Imagine the biggest summer blockbuster, jam-packed with the most explosions, gunplay and violence possible. Then replace all that with radical displays of kindness, empathy and tolerance, and you have “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, opening nationally on June 8, might affect us a little more here in Pittsburgh, long-time home to the world’s greatest neighbor, Fred Rogers. But the documentary aims unerringly at the heart, even if you grew up elsewhere watching “Captain Kangaroo” or “Pokemon.”
Be prepared for a compelling look at a Pittsburgher who impacted the young lives of generations of Americans.
Filmmaker Morgan Neville — an Oscar winner for Best Documentary (“20 Feet from Stardom”) — started the process by watching video and film of Fred Rogers.
“As a filmmaker, it was as rich a subject as you could hope for,” says Neville. “Sometimes, you have to make do with very little. Here, the biggest problem was digesting mountains of material. We watched every episode, every outtake, speeches, home movies.”
Heather King is always looking for ways to take her students beyond the walls of the classroom.
Whether it’s showcasing photos of her travels to expose her students to the wider world or taking her sixth-graders on a walk to The Frick Pittsburgh campus, King searches out new ways to share more with her students.
“My philosophy has always been to take my classroom outside of the four walls,” she says. “I took that and ran with it.”
Earlier this month, King was recognized with the Frick’s 2018 Roy A. Hunt Foundation Award for Commitment to Education in the Arts and Humanities. As part of the award, her school, Sterrett Classical Academy, will receive $3,000 to help defray the cost of future field trips and enrichment activities. Plus, students will receive 150 complimentary admission passes to Clayton, the Frick mansion.
For this outside-the-classroom type teacher, the award was an honor.
“She’s just one of those people who values giving her students a broader experience,” says Amanda Dunyak Gillen, director of learning and visitor experience at The Frick. “She’s always giving students opportunities, and she’s always up for anything.”
Jennifer Stumpp, a special education teacher, has worked alongside King for four years.
“She’s strict, but she’s caring,” Stumpp says. “She goes above and beyond for her students.”
King is a great leader, Stumpp says. When kids need extra motivation to do better, King sets up achievement rewards — like a buffalo chicken dip party or an ice cream party — to help them reach their goals.
“She does it all on her own,” Stumpp says. “She figures out what they like and what will motivate them and makes it happen.”
But King might say teaching is a prize in and of itself. She has wanted to be a teacher since third grade, inspired by Mrs. Dillon at Burchfield Elementary School. She was “so nurturing and super caring, I was like, ‘I want to be just like you when I grow up.’ ”
Early on in her career, King formed a bond with Pittsburgh Public Schools. “It was the atmosphere,” she says. “We were able to do so many creative things with the kids.”
Eighteen years and four schools later she’s still finding innovative ways to teach.
Some were groundbreaking. While teaching at the now-shuttered Lemington Elementary School, for example, King had the opportunity to teach students and teachers alike about this new thing called the computer. At Lincoln Intermediate, she taught everything from math and technology to robotics.
King has been at Sterrett for four years and serves as an English language arts teacher and sixth-grade team leader.
With Sterrett as a magnet school, bringing in students from all parts of the city, King works to get the kids comfortable with one another. That means activities like trips to nearby Frick Park for obstacle courses, team building events and working with kids on their organizational skills.
As part of a partnership with The Frick Pittsburgh, two classes from Sterrett visit the museum campus once a month and engage in an activity that always includes a writing component.
Kids can relate things they’re learning in class to what they see at the museum, says King, who heads the initiative.
The Pittsburgh-based Remake Learning network announced microgrants to 66 educational projects benefitting students throughout Western Pennsylvania. A total of$400,000 will be granted in amounts of $2,500 and $7,500 to fund a wide range of creative learning projects.
Technology has changed at a quicksilver pace in the years since Remake Learning launched in 2007 — the same year the iPhone debuted. The organization aims to ensure that all students will be prepared for the rapidly changing world they will inherit.
“Educators really felt they needed more support in this changing societal landscape to support their students,” says Sunanna Chand, the director of Remake Learning, a broad collaborative group of innovators, educators and advocates who encourage the development of new ideas in learning.
Remake Learning is awarding these micro-grants, funded by The Grable Foundation, to recipients including a program called #LarimerAlive from Drafting Dreams, which will enlist students to serve as design consultants in the Pittsburgh neighborhood, and A Grand View of Learning from Highlands School District, which will send students on global field trips using virtual reality technology.
The grants are designed to help students in areas or school districts that are currently underserved.
“Those who need the most resources and support, get the most resources and support,” Chand says. “That means uplifting and supporting and working alongside learners in poverty, learners of color, learners in remote rural areas, girls in STEM, learners of exceptionality.”
