Features & Special Reports

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA News

Chris Williams, 34, tilts a delicately etched wooden cube from side to side. His body shifts as it sends out electronic tones. It’s poplar. It’s organic. It’s electronic. It’s… a game.

The box, dubbed Coral, is Williams’ first foray into audio memory entertainment for the visually impaired. With wires and electronics hidden in a laser-engraved, wooden enclosure, the toy produces tonal sequences its players identify and match by rotating in four directions, similar to the children’s game Simon. Players can also use the custom carvings as tactile cues, he said.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

One school of thought in adapting to a new generation of learners is to take students out of traditional classrooms where desks point toward an instructor.

To do that, educators create a maker space where students can explore and question content.

Libraries use maker spaces, the Carnegie Science Center has a new digital fabrication lab, and Mayor Bill Peduto held a roundtable discussion on the importance of them. Entrepreneurs use them to collaborate and have access to materials they otherwise couldn’t afford on their own.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Twenty bushels of apples get dumped onto a conveyor belt at Soergel’s Orchards in Wexford. After a quick wash, they’re ground into a pulp and squeezed under 55 tons of pressure to make 110 gallons of cider.

Larry Voll, one of the owners of Soergel’s Orchards, said the cider is going to Arsenal Cider House in Lawrenceville. The juice that he sells to Arsenal to make into hard cider will one day end up back at the Wexford farm, at the Arsenal tap room, which just opened this summer.

Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

All 90 Pittsburgh neighborhoods will see an influx of bike riders this week as Bike Pittsburgh celebrates the 11th annual BikeFest.

The 10 days of events began Friday with a breakfast for bike commuters and wraps up Sunday with the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Pedal Pittsburgh.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

In two years, Pittsburgh’s Woolslair Elementary has gone from the verge of closure to one of the cornerstones of the district’s new STEAM initiative. Woolslair will become a partial magnet school focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

The struggle between Israelis and Palestinians continues to make daily headlines. But in one of Israel’s oldest cities, Arabs and Jews are coming together to start a project that has its origin in Pittsburgh — Manchester Bidwell Corporation arts and jobs training model.

AP Photo/Mel Evans

Kate is 25 and began drinking, smoking and experimenting with prescription drugs when she was a teenager in Washington County.

“I started doing pills in high school, 15, I think. Something just happened in high school and I just was, you know, curious and then it just turned into doing it too much."

Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

This week, game designers, developers and educators gathered at Carnegie Mellon University for the Serious Play Conference, where the focus was on "serious” gaming, or games used for training and teaching.

Pittsburgh-based game designer Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, demonstrated his company’s award-winning game "Water Bears."

Silk Screen Film Fest

With 30 films from 18 countries, the 10th annual Silk Screen Film festival opens in Pittsburgh Thursday with an opening night gala followed by 10 days of screenings and discussions. All of the films have Asian roots.

“Asia is defined like it used to be defined when you were in high school, which is starting with Turkey all the way to Japan,” said Silk Screen Executive Director Harish Saluja. “That includes Israel and India and Afghanistan and Pakistan … In fact our opening film this year is called Theeb which is from Jordan and UAE (United Arab Emirates).”

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Infrastructure decisions affect the public every day — which sewer should be repaired first, which pothole should be filled next—but it’s rare to be asked to weigh in on those decisions. However, an online poll will help decide the future color of the "Three Sisters" bridges, as well as a question of regional identity.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

General Manager DeAnne Hamilton announced her resignation from 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR News Station, on Monday.

WESA Board Chair Marco Cardamone will act as interim general manager until a successor is appointed. He steps in July 17.

Hamilton took on the station's early branding challenges when she became WESA’s first general manager in October 2011, about a month after the sale of the station by Duquesne University to Essential Public Media was officially completed.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

Gov. Tom Wolf argued last week that taxing Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry could help compensate for an anticipated $1 billion structural budget deficit in 2016.

His budget includes a state severance tax of 5 percent on extractions based on the value of gas at the well head and a charge of 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet extracted. The commonwealth produced 3.23 trillion cubic feet in 2013.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

It took just 500 write-in votes for lifelong Democrats Chelsa Wagner and John Weinstein to get their names on the November ballots as Republicans, but it will take 2,328 signatures if a third-party candidate wants to have the same opportunity.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

These aren’t your typical theater-goers. They call out during the play. They try to join into the performance.

And some are sucking on pacifiers.

This is entertainment for the very young — baby theater.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA News

Teens from around the world were in Pittsburgh this week presenting projects at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair hosted Downtown at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Forget electromagnets and mouse trap cars. Many of these high-level high-schoolers are published authors and hold patents. Last year’s winner created a test for pancreatic cancer now headed toward clinical trial. 

ISEF, a program of Society for Science & the Public, is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. Approximately 1,700 high school students from over 75 countries, regions and territories compete to attend the fair. Showcases of independent research result in nearly $4 million in prizes.

