Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Megan's Farewell

Well Brashear, it's been a whirlwind seven weeks. Even though I wasn't here for long, I hope that I've had a positive impact on the ALEC community. I'm sad that the summer went by so quickly, but I got to have a lot of fun with a really cool group of kids! 

Mustaches do make one feel rather serious.

I've been with KEYS Service Corps since May 2015, having served previously with the Hilltop YMCA before coming to Brashear. I love the Hilltop neighborhoods, and I was really excited to continue getting things done in this area. What does the daily routine of an AmeriCorps member placed at Brashear look like, you ask? Well, I would arrive at ALEC few hours before the kids, sit at my computer, get coffee, work on blog posts and paperwork, other boring grown up things, etc. I played four square for about two hours every day. (Every. Single. Day.) In fact, I could probably get certified as an official four-square judge and referee, if such a thing exists. I taught some lessons, I sat back and let other people teach some lessons, I prepared snacks, I obsessively counted children, I perfected a shovel-and-pole technique for retrieving balls that bounced over our fence, and I took a lot of pictures. I mean, a lot of pictures. 

Though it would appear that some people found my constant picture taking just a smidge irritating.

Since I was usually busy taking all the pictures, there aren't many that I'm actually in. However, I did manage to squeeze into a fair number of group shots! 

Just a few examples of our adventures, also featuring Ms. Sarah, Mr. Steven, Ms. Dianna, Ms. Shannon, and Ms. Amber 

But mostly what I did at Brashear was have fun. I spent more time outside this summer than I probably have in the last five summers combined, and I have a weird tan line on my feet to prove it. I've gone through Eco Camp, Tech Camp, Go! Camp, and Outdoors Camp alongside all of the kids, and I've had just as much of a blast as they've had. (Maybe more. I really like kayaking).   

The best darn kayak partner a gal could ask for. And I only got hit in the face with a paddle once! 

As a way of encouraging the kids to be adventurous eaters and try new foods, Ms. Amber encourages the teachers to also partake in whatever snack is made for the day. Which means that I got to eat a lot of real good stuff. Pesto, smoothies, summer salad, trail mix, peanut butter bagels, carrots and hummus, big slices of watermelon... It was ideal. Not only was I well fed, but I got to see the kids start to ask for healthy things and really begin to take an interest in how their food was prepared. Also, it is really funny to see an eight-year-old politely say "I don't care for this" when offered a food he or she doesn't like. The kids aren't allowed to say that something is "gross" or "nasty," because 1) it's a bit rude, and 2) it might discourage another person from trying it. Everyone should be able to decide what they like for themselves! 

I mean, is this not one of the most delicious looking bagels you've ever seen? 

Some elements of our snacks were grown in our very own garden. The garden is one of my favorite aspects of ALEC. I love gardening. In fact, when I started at Brashear, I came bearing a gift of about 20 sunflower seedlings that I had been keeping on my fire escape. I just think that watching stuff grow is the coolest thing. The Hilltop neighborhoods simply don't have a lot of easy access to fresh produce, and the fact that we have it mere steps away from our back door is a really empowering experience. By teaching the kids how to garden at ALEC, we give them the building blocks to start a garden at home with their own families. We made pesto with our basil, salsa with our peppers, and infused water with our mint. We've devoured strawberries that we grew ourselves. There's even talk of making our own pickles with our cucumbers! And of course, we have some flowers growing, too. Gotta look out for our pollinator friends! 

Getting your hands dirty can be pretty cathartic. 

I got to work with some really amazing organizations during my time here, as well. GTECHVenture OutdoorsY on the Fly, Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community, The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy... The list goes on. Partner organizations are extremely valuable to us, because they give our kids so many opportunities that we would be unable to offer if we were trying to do everything all on our own. Teamwork really does make the dream work! 

