Photos by Ben Filo.
It took a bit of ingenuity, but kids at Perry Traditional Academy slowly began to respond and engage in their broadcasting class.
At first, they struggled to connect with the project.
But that was nothing some eggs, pancakes, and waffles couldn’t fix.
Teacher Christian Hughes got up at 5 a.m. every Monday throughout the program’s run to make breakfast for the class. He made a deal with the kids that if they remained engaged for the entire class, they got to eat. That effort alone nearly doubled class attendance.
Hughes then used Snapchat to have the students practice recording themselves and ask questions to prepare for the podcast. That made it more fun for them and brought things to their level, he says.
“That’s what got them engaged,” says Hughes, who won the 2017 Dan Holland Promise Award from the Young Preservationists Association for his work.
Just as important, they wanted to learn more about capturing and safeguarding the history of Pittsburgh’s North Side, the idea behind their “Preservation Podcasts.”
“The kids learned that ‘historic preservation’ isn’t some lofty term people use to save buildings only they themselves care about,” says Hughes, chief executive dreamer of Drafting Dreams, and instructor for the “Preservation Podcasts” initiative. “It’s about preserving the area where you live, making it safer for you.”
The “Preservation Podcasts” series, produced by students at Perry, is the brainchild of a Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh board member, who saw the need for outreach in the city’s high schools, says Matthew Craig, executive director of the Young Preservationists Association.
The association received a $10,000 grant from Remake Learning and the Sprout Fund to produce the podcasts. The grant also supplied equipment for the project. The Saturday Light Brigade worked with the students, teaching them how to record, edit and produce the podcasts.
As they launched the project, the hope was to inspire the next generation of preservationists, people who care about preserving the good in their neighborhoods, the stories and the history, Craig says. Two months and five podcasts later and it far surpassed that goal.
Instead of just talking about the past — and buildings constructed 100 years ago — Hughes connected with the students by first talking about the present.
“I asked them, ‘What do you like about your neighborhood?’ And, ‘What do you not like?’ The common answer was ‘blighted properties’ and ‘drugs,’ ” Hughes says. “They don’t understand terracotta buildings, but they do understand that because this place was not kept up, that spurs this kind of activity.”
Students began to look around their own neighborhoods and realize they were part of a much bigger world.
“It gave them the perspective to say, ‘That building has been around for 100 years, 120 years. Who lived there? What did they do? Who were they?” says Perry teacher Gerald Watkins.
Students wanted to know more about the area where they live.
“This really showed them, they’re not just an isolated person in time,” Craig says. “They’re part of a river that runs through time.”
With the success of this program, Craig says, the association has ambitious goals for the future. It hopes to launch “Young Preservationists in Action,” in which professionals train students to be architects and bricklayers. They would receive a stipend for their work. This project, still in preliminary talks, he says, would tie in with work at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.