90.5 WESA Features and Special Reports

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How We Grieve
7:33 am
Wed July 23, 2014

On Social Media, a New Way to Mourn the Loss of Loved Ones

Ginny Kleker (left) pictured with her mother Teresa Ferguson in 2006. Following Ginny's suicide in 2008, Ferguson said Facebook helped her cope with her daughter’s death.
Credit Courtesy photo

Teresa Ferguson was not on Facebook before October 2008. Now she finds it indispensable.

Ferguson uses the site to manage the Facebook page of her daughter Ginny Kleker, who after years of battling a deep depression, ended her life at age 31.

Shortly after her daughter’s death, Ferguson accessed Ginny’s Facebook profile and posted a soul-baring letter describing her daughter's vibrant personality and mental health struggles. She also shared her thoughts as a mother about Ginny's suicide.

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Summer Slide
4:23 pm
Wed June 18, 2014

Parents Say Reading Not a Summer Priority for Children

Only 17 percent of parents believe reading is a top summer priority for their children.

That’s according to Reading is Fundamental (RIF) and Macy’s, which released a survey regarding parents’ attitude’s towards reading Wednesday.

The survey also showed that children spend almost three times as many hours weekly watching TV or playing video games as they do reading during the summer.

Kathryn Heffernan, Pittsburgh’s RIF assistant director of communications and development, said accessibility to books is one of the issues.

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Higher Education
3:30 am
Tue June 10, 2014

In Pittsburgh's New Economy, Organized Labor Reorganizes

Organizers Robin Sowards and Clint Benjamin at USW headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh, two blocks away from the campus of Point Park University. PPU adjunct faculty are voting this month on whether to join the Steelworkers.
Credit Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

  Like any English professor, Clint Benjamin spends a lot of his time grading papers.

“There’s a mountain – a teetering Matterhorn of papers at the end of the weekend, or during the week,” Benjamin said. “You’ve just gotta get through them.”

By his own estimate, Benjamin spends 30 to 40 hours a week on grading alone. He also has to attend meetings, answer emails, keep office hours, and commute between the Community College of Allegheny County and Duquesne University campuses, where in a typical week he prepares and teaches five sections’ of English and writing classes.

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Summer Learning Loss
6:00 am
Fri June 6, 2014

Schools and Libraries Confront Summer Learning Loss

As the school year ends, summer learning loss, or "summer slide," might begin.  According to the National Summer Learning Association, the loss amounts to about two months in math for all students and two months in reading for low-income students, while unequal access to summer learning opportunities might  account for half the achievement gap between low- and high-income students.

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Community
6:55 am
Fri May 30, 2014

How Neighborhoods Are Using New Tools In The Fight Against Old Blight

A blighted property sits on Kincaid Street in Garfield. According to census data, there are more than 50,000 vacant houses in Allegheny County.
Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA

Like many older industrial cities, the Pittsburgh region has its share of blight. According to the most recent data from the 2010 census, there are more than 50,000 vacant houses in Allegheny County.

For more than a century, federal, state and city governments have tried to address the issue. Today, a new generation of tools is being used in attempts to clean up blighted neighborhoods.

If a city were a human body, then blight is a disease, according to Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation.

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education and environment
12:48 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Students Learn from Trout in the Classroom, And Outdoors

8th graders scooped the Brook trout they raised from eggs into plastic cups to release them into a local stream.
Credit Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

A 55-gallon fish tank sits to the side of Frank Todd’s 8th grade classroom at Moon Area Middle School, west of Pittsburgh. The water inside is so cold you can’t even see into the tank because of the water collecting on the outside.

Todd’s using the condensation to teach about how gases and liquids behave.  It’s 52 degrees in the tank because that’s the temperature needed to sustain Brook trout. The tank is home to about 100 brook trout fingerlings—juvenile fish about the length of a finger.

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Cultural Exchange
9:29 am
Thu May 8, 2014

For Pittsburgh and Ecuadorian Students, Food Serves as a Cultural Bridge

Ecuadorian students and adults lounge outside of Phipps Conservatory
Credit 90.5 WESA's Michael Lynch

When Erick Rivas arrived in Pittsburgh last week, he had one thing on his mind: “la comida.”

“I really enjoyed trying different types of food,” he said through a translator. “Being friends with the teens here was a great experience.”

The 15-year-old is one of six students visiting the U.S. from Quito, Ecuador as part of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Scaling the Walls/Escalanda Paredas cultural exchange program.