Indiana freshman Noor Abdullah examined how a sweet-smelling shrub affects nearby soil.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The students in Zack Hull’s 8th grade English class are eager to share their “This I Believe” essays. For several years, he has had his students dig within themselves and write about something they believe in, and he said the end of their 8th grade year is the perfect time to do that.

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

Eleven-year-old gymnast Danielle Norris is practicing a roundoff back tuck dismount for her balance beam routine. She has a meet coming up soon, and later this month she's competing in the state championship. Danielle’s mom, Karen Norris, says she practices about 22 hours a week.

“When Danielle was first invited to join the team and they told us the amount of hours that were involved, we were a little taken aback by that,” Norris said. “That was fourth grade.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Every Wednesday, at a former Catholic school building in Brookline, more than 100 children gather for “People are Always Learning Something” or PALS, enrichment – a weekly co-op. The families there homeschool their children, and pretty much everyone said they’d been asked by one or more people how their children socialize if they are homeschooled.

Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

For many, the mention of "homeschooling" conjures negative stereotypes about the people who practice it: Homeschool families are religious fundamentalists who shun secular society, or libertarian ideologues who reject the whole idea of public education on principle.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Lynn Lightfoot’s kids have an easy commute to class.

It's down a flight of stairs and onto couches in a room crammed with everything from books to DVD’s to board games. Her teenagers, Aleeshyah and Noah, aren’t just her children — they’re her students. They are two of about 21,000 children who are homeschooled in Pennsylvania.

Alexis Gideon is a multimedia artist who has recently relocated to Pittsburgh. The New Hazlett Theater is a center for collaboration as well as an incubator for new ideas. Together they recently provided Pittsburgh with a unique world premiere event.

"The Crumbling" is a 21-minute stop-motion animation video opera set in a surreal dream-like town following the trials of a librarian as she tries to save her city from crumbling down around her. Much of the music is performed live by Gideon.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

In Jim Seagriff’s classroom at Taylor Allderdice High School, there are a half dozen furnaces and boilers. A small closet area is set up the way a basement would be. Goggle-clad teenagers adjust knobs on mock refrigerators.

These are HVAC students in the Career and Technical Education program.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

It’s a conversation heard around countless dinner tables or on the way home. What did you do at school today? The answer most often is nothing or "I don’t know" or "I played."

That one-sided conversation is common in early education students. Parents can try to talk to teachers during the shuffle of picking up their child, but that’s usually only slightly more productive.

Charter schools in the commonwealth have grown rapidly. Over a five year period beginning in 2006, enrollment in the state increased by 54 percent, and according to the most recent data, 6 percent of Pennsylvania students now attend a charter school.

But a study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at Penn State has found that charter schools are more racially segregated than their public school counterparts. 

dansheadel / flickr

In school we were all taught about the number represented by the symbol π. Our understanding of the number might be a bit foggy, but most of us remember it has something to do with a circle and that it is 3.14.  In reality, the irrational number (by definition) goes on forever, but it starts with 3.141592653. 

For the last several years, the popularity of so-called “Pi Day,” or March 14 (3/14), has been growing in the U.S., and Saturday will mark what many are calling “Super Pi Day,” where we can add the next two digits of the mathematical super number (3/14/15). And if you really want to geek out you can make sure you are near a clock at 9:26:53 a.m. (3/14/15 9:26:53).

Beth Navarro

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the publication of "The Great Gatsby" – the height of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary fame. But a new novel suggests that some of Fitzgerald’s best work came much later, at a time of loss and personal struggle.

Wolf Seeks Billions in Higher Taxes for Schools, Tax Revamp

Mar 3, 2015
Matt Rourke / Associated Press

In an ambitious first budget plan, Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday proposed more than $4 billion in higher taxes on income, sales and natural gas drilling to support new spending on schools and to cut property taxes as part of an effort to overhaul the way public education is funded.

Wolf, a Democrat, is also asking the Republican-controlled Legislature to cut corporate taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars, borrow more than $4 billion to refinance pension debt and inject new money into business loans, clean energy subsidies and water and sewer system projects.

Live Raw Audio: Netanyahu Speech to Congress

Mar 3, 2015

Thank you for listening to NPR on 90.5 WESA. The raw audio of this live event was provided directly from the source. It was not produced or edited, and may have begun or ended outside of the scheduled time.

Bob Studebaker / 90.5 WESA

The organization Global Beats strives to bring together “new” Pittsburghers from all over the world by celebrating the music of Africa, Latin America, New York City, and Cuba.

It’s an idea that began in 1999 when Carla Leininger began her show “The Brazilian Radio Hour” on Carnegie Mellon University’s radio station WRCT.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

A high school history teacher at Ellis School in Shadyside is showing his 11th grade students the evolution of racial attitudes in America by exploring how common items have had different meanings for black and white people.

Students speak in the first person and personify one item a week including a typewriter, bus ticket, acoustic guitar, police baton and a flapper dress.