90.5 WESA Features and Special Reports

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.

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.

The Failure to Educate Many African American Males

Jan 24, 2014

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

    

When Danny Chew does something, he does it all the way. The cyclist's goal is to ride a million miles over the course of his lifetime.

The 51-year-old Pittsburgh native has won the Race Across America twice, riding 3,000 miles in eight days on three hours of sleep each night. So it’s only natural he’s the guy responsible for what many consider to be the most grueling bike race in Pittsburgh: the Dirty Dozen.

The Challenges Of Suburban Homelessness and Education

Nov 21, 2013
Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA


Guests include: Elizabeth Kneebone, Fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of Confronting Suburban Poverty, Chuck Keenan, administrator in Allegheny County's Bureau of Homeless Services, Kyoko Henson, a home and school visitor for the Penn Hills School District, Joe Lagana, founder and CEO of the Homeless Children's Education Fund, and homeless student Kevin Lee, winner of a national scholarship, with his mother Tamara Williams

There are nearly 20,000 homeless school age children in Pennsylvania and that’s a small portion of the 1.2 million across the country.

Local and national experts gathered in Pittsburgh on Friday for the fourth annual Homeless Education Network Summit to discuss an issue of rising concern: suburban poverty, homelessness and the challenge of education.

Since 2000, the number of poor people living in the suburbs grew by 64 percent. And today, about 16.4 million poor people are living in suburbs, compared to 13.4 million in the cities.

Allegheny County is no different.

In the Pittsburgh region alone, the suburban poverty rate increased 15.7 percent between 2000 and 2011; while the city saw a 6.3 percent increase.

It’s no question that technology has changed the world over the last few decades, from how we shop to how we share our lives. In the U.S., many public school districts are in the process of making major changes thanks to technology. Leaders in education and technology are hoping schools get it right because a lot is at stake.

In the not-so-distant past it was pretty commonplace to be taught solely out of a text book and worksheets in the classroom – maybe you’d get a video on a sub day. Today, there are many more options thanks to computers, tablets and other smart devices.

"The Fault in Our Stars," a movie adaptation of a critically and commercially popular young adult novel, has just finished filming in Pittsburgh and in the Netherlands.

The book and movie center around two teenagers who meet and fall in love at a cancer support group. Many of the extras in the movie are young people with cancer.

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the movie adaptation of the beloved novel. Book author John Green says the story goes against the typical trope popular media brings us about the ailing.

Tammy Terwelp / 90.5 WESA

“Where’s the moral outrage over the lack of equity in education,” asked Duquesne University Dean of Education Olga Welch who attended a recent community forum on the achievement gap held by 90.5 WESA.

“Where is it,” replied forum panel member Jeremy Resnick, a founder of Propel Charter Schools, “it’s missing.”

Dozens of parents, teachers and administrators crowded the Community Broadcast Center recently for a public forum as part of WESA’s Life of Learning initiative.

Courtesty photo

You’ll pardon Jordan Tyler, Chelsea Geruschadt, Raina Bradley and Katelyn Ripple if their thoughts occasionally drift from social studies, algebra 2 and physics back to what they absorbed this summer in Italy, Argentina, Spain and Costa Rica respectively.

Jordan: "My experience could be described as amazing, fun, life-changing, unforgettable."

Chelsea: "My experience was once in a lifetime."

Raina: "My trip to Spain was extremely memorable."

Katelyn: "I experienced more in a month than I thought I would experience in a lifetime."

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

It's a typical day at the Children’s School at Carnegie Mellon University, and as director Sharon Carver walks from room to room, children ages 3 to 5 are bursting with activity.

In one space a little boy digs in a sandbox, in another corner children try to match recycling materials to the correct bins, and at another table children are navigating the serious task of sharing and shaping Play-Doh.

After taking stock of the activities Carver asks a reporter, “Which things were play and which things are not play?”

A Community Forum on the Education Achievement Gap

Oct 22, 2013

On October 29 as part of our Life of Learning Initiative, 90.5 WESA will host a community forum featuring a panel of experts to address the problem of Pittsburgh’s educational achievement gap.

Kevin Gavin is the Executive Producer for Special News Projects and says much of the forum will be devoted to exploring contributing factors to the gap.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Ken and Deb Zuroski, along with their three kids, Tristan, 18, Haley, 15, and Ian, 7, aren’t a very serious bunch overall. On a recent afternoon, there was a lot of good-natured teasing going on around the dining room table of their Squirrel Hill home.

Flickr

Lack of Internet access can puts some kids at an academic disadvantage, says Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane.