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Behavioral Health
7:39 am
Wed May 7, 2014

For Those With Traumatic Brain Injuries, Yoga Might Provide Some Benefit

Students participate in a class at Bend Yoga in downtown Pittsburgh.
Credit Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

On a recent Thursday night, a group of barefoot people are moving through a yoga practice at Bend Yoga’s studio in downtown Pittsburgh.

It’s a yoga class for people with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder — or both. Among them is Chris Ohleger, who said yoga has benefited him in ways no other treatments or therapies have.

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Food and Schools
3:30 am
Fri May 2, 2014

Getting Students to Grow, Eat Local Foods

Food service directors, district officials and farmers are gathering at a conference in Pittsburgh today to talk about getting more locally grown produce into cafeterias. Schools around the country are now required to offer fruits and vegetables.


But it can be a challenge to get kids to actually eat the healthier items.  Schools that are having success in the cafeteria say they’re making food part of the regular curriculum. 

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Innovation
7:48 am
Wed April 30, 2014

How These Pittsburgh-Area Students Are Turning Poetry Into Robotic Theater

Students work on their robotic poetry theater for "She Sweeps with Many-Colored Brooms" by Emily Dickinson. Robotic components make snow and leaves fall at programmed times.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

“A diorama on steroids.”

That's how Susan Mellon describes what she’s doing in her Springdale Junior and Senior High classroom, where students are combining poetry with computer technology and engineering.

“Kids tend to be a little intimidated by poetry, so I thought this would take something they’re intimidated by and don’t like and make it fun,” said Mellon, a gifted support coordinator at the school.

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Behavioral Health
3:30 am
Wed April 23, 2014

For Latino Children With Autism, Additional Barriers Exist

Astrid Arroyo with her 13-year-old son Kai.
Credit Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

The only thing Kai Arroyo eats is butterscotch pudding. He only drinks milk from a bottle. When he speaks, you get the sort of language that you expect from a kindergartener – not a seventh grader. And he can’t go to the bathroom on his own. 

"He’s still wearing pull-ups at 13," said his mother Astrid Arroyo. "I know! He’s actually a little more vocal about letting us know when he needs to go to the bathroom, but he’s still not fully there, so he’s still dependent on us to remind him and take him to the restroom."

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Life of Learning
3:30 am
Fri April 18, 2014

Pittsburgh-Area Students Tackle World Water Crisis

According to the United Nations, nearly 800 million people around the world don’t have access to clean water — a daunting challenge for political leaders, humanitarians and scientists, but it hasn’t stopped a group of Pittsburgh area students from working on a solution. 

”We actually didn’t realize how extensive it was until we did all of our research,” said Kambree Love, a junior at South Fayette High School.  

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Community Schools
3:30 am
Wed April 9, 2014

Could 'Community Schools' Work in Pittsburgh?

Educators, administrators and parents from across the country are gathering in Cincinnati for the next three days to discover how to best coordinate support services for students and parents beyond the classroom.

About 30 Pittsburghers, including Board of Education members Carolyn Klug and Sylvia Wilson, the city’s chief education officer Curtiss Porter, teachers and representatives of Great Public Schools Pittsburgh are attending the Coalition for Community Schools' annual forum to “learn how they help the children succeed” according to Klug.

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Community
12:10 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

How The Homewood Children's Village Is 'Re-Weaving the Fabric of the Community'

In the 19th century, wealthy white Pittsburghers, including George Westinghouse and Andrew Carnegie, created estates in Homewood, which was a pastoral and welcome respite from the foul air generated by the industry. 

By 1940, the population was diverse, middle class and about five times larger than it is now.

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Life of Learning
8:55 pm
Sun March 23, 2014

Life of Learning Forum: Investment in Pre-K Critical to Future Educational Success

Linda Hippert, executive director for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, speaks during a recent Life of Learning forum on the future of education in Pittsburgh.
Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA

Last week, a panel of experts gathered at the Community Broadcast Center to discuss what the future of the learning/education system should look like to be as effective as possible for the region’s children. The public forum tackled a range of questions from the audience, including the state of early childhood education.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Thu March 13, 2014

Five Years After A Major Change, How Open Is Pennsylvania's Open Records Law?

It's been five years since a major shift in the way the commonwealth makes public documents available. But how much of a difference has the change made?
Credit Flickr user All Those Details

Five years ago, Pennsylvania’s open records law was changed with the promise of ensuring more information would be more easily available to the public.

