to listen to other people’s experiences and to empathize. That’s a skill that’s underrated and usable throughout their lives,” he says. “They’re learning to read people’s emotions. … We had a student interview someone who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and he broke down during that interview. It promotes understanding.”

North Hills teaches history sequentially, presenting eighth-graders with early American history, starting with European exploration at Jamestown, Va., and through the years to Reconstruction. In ninth grade, they continue on through the Cold War years.

“When you look at our content, it could be difficult on the surface to have a kid connect with it. ‘What was life like in 1609 in Jamestown and why should I care about that?’ ” Welch says. “Yes, fashion changes, technology changes, there’s so many things that change — but what’s the common theme? One, they involve people and two, every person has an emotion, whether it’s George Washington as a 21-year-old going through Western Pennsylvania and making many mistakes, or you. They think, ‘Hey, I make mistakes, too.’ ”

What works for one group of students one year might not work the next time, though. Welch acknowledges that students have their own personal or family issues they might bring into the classroom. Reaching them as individuals is the primary goal.

“When you close the [classroom] door, you have a relationship with that kid,” he says. “If you understand that everybody comes with their own story and challenges, you recognize that and move forward: ‘There is a goal and you’re going to accomplish it.’ For one student, that may be completely different than another student.”

He’s cognizant that students need more than what history books provide so that they get a fuller picture of historical figures and definitions of early America.

Welch hopes that more people will choose to become teachers. Pennsylvania follows a national trend in dealing with a teacher shortage. The state used to license more than 14,000 new teachers annually, but state Department of Education officials say the number of education majors has dropped 55 percent since 1996 and the number of new teaching certificates issued has fallen 71 percent since 2009.

And even with achievements that have earned him honors, Welch has his own goals — of not becoming complacent as a teacher, and of recognizing what students need as individuals.

“I want to push myself to continue to grow and learn and be humble that I don’t know everything,” he says. “I do not want to be somebody who’s not willing to be dynamic and change things up.”

Kids express themselves through free ProjectArt classes around Pittsburgh

Kristy Locklin
January14/ 2020

This story first appeared in NEXTpittsburgh, which publishes Kidsburgh.

Budget cuts have left big holes in schools’ art departments. That’s where ProjectArt comes in.

The national program, which launched in Pittsburgh in 2017, provides free art classes to students ages 4 to 18. Locally, 250 kids are enrolled in the program, which operates at various Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branches.

ProjectArt aims to empower youth in divested communities by giving them an opportunity to express themselves creatively, overcome social barriers and foster socialization and critical thinking skills. Shivani Trivedi, a Pittsburgh resident and trustee of ProjectArt, was instrumental in bringing the program to her hometown.

“We started out in Harlem in 2011, and we got a lot of press coverage,” says Alexandra Behette, ProjectArt’s director of external affairs. “We received emails from people asking us to come to Pittsburgh. We did research and found there was definitely a need for quality, consistent, visual arts education in the area. We developed a relationship with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and it blossomed from there.”

One-hour sessions, divided into three age groups (4-7, 8-12 and 13-18), are held three days a week in Carnegie Library branches throughout Pittsburgh: Allegheny, Woods Run, Beechview, West End, East Liberty and Carrick. Classes are capped at 15 students.

Although the schedule follows a traditional September-to-May school calendar, new students can enroll at any time. Parents can register their children online or fill out a form at one of the partner libraries.

The curriculum is based in the visual arts, such as painting and sculpture, and taught by six artists-in-residence. New instructors are hired each year in a variety of disciplines.

Participants can essentially stay with the program from when they start to age 18. Families of students also benefit from the program, says Nina Friedman, director of Pittsburgh-based operations for ProjectArt. While their child is learning art, family members have the opportunity to discover the library’s other resources.

While most students are in elementary school, ProjectArt is working to engage more teenagers. The Pittsburgh Foundation recently granted the organization’s wish to purchase calligraphy and screenprinting tools and cameras. Other supplies are provided by Blick Art Materials.

ProjectArt instructor Angela Velez is a trained writer and editor. While pursing a master’s degree in fiction, she started experimenting with mixed media, adding graphic, video and audio elements to her stories.

“After I finished my MFA, I knew I wanted to keep working with students and stay involved in Pittsburgh’s art scene,” Velez says. “ProjectArt was a way to get back into teaching, give back to my local community and keep up my own artistic practice.”

Velez teaches three classes spanning all age levels. Each week, she helps students explore different mediums, artists or styles of artwork. One day students will paint neighborhood scenes, the next they might build piñatas. She is using library resources for a mixed-media narrative she is working on that documents how East Liberty has evolved over time.

“ProjectArt is an incredible way to introduce students to art, foster creativity and instill the tremendous resources available to them at the public library,” she says. “This program really reinforces the library as a vibrant and modern community center.”

Annual exhibitions of students’ and instructors’ work are held each spring at all the ProjectArt locations in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

The organization hopes to expand to 10 cities by 2021. It may offer classes in additional Carnegie Library branches based on funding and need.

“ProjectArt is committed to empowering children, artists, families and communities in Pittsburgh,” Behette says. “We are looking to provide youth a space to express themselves creatively, using art to amplify their voices and fill in the gap where budget cuts have impacted them.”