While applicants were asked to focus on those underserved communities, there are no limitations on how the grants are used. Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking are encouraged, as is the creation of “maker spaces,” which Chand admits means different things to varying organizations. But the broader concept of maker spaces, which can be hands-on building experiences or complex virtual reality immersions, is a key approach.
While “they can look very different,” Chand says, “maker spaces are explicitly designed for students to be active in their learning process.”
Once the funds are given, there are no reporting requirements. And “success” is not required. Remake Learning wants grant awardees to take chances in order to find better ways of reaching and teaching students.
“We want to provide little bets to the network,” Chand says. “They are certainly small amounts of money, (but provide) people with the ability to work together and try something new. To take a small risk. The goal is to say, try this out. If it works, awesome. If it doesn’t work, that’s still a lesson learned.”
My voice. My goals. My needs from A+ Schools: TeenBloc students will interview their peers and create videos and podcasts that illuminate their peers’ goals, the barriers they face in reaching those goals and targeted support they identify needing to reach their goals.
Learning in Motion from Attack Theatre: Attack Theatre will work with pre-K and kindergarten students at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf exploring non-verbal physical expression of dance and kinesthetic problem-solving in a safe and creative play-based learning environment.
SHURI Maker Space from Boys and Girls Clubs Western Pennsylvania: The Scientific Hub for Understanding Remaking and Innovating will be a themed maker space designed to excite elementary and middle school students by introducing them to the world of robotics.
Project Hand-Trash Cans in Allentown from Brashear Association: The Project HAND Trash Initiative connects youth with neighbors and experts to solve community issues, and empowers youth to become civic and environmental stewards.
Youth Media Advocacy Project from Carlow University: YMAP is a partnership between Carlow University and SLB Radio that works with students in a variety of in-school and out-of-school settings to identify and analyze problems (in their schools, school systems and community), and then create media to advocate for changes to address the problems.
Lemonade Stand Camp from FlowerHouse: At FlowerHouse Wilkinsburg, this day camp will teach middle school students about entrepreneurship by walking them through the steps to create a lemonade stand.
Make it@ Studio Sto-Rox from Focus on Renewal: Teen Studio Sto-Rox is an out-of-school time program for teens in the Sto-Rox communities where students can learn about social justice, digital literacy, culinary arts, making and/or dance.
Along with the juried art show, artist market and a lineup of music that grown-ups love, this year’s 10-day festival gives kids lots of fun ways to be creative with hands-on activities, experience interactive performances and be blown away by wild visuals.
So much to do – from June 1 to 10 – and admission is free!
Enjoy snacks and meals at the food court tents lined up along Point State Park’s main lawn, near the Dollar Bank Stage, and Gateway Center at the main entrance just off the Penn Avenue extension. Food trucks will be “windows up” every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Ice pops, chicken waffles, funnel cake and barbeque are a few of the tempting treats.
Moms with the littlest ones will appreciate The Anthropology of Motherhood: Feeding Room at the Wyndham Grand Hotel. This “functional art installation” offers air-conditioned comfort for breast- and bottle-feeding, diaper-changing tables and a play area for siblings.
If you’re looking for the bathrooms, the portable toilets are right on the other side of the portal bridge through Point State Park. There’s even a new portable bathroom for families with toddlers.
Don’t forget your ponchos and sunscreen. Chances are, you could need both!
You can access a daily schedule online. But we’ve gathered the most kid-friendly highlights here:
These activities take place at the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone in Point State Park except where noted.
Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts: Learn how to work with clay through squishing, rolling and molding. Staff from the Center for the Arts will demonstrate live wheel throwing by making bowls, mugs and bottles, and show how decorative techniques are applied. Noon to 6 June 1-3.
Mattress Factory: Kids will learn how to create a miniature installation inside a pop-up card that moves from 2 dimensions to a 3-D space. Noon to 6 June 1 and 8.
Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse: Reuse-a-Palooza brings a huge variety of reclaimed objects so kids can create silly objects of art. It will give them a new way of looking through the home recyclables. Noon to 6 p.m. daily.
Union Project:Community Blooms teaches ceramic hand-building skills to sculpt and decorate a clay flower blossom that will be fired in the Union Project kiln and “planted” in a community garden. After creating the clay flower, kids can sculpt a wildflower seed bomb to take home. Noon to 6 p.m. June 2.
Rivers of Steel: Bio-cyanotypes mixes biology, artistry, history and technology to create cyanotype prints inspired by nature’s aquatic ecosystem. Noon to 6 p.m. June 3-5.
Carnegie Science Center: Contribute to a growing Pittsburgh-inspired LEGO mosaic masterpiece. Noon-6 p.m. June 7-10.
