90.5 WESA Features and Special Reports

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.

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.

Haldan Kirsch / 90.5 WESA

Chronic absence takes a toll on students and the rest community from an early age. Katie Carroll is a Kindergarten teacher at Pittsburgh Faison School and thinks future learning patterns are developed as early as the first year.

"I try to establish relationships with parents so that the kids are really excited about coming to school."

Approaching Solutions for Chronic Absence

Aug 28, 2013
Gates Foundation / Flickr

In order for a student to be considered “chronically absent” they have to have missed 10 to 19 days of classes throughout the school year. In many cases, people are tempted to play the blame game and think teachers and administrators are not holding up their end of the bargain when it comes to keeping kids in school.

Dr. Linda Lane, superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, feels that “both the communities, the families and schools need to find common ground.” That common ground, she says is that everyone wants the kids to do well.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

It’s a reality for many parents and caregivers in Pittsburgh — you’re stuck waiting for a bus in the city and your kid starts getting bored and antsy.

A new effort is hoping to turn these times into teachable moments.

Instead of advertisements for law firms or universities, 23 bus shelters around Pittsburgh now have a poster adorned with colorful pictures of things such as ice cream, picnics and kiddie pools. The “Word Play” posters are part of an effort from the Fred Rogers Company to get adults talking to and interacting with kids.

Phase 4 Learning Center

Phase 4 Learning Centers are often referred to as last chance high schools by many, but to Phase 4’s founder, Terrie Suica Reed, it’s also their best chance for many troubled students to find success in their high school careers.

Though many students who come into her program come from broken homes or are even homeless, Reed stands firm in her belief that “with the right support, the right network, they can do anything they want to do.”

Can Community Colleges Save the Economy?

Jul 30, 2013
CCAC North Library

Though they are sometimes mocked and often overlooked in the conversation about post-secondary education, community colleges are playing an important role in the reinvention of the American workforce.

With the costs of public and private universities skyrocketing and a changing economy that demands of a bevy of new skills, community colleges have become the primary option for many students seeking to gain crucial skills at a lower cost.

Gates Foundation / flickr

The Pittsburgh Promise has been providing scholarships to Pittsburgh public school students since 2008. They've pledged to promote the development of neighborhoods, city school reform, and give city students access and opportunities to attend a higher education institution.

Five years since its inception, the first batch of Promise recipients are graduating from their respective colleges and universities, and many critics are argue that the program has not been effective. Saleem Ghubril, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Promise maintains that the scholarship program is helping hundreds of students succeed after high school, while Jake Haulk, President of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, asserts that little has been done to improve the quality of the public schools. He says students are not receiving a sufficient education upon high school graduation.

Teachers from across the United States have spent the last five weeks in Pittsburgh for the “Voices Across Time” program.

They've been learning how to incorporate music into their lessons, and the goal is to help students not only learn, but also connect with various subjects.

On the final Wednesday of the program, the group of teachers sat listening to a song called “The Blue Juniata.” Its lyrics are featured in the book "Little House on the Prairie." For the past month the teachers have been learning how to use such songs in their classes.

A recent policy brief from conservative think tank Allegheny Institute for Public Policy states that the Pittsburgh Promise is falling well short of its goals, and that its mission should be completely re-focused. But this isn’t the first time the Allegheny Institute has taken on the Pittsburgh Promise.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Last week, teachers from Allegheny County gathered in Homestead to learn how to integrate games and play into their classrooms. This week those same teachers tested out what they learned on real kids.

Max O’Malley was one of 35 middle school kids at a camp at Carnegie Mellon University. One of their tasks was to create a new game using ping pong balls and plastic cups. Max and his group created a game based on the concept of air hockey.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

A group of teachers are standing in a loosely formulated circle. Some are squatting, some are balancing on one leg, all look like they are about to burst out laughing.

They’re playing a game called Ninja at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead. The goal is to attack the other Ninjas in a counter-clockwise way. But they aren’t just playing — they are learning the game and how its applicable to what they do in their classrooms.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Sixteen-year-old Diondre Harris was clowning around with his friends last Saturday at an end-of-year cookout at the Marshall-Shadeland office of Allegheny Youth Development.

The boys were eating hot dogs, talking about the NBA playoffs and sharing their report cards. AYD held the event to celebrate all that the few dozen teenage boys who take part in the program did over the course of the last school year.

In case you had doubts that buildings full of borrow-able books and artwork are a good thing, the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences and The Campaign for Grade-Level Reporting has released a report that says they are. 

Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners was released on Thursday and discusses ways libraries and museums are supporting children.

Study author Mimi Howard said the goal of this paper was to focus on the development of early literacy skills by using these public resources.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Discrimination, school funding and teen pregnancy grabbed the attention of high school students from around the world who gathered for a World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh-sponsored video conference Wednesday.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

The school year has ended or will soon end for students in the Pittsburgh area. That means the start of summer vacation. 

Research shows that during the summer, students lose some of what they learned just weeks and months earlier. Experts say motivating kids to continue learning through fun and engaging activities, programs and camps can help bridge the end of one school year to the beginning of the next and ease or eliminate the summer setback.

Courtesy Grow Pittsburgh

For many, summer as a kid conjures images of long rides in the back of the family sedan, co-ed sports at the local YMCA camp or hours spent on the couch watching TV. These kind of summer experiences still exist, but an array of programs around Pittsburgh are opening the eyes and minds of youth of all ages.

Some of those students will be attending Summer Dreamers Academy. The camp, put on by Pittsburgh Public Schools, packs its itinerary with academics and activities. Summer Dreamers has replaced summer school.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

For so many kids, the beginning of summer holds promise of weeks and weeks of doing absolutely nothing, or of sitting around and watching TV or playing video games all day.

Many kids will have such plans thwarted by parents who will send them to one or several summer programs. That’s probably not a bad thing — there is a growing body of research that suggests letting kids do nothing but watch TV and play video games all summer could set back their academic growth.

Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

If you consume any amount of media at all, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with the idea that kids tend to lose ground academically during the summer months.

But what is the so-called “summer brain drain?” Is it real, or a media invention? And just how concerned should you be?

Courtesy Detre Library & Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center

When you ask most Americans why children get a break from school in the summer you usually get one of two answers. 

Warren Sullivan of Hermitage provided the most popular answer while visiting Pittsburgh last month: “I think it was agriculture wasn’t it? I mean, it’s probably the season … a few generations ago anyway.”

Twenty-five school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania are receiving grants of $20,000 apiece to create digital learning spaces for students of all ages. 

“My heart was filled with joy,” said Rosanne Javorsky, assistant executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, reacting to the 80 proposals for grants to create innovative spaces to engage students in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

The AIU’s Center for Creativity is distributing the grants, which are funded by the Benedum and Grable Foundations.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A new-to-Pennsylvania program is hoping to increase enrollment in advanced placement classes in two Pittsburgh high schools, with the ultimate goal to ensure more kids, especially kids of color, are prepared for higher education – whatever form that may take.

More than 100 students at Pittsburgh Brashear High School are currently enrolled in advanced placement, or AP, classes. Through a partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative, or NMSI, and a grant from the Heinz Endowments, work will get underway to increase that number.

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