Features & Special Reports

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.

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.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

After a violent few weeks in the Pittsburgh region, a local labor union is trying something a little bit different to get guns off the streets.

Many cities hold periodic gun buyback programs in which residents can drop off a gun without fear of arrest and get money or gift cards in exchange. With that same theory in mind, Boilermakers Local 154 is launching the “Guns for Opportunity” program. Through it, a firearm can be turned in, and in exchange, an individual will receive free training in the union’s welding program.

In ancient times The Silk Road was a series of trade routes linking east and west. Sun Gate was one of two westernmost stops before leaving China. It is also the name of a CD recorded as part of a unique musical collaboration, which merges ancient Asian melodies with jazz.

The producers feel the collaboration is emblematic of Pittsburgh’s growing diversity.

Harish Saluja, who is the founder of the cultural organization known as Silk Screen, assembled musicians familiar with both traditions and oversaw the process of growth within the band Silk Sound.

Cars assembled by middle schoolers zipped down the 65-foot elevated track lining the wall in less than a second.

The cars moved so quickly, the engineers often had to ask if their car won the race.

The dragster car competition was just one of several events at the Technology Student Association (TSA) regional competition at Pittsburgh Technical Institute. The organization focuses on bringing technology into classrooms and extending that learning after-school. Nearly 400 high school students attended the first day and 200 middle school students on the second day.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

At a lab in Carnegie Mellon University's Field Robotics Center, dozens of goggle-clad teenage girls are drilling, hammering and writing code.

They’re the Girls of Steel, and the goal is to build the mind and body of a robot in the next few weeks. Then the girls — and their robot — will enter robotics competitions.

Courtesy of Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania

Traditionally, learning in the U.S. has been home to school and back to home.

Educators widely agree different approaches are needed for each generation of learners. They also agree that means learning must occur in all aspect of a student’s life.

With his first year as mayor of Pittsburgh coming to a close, Bill Peduto said the first term was exhausting, but satisfying. He said the job is everything he thought it would be and more, though said there are some surprising aspects, namely having to deal with personnel matters.

“You have 3,500 employees, a certain percent of them are going to have issues with the people they work with and those issues don’t get resolved as you’d think – well a lot of them do – through the directors of personnel, they actually work their way all the way up the food chain,” Peduto said.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

In June, the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Larimer was awarded a highly competitive $30 million Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhoods grant.

The money will go toward building 350 mixed income housing units. But the grant is just one step in a long and ongoing process of turning the neighborhood around.

Larimer is a small neighborhood, and much of it is made up of open space. Blocks are scored with empty lots and vacant houses. Many families moved away for better schools and less crime, leaving behind mainly elderly and low income residents.

Ben Spiegel courtesy of the University of Pittburgh

George McCrary knows the Hill District well. As he drives the windy streets, he points out the places he remembers from his days working as one of the nation's first emergency medical technicians in the late '60s and early '70s.

It was on these streets where a young McCrary was a member of the Freedom House Enterprise Ambulance Service, which served as the model for emergency ambulance medicine.  

Courtesy of Slow Danger

Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, who create both dance and music as Slow Danger, were drawn to each other’s willingness to explore new ways to interact with their art form.

Beginning with dance, they soon began creating their own music for their performances. Knight said it was inevitable for their art to “merge and intersect in that way.”

"The movement and the music, for us, goes hand in hand,” Knight said.

Thompson and Knight said their intention is to present an ambiguous identity that isn’t Anna, isn’t Taylor, but rather “this otherness that we create through.”

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