Warhol Museum: Artist Andy Warhol started out as in advertising as an illustrator. Kids can use his early techniques with rubber stamps, watercolors and stencils to make Warhol-inspired postcards. Noon to 6 p.m. June 9 and 10.
Twilight Sketch Crawl: Kids and adults can bring a sketchpad and drawing instruments to the Portal Bridge meeting spot. Illustrator Rick Antolic will assist participants with their sketches throughout the 2-hour drawing marathon. 5 to 7 p.m. June 9.
Time for a story? These terrific storytellers – who double as dancers, puppeteers and musicians – will delight and entertain kids in the StoryCorner at Giant Eagle Creativity Zone.
1 p.m. June 3: “Giraffes Can Dance” with Joanna Abel. Gerald the Giraffe’s neck was so long and his legs were so thin that all the animals teased him at the Jungle Dance. But a friend helps Gerald learn to dance to his own special music.
2 p.m. June 3 and 10:“Kitchen Dance” with Celeta Hickman. Afro-Caribbean music, songs and movement help tell the story of a family who dances together in joy and love.
3 p.m. June 3:“Billy Goats Blast!” with Amber Fantini. The classic tale of “Three Billy Goats Gruff” is revisited through dramatic play, sound and pantomime.
4 p.m. June 3 and 10:“Now Things Are Worse” with Joann Kielar. Kids help create the sound effects for this funny Yiddish folktale about a man who takes advice only to find his situation becoming ridiculously worse.
1 p.m. June 10:“Max Found Two Sticks” with Jeff Berman. Are words needed to express how you feel? Percussionist Jeff Berman leads kids through the story by improvising rhythmic patterns and chants.
3 p.m. June 10:“Crocodile Beat” with Betty Dell. Puppets help guide kids on an imaginary jungle journey with interactive activities.
KIDS MAKING MUSIC
Patterns of Pride: Minadeo Elementary School kids will perform an original masquerade based on Afro-Caribbean masquerade traditions with Timbeleza, a community-oriented drum ensemble that plays Brazilian percussion. Noon June 1 at Point State Park.
Teen Showcase: Kids from ages 14-18 can register to perform in this showcase of young local talent. Performing artists in voice, music, monologue, dance and spoken word can sign up here. The showcase takes place from 6-10 p.m. June 2 at Trust Arts Education Center.
Sloane Simon: This 13-year-old vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist started playing guitar at age 9 when her mom was struggling against cancer. Her first song was about being brave when you’re scared. Mom’s healthy now, but Sloane continues to play and sing about her life. 5 p.m. June 1 at the Acoustic Stage in Gateway Center.
Ibeji Drum Ensemble Community Drum Circle: Kids can find their joy in the rhythm of the Ibeji Drum Ensemble in a community drum circle. All skill levels and ages are welcome. 1 and 3 p.m. June 2 and 9 on the Gateway Lawn at Gateway Center.
Bird: This 17-year-old Pittsburgh native and hip-hop artist has been performing at major festivals and events throughout the city with great vibes, charisma and dope music. 5 p.m. June 7 at the Acoustic Stage at Gateway Center.
Elias Khouri and The EK Band: Elias is a 16-year-old Pittsburgh guitar sensation who started playing just four years ago. This WYEP Reimagination Artist is largely influenced by ‘70s rock. Noon June 8 at the Dollar Bank Main Stage in Point State Park.
Echo Valley: This family band of siblings has been playing together for 10 years with a variety of music including bluegrass, gospel and folk. 2 p.m. June 9 at the Acoustic Stage in Gateway Center.
Lyra: A 14-year-old Pittsburgh singer and WYEP Reimagination Artist found her voice and is going solo. 2 p.m. June 10 at the Acoustic Stage in Gateway Center.
DANCE, DANCE, DANCE
TRAF Dance Battles 3: Back for the third year, TRAF Dance Battles will include two competition formats: 1v1 All Styles and 1v1 Breaking. Open cyphers and registration will take place from 2-3 p.m. First Place in each category will receive $100, plus a trophy; Second Place in each category will receive $50, plus a trophy. 2-8 p.m. June 8 at Stanwix Stage in Gateway Center.
Attack Theatre: The Leap into Action performance demonstrates the principles of weight balance and momentum with ladders, giant rings of steel and a blue monster crawling tunnel. 12:15 p.m. June 1, noon June 6 at Dollar Bank Main Stage in Point State Park. And join the dancers in the Creativity Zone to discover the creative process behind dance.
“From Chains to Gains”: Neville A Brooks: ”From Chains to Gains” is a musical production telling the story of African slave’s journey from Africa to the American colonies and how they found solace in spirituals, now celebrated as gospel music. 3:30-4:30 p.m. June 2 at Dollar Bank Main Stage in Point State Park.