Comcast and Pittsburgh Public Schools are teaming together to offer another year of “Internet Essentials,” an initiative that provides low-cost Internet service to low-income families.

“Parents may have iPads, they may have smartphones that have connectivity, they may have desktop computers that are hooked to the Internet, or laptops,” Lane said. “But then we also have children who may have little of that or none at all, so that their access to the Internet is only at school.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Bill Cosby once said “the essence of childhood, of course, is play.”

But play for children today is sometimes very different than it was even five or 10 years ago, as the prevalence of smart phones and tablets is changing the way children play and learn.

Take 4-year-old Max. He’s in preschool and is learning to read and spell, sometimes with the help of apps on his mom and dad’s iPhone or iPad.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

With sexual violence can come a host of mental health issues — depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to name a few. But dealing with the judicial system can also bring a slew of problems for victims.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A giant, floating rubber duck will temporarily change the Pittsburgh skyline this weekend as the American debut of the Rubber Duck Project kicks off the Pittsburgh Festival of Firsts.

In the meantime, one is reminded of the question asked by Arthur Weasley in the movie "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:" "What exactly is the function of a rubber duck?”

Many would say its function is a child’s bath toy, but to others, it’s art.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

On a muggy Wednesday morning, before the sun has burned off the morning’s clouds, Lionel Greenawalt drives across his 100-acre Westmoreland County farm to a field of sweet corn.

While Greenawalt and his children pick an average of 400 dozen ears of corn each morning, at the moment, they have more corn than they can sell.

“It was kind of rainy this summer season, and we weren’t able to get into the field to plant every five to seven days,” he said. “So what happens is we have a lot of corn that comes in all together.”

That’s where gleaning comes in.

Flickr user jwalter522

Walk around town these days and you’re just about as likely to see someone sporting a Pittsburgh Pirates T-shirt as you are someone in Steelers garb.

Much of the Bucos team gear has been purchased this season as the Pirates won more games than they lost for the first time in 21 years and won back the hearts of fans that can’t remember the last time they had a reason to cheer on the home team in September. 

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

In Clarion County’s Licking Township there are vibrant green hills, windy narrow roads and traffic signs posted just as much for the trucks and tractors as for the horses and buggies.

It's a small, rural farming community north of Pittsburgh.

When you pull up to Emmanuel Schmidt’s home, you see acres of land, his woodworking shop and carriages. The 49-year-old Amish farmer knows Obamacare is coming, but he doesn’t quite know what that means.

"I’ve wondered, I’ve really wondered what’s going to happen with the health care, I don’t know," he said. 

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Imagine your mom, or your grandmother, maybe even your great-grandmother, with a secret past. Perhaps you know that she’s lived through some major historical events like World War II.

Now imagine finding out she not only lived through it – but was an integral part of secret military operations during the war.

That is part of Pittsburgh native Julia Parsons’ story. She was part of an all-women’s German code-breaking team.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

With emphasis on maintaining positive intergenerational relationships and boosting the self-esteem of struggling students, the OASIS Tutoring Program recruits and trains older adults to tutor kids in the Pittsburgh Public and Woodland Hills school districts.

Tutor Coordinator John Spehar and tutor Charlene Briggs say the program is beneficial for students’ academic and emotional health.

“If their self-esteem is higher, they’re more interested to learn and work on activities,” says Spehar.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Rachel Zwipf is packing. Boxes scattered around her home are being filled with pots, children’s toys and framed photos.

She’s moving to North Carolina, leaving behind a good job, her family and painful memories of Pittsburgh.  

"His name was Sean Thompson, but we all called him Lydell," she said.

Two summers ago, Zwipf’s fiancé was murdered in Lawrenceville, just a few blocks from their home. They were already planning to move. Thompson had spent years in jail for a slew of offenses and wanted a new start.

WordPlay: Informal Learning on the Go

Aug 29, 2013
Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Preschoolers in the city of Pittsburgh can forget the mundane and seemingly endless minutes of staring down the street for a bus.

A new program called WordPlay, by the Fred Rogers Company is meant to spark conversation between parents and children at bus stops. It’s also sparked a conversation about literacy and education.

The Problem of Chronic Absenteeism

Aug 28, 2013
Haldan Kirsch / 90.5 WESA

Chronic absenteeism is a key driver of the nation's achievement, high school graduation and college attainment gaps. The pattern for kids missing school begins as early as kindergarten.

Linda Lane, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent, Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and Ken Smythe-Leistico, assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development address the various reasons for chronic absenteeism.

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