Records requests have gone up, and the new law is seen, overall, as a positive for the commonwealth, but open records officials and some people who use the law see room for improvement. 

Before the change in the open records law, all records were presumed closed unless the requester could prove why they should be open. Now, with the new law, all records are presumed open unless the requestee can prove otherwise. This has resulted in a spike in requests from across the commonwealth.

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Community
7:56 am
Wed March 5, 2014

Mount Washington Developer Aims to Preserve a Slice of Civil War History

An illustration depicting the effort to build defenseworks in Pittsburgh during the Civil War..
Artist unknown Published in "A Century of Saving Dollars" in 1955.

On Mount Washington, in the woods between Fingal and Greenleaf streets, there’s a mound of dirt that’s been getting a lot of attention lately.

It’s about a hundred feet across and was created during the summer of 1863, as Confederate troops were heading to Gettysburg.

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Computer Science
3:30 am
Fri February 28, 2014

Meet Caroline Combemale: Cyber Student, Teen Teacher and Lead Guitarist

Fifteen-year-old Caroline Combemale teaches computer programming language Scratch during a recent session at Assemble Pittsburgh.
Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA

Caroline Combemale moves to her own rhythm. She has been shaped by a loving family, a tenacious personality and a hunger for new experiences. But her life has also been shaped by hardship.

The 15-year-old grew up in Belgium and often lapses into hushed French when she talks to her mother Laura. When they moved to Pittsburgh, where Laura is originally from, Combemale (pronounced Coom-beh-mel) was in grade school.

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Arts & Culture
7:29 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Fate of August Wilson Center An Open Question

In 2009, a gleaming performing arts space opened to great fanfare in downtown Pittsburgh.

Named after renowned playwright and native son August Wilson, it was meant to be a hub for African-American theater, art and education.

Today, the August Wilson Center is for sale, unable to pay its bills. But many wonder why it was allowed to get to this point.

August Wilson grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in the 1940s and '50s. He met Sala Udin in parochial school.

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Life of Learning
8:21 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

Black Community Leaders Come Out in Support of Pittsburgh's Teacher Evaluation System

Activists rally outside Pittsburgh King PreK-8 School on the North Side Monday morning.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

A coalition of parents, civil rights advocates and clergy stood huddled together in the cold outside Pittsburgh King PreK-8 School on the North Side Monday morning to announce their support for the school district’s teacher evaluation system.

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Behavioral Health
10:31 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

Translating Trauma: The Challenge of Treating Refugees With PTSD

Aweys Mwaliya's childhood in war-torn Somalia was marred by unspeakable trauma. He and his family eventually fled, spending a decade living in refugee camps. Nine years ago, he was resettled in Utah and later moved to Pittsburgh.
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

As a child in war-torn Somalia, Aweys Mwaliya saw friends and family killed in massacres. Fleeing the country,  his family spent weeks walking to Kenya. The trip was so grueling, that along the way, his youngest sister died. The family couldn’t give her a proper burial.

"The feeling I have about those terrible things are very, very bad, and I’m still wondering why things like that happen, why people do things to other people," Mwaliya, now 30 and living in Pittsburgh said. 

In Kenya, his family spent a decade living in refugee camps.

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Behavioral Health
3:00 am
Wed January 29, 2014

Bhutanese Refugees Face a High Suicide Rate

At a conference held in Pittsburgh last fall, several dozen men from around the United States discussed a disturbing trend in their community: the high suicide rate and prevalence of depression among Bhutanese-Nepali refugees.

"People are looking for resources where they can go to curb this mental health issue," said Buddha Mani Dhakal, editor of the Bhutan News Service.

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Behavioral Health
7:34 am
Mon January 27, 2014

In Seeking Health Care, Many Refugees Have Only A Small Window of Opportunity

Birkha Tamang, a Bhutanese refugee, hopes to find an affordable health care plan. Assisting him is health navigator Leslie Bachurski of the Consumer Health Coalition.
Credit Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

On a blustery January morning, Leslie Bachurski is at Northern Area Multi Service’s offices in Sharpsburg. Bachurski, a health care navigator, is at the resettlement agency to help non-English speaking refugees enroll in health insurance plans.

Her first client of the day is Birkha Tamang, a 42-year-old Bhutanese refugee who has been in the United States for 16 months with his wife and kids. He’s the only one in his family with a job — and the only one without health care coverage.