Fort Pitt Museum: Kids can work on museum make-and-take crafts that deal with life at Fort Pitt in the 18th century. Noon-6 p.m. June 1, 2, 3 and 8 at Giant Eagle Creativity Zone.
“Lest We Forget,” August Wilson Center. Cultural history can be found in the most unlikely of objects. Lest We Forget looks at imagery used to depict African Americans over the past 150 years. It’s a worthwhile visit to begin discussions with tweens and teens about race and identity. The James Kidd collection of artwork is on display for the first time.
“Faces of Pittsburgh”: Artist Janette Beckman’s “Faces of Pittsburgh” was a photo workshop that taught kids how to great photographs with a focus on composing and editing. She sent the group from Manchester Bidwell out with the intention of kids telling the stories of their communities. The images they produced will be on view on the Gateway Lawn in Gateway Center and displayed on walls and digital billboards around the city.
MOMS IN FOCUS
“Single Mom Defined”: Pittsburgh’s Heather Hopson created a photo essay exhibition and video series to empower single mothers to give a more accurate definition of single Black motherhood. The interactive exhibit introduces visitors of all ages to positive images of 50-plus mothers in the Pittsburgh region. It aims to change negative search results and combat cultural bias with hands-on activities for all ages. Noon to 8 p.m. daily on Gateway Lawn at Gateway Center.
The team has been together for seven years. This was their third trip to the FIRST World Championship. Winning the FIRST Tech Challenge – for kids who design, build, program and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge – was the culmination of a remarkable year.
They set four world records and held the top score globally for nearly two-thirds of the overall season. After winning several qualifier tournaments, they won the Ohio State Championship tournament as the First Place Inspire Award winner – and earned their spot at the World Championship through a top finish at the Northern Super Regionals competition in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“It’s been fun the whole season,” says Christina Walton, a freshman at Sewickley Academy, the only girl on the team. “We had a really great design early on and were able to just refine it over the course of the season, rather than doing lots of rebuilds like we have sometimes in the past. My brother is a really amazing driver and he set four world records with the robot this season, which was really exciting to watch.”
Christina’s brother James Walton, team captain and a senior at Sewickley Academy, agrees.
“It was an amazing experience,” he says. “This whole season has been exhilarating. We were able to put up big scores all year and established a stronger brand name for the team.
“At Worlds, when we went up to talk with a Korean team that we were going to be playing with, they knew us right away from the YouTube videos of a couple of our record-breaking runs. I personally like to stay more in the background, so it’s been a different experience for me this season to have so many people know about the team and about me as the driver.”
The FTC Robotics Challenge is an annual competition in which more than 60,000 students compete worldwide. This year’s challenge, “Relic Recovery,” required teams to have their robots balance on a stone, collect and place glyphs (foam cubes) in different patterns, transfer relics, retrieve jewels and navigate to specified areas of a playing field within a 2½-minute time limit.
As the team’s electronics specialist, Christina’s “neurotic focus on detail” was a major asset to the team’s win at the World Championship, says Gordon Walton, team mentor and Dad.
“There was a ton of static electricity on the field, so careful wiring was extra important and kept us from being susceptible to some of the problems that our opponents ended up having,” Christina says. “I spent more than 40 hours getting all of the wiring perfect, making sure it was all done with perfect joints, just the right length wires – making sure everything was routed correctly. And then I ended up putting a form of shrink wrap over all the wires to secure them and provide additional shielding.”
In addition to their intensive work preparing for the robotics competition, the BrainSTEM team is involved in community outreach projects, including teaching camps this summer for kids interested in getting more involved with the FIRST Tech Challenge.
They organized an effort to bring together a number of robotics-related companies in Pittsburgh to help provide a 3D printer for a soon-to-be-built maker space at Children’s Hospital of UPMC. They’re planning classes in 3D printing, CAD design and LEGO robotics for patients.
Michael Peck, a senior at Pine-Richland High School, is savoring the team’s victory and what he has learned from the experience.
“I have wanted to win this award for six years, so finally winning means a lot to me,” he says. “When we started as a team, we lacked a lot of the knowledge required to build robots.
“Over a four-year period, I have learned CAD (computer-aided design), CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), how to use a mill and other common machine tools and how to program. FIRST also taught me the required skills to give a good presentation.”
The competition encouraged him to take STEM classes in high school. “It is the reason why I am majoring in mechanical engineering at Rutgers University” in the fall, he says.
Members of the winning BrainSTEM Robotics Team are: James Walton, Aydin Turkay, Jayvir Monga and Christina Walton of Sewickley Academy; Joe Schurer of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School; Michael Peck of Pine-Richland High School; Caleb Isaac and Adrian Zugehar of Mars Area High School; TJ Faber of North Allegheny High School; Parv Shrivastava of South Fayette High School.