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African American Males Achievement
8:48 am
Fri January 24, 2014

The Failure to Educate Many African American Males

The graduation rate for African American males in Pennsylvania is 57 percent compared to 85 percent for white males--a 28 percentage point gap, according to the latest data from the Schott Foundation for Public Education.  Reasons for the discrepancy are complex.

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Life of Learning
4:26 pm
Thu January 23, 2014

Pittsburgh Joins Statewide Effort to Make Quality Pre-K Available to All Families

The Jewish Community Center offer pre-K programs. While these kids had reading time, an effort was launched a few doors down to ensure all PA kids have access to quality pre-K programs.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Quality pre-K programs can help kids later in school, both academically and socially. But many families can’t afford to send their children to pre-school, and government funding for early childhood programs has decreased in recent years.

A statewide effort was launched Thursday to ensure all three- and four-year-olds have access to quality pre-K programs. Michelle Figlar is executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, or PAEYC. She said research has shown children who have access to strong pre-K programs do better overall in school.

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City in Transition
3:30 am
Fri January 3, 2014

Once a Promising Political Novice, Mayor Ravenstahl Leaves Office ... And Politics?

Outgoing Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced on March 1, 2013 that he would not seek reelection, after a tenure marked with a mix of triumphs and stumbles.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

When Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was quietly sworn into office following the 2006 death of Mayor Bob O’Connor, the 26-year-old City Council president became the youngest mayor of a major U.S. city. 

Headlines around the time included the following: “Hope surrounds new Pittsburgh mayor, 26” and he made several national television appearances, including a spot on "The Late Show with David Letterman." But as he heads out of office, the last months of his tenure included headlines such as “Luke Ravenstahl Maintains Low Profile Amid Federal Probe.”

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GED
7:03 am
Wed December 18, 2013

New GED Exam Puts Students and Educators to the Test

Pennsylvania and other states are implementing universal high-school graduation requirements under the Common Core standards. As a result, the GED test is being updated as of Jan. 1. But for students who have already begun the battery of tests but have not yet passed all five sections, that's created a difficult situation.
Credit Flickr user albertogp123

The stereotypes about adults seeking GED certification can be ugly and simplistic. But the reality is that many lack a high school diploma for reasons largely outside their control: health problems, family issues and immigration status, just to name a few.

Some, like Rebekah Petrakovits, were home-schooled without proper oversight from school officials who were supposed to monitor their progress.

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Early Childhood Education
8:47 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

From Homewood to Harrisburg, Childcare Providers Seek Resources

Two-year-old Khalil Kyte romps around a play area at the Homewood Early Learning Hub on a recent Tuesday. In addition to activities for kids, the Hub offers resources and training opportunities for childcare providers.
Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA

Three-year-old Aubreaune stands behind an easel showing off her painting of a T-Rex.

“It’s green and purple," she says. "It eats people. Roar!”

She’s among a group of preschool-aged kids and childcare providers who gathered at the Homewood Early Learning Hub for play time on a recent Tuesday. Besides activities for the kids, providers and families use the center to find resources, and share best practices.

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Community
3:30 am
Wed December 11, 2013

With Santa Costumes and Drag Queens, This Isn't Your Grandma's Bingo

OUTrageous Bingo co-founder Rick Allison calls a recent game at Rodef Shalom in Oakland.
Deanna Garcia 90.5 WESA

Bingo has been a popular past time in the U.S. for decades. It may conjure images of playing with Grandma in a church hall or rows of intense players, daubers in hand, good luck trinkets in front of them, eagerly awaiting the next call.

In Pittsburgh, players can experience a slightly different bingo game – one that has been held monthly since the late 1990s – OUTrageous Bingo.

It takes place at an unlikely venue, Rodef Shalom in Oakland, and each month the place gets packed.

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How We Grieve
3:30 am
Tue December 10, 2013

For Victims of Violence, Memorials Built to Last

After his 26-year-old brother Anthony was killed in a robbery in 2008, Jason Rivers (pictured) and his family decided to dedicate an East Liberty basketball court in his memory.
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

How We Grieve: This the first in an occasional series exploring the ways people express their feelings in the aftermath of a death.

Some memorials to homicide victims are made of flowers, candles and photographs. Others are built to last.

Memorials to victims in the Pittsburgh region often hide in plain sight, but their message is far from veiled. Those behind the memorials say they're an attempt to turn despair into something positive.

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