Lookin' fresh as a daisy with GTECH and some volunteers from AE Works Ltd. As of this writing, our Green Playce is almost finished! 
You can check out the project plan here

Throughout my term with AmeriCorps, there were days that were wonderful and goofy and fun, and there were days that could be best described as tragic. Regardless, this past year has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I've been so lucky to connect with the people I've met, both adults and children. Thank you to anyone and everyone who has supported The Brashear Association, because it's an organization that truly does good work. I love all my kids, and as long as they continue to get support from Amber and the rest of the ALEC staff, I know I can expect great things from them as they get older. This time last year, I had no idea what I was doing with myself. Now, I'm heading to the University of Pittsburgh to get a master's degree in social work. My experiences as a KEYS member were instrumental in that decision, and I can't wait to find out what wacky hijinks I get myself into next. 

Yeah I couldn't even tell you what's happening here.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Over and out, 


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Outdoors Camp: Week 2!

This week saw the close of summer camps at ALEC for the 2016 season. We're sad to see the summer end, but we're so grateful for all the fun we've had along the way. And we certainly went out with a bang! It was week two of Outdoors Camp!  

The Brashear Kids warm up for the week with our billionth game of four square!

On Monday, we went geocaching! Teachers from Venture Outdoors brought us some hand held GPSs with coordinates already programmed in. The kids split into teams, and used their GPS to find clues hidden all around Grandview Park! The clues helped us solve a riddle. It was a fun way to get our brains and our bodies working at the same time.

On Tuesday, we went biking again! This time, Mr. Evan and Ms. Brittany played a game with us before we started riding. We split into two teams, and had a relay race to see which team could correctly identify different parts of the bicycle the fastest! Afterwards, we rode about two miles down the bike trail at North Shore Riverfront Park. Some of our kids still weren't quite comfortable on the bikes, so they hung back and played in the Water Steps fountain instead. Everyone still got to spend time outside and stay active, regardless of their skill level!

On Wednesday, we went kayaking! This was another activity that we did last week, but we felt it was work repeating. This trip went even more smoothly than last week, since a majority of the kids had done it before. Some of the kids that were scared to go out on the water last week jumped right in a boat with a friend, instead of a teacher! It's always rewarding to see your students find confidence in themselves when participating in new activities.

No fear here!

On Thursday, we teamed up with The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to make some seed bombs and plant some trees! The seeds in our bombs were all redbud seeds, as part of the Pittsburgh Redbud Project. Redbuds are trees that are native to the Pittsburgh area, and they have beautiful flowers that are similar to cherry blossoms. The idea is to plant over 1,200 redbud trees, so that the city is filled with pink every spring. We even got a seedling to plant in our Green Playce, and we all got to take home seeds to plant ourselves!  

Afterwards, we went on a hike in Grandview Park, played on the playground for a little bit, and then we got some goody bags from Venture Outdoors! Each kid got a certificate of completion, a nifty new t-shirt, and a voucher to be used for kayaking or biking. That way, the kids can get their families moving as well! Spending time outdoors doesn't have to end with Outdoors Camp, after all.

Goofy faces due to being tickled just moments before this photo was taken.
You'd be surprised how hard it can be to get them to smile!

ALEC is usually closed to the public on Fridays. But since this week was our last week of the summer, we had a family outing on Friday night! We were worried that rain might ruin our trip, but we got lucky! The rain held off for us, and we had a blast. It was awesome to see parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. get to take part in what their kids had been doing for the last two weeks.

After we got back on land, we had a pizza party on the steps outside PNC Park! Most of the parents and guardians agreed that kayaking is pretty cool. We think there's a good chance that most of the vouchers from the goody bags are going to get used pretty quickly!

Again, thank you so much to Venture Outdoors, The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and all the parents and family members that let their kids hang out with us. Y'all made this week pretty special! We hope to see everyone this fall during the school year!!


Friday, August 5, 2016

The Brashear Kids Take it Outside: Outdoor Camp!

All this week, the Brashear Kids had the opportunity to do different activities with our friends from Venture Outdoors! We got to go on a few field trips, try some new things, and get moving while spending time outdoors. 

On Monday, Mr. Evan and Ms. Ashley from Venture Outdoors came to ALEC to introduce themselves and play a few team building games with us! Mr. Evan even remembered some of the kids from last year's Outdoor Camp. The games we played focused on working together and following instructions. This was important, because the trips we had planned for the rest of the week may have gotten a bit hairy if kids decided not to listen.

Encouraged by the teamwork we saw at the park, on Tuesday we all piled into a bus and took a drive down to the North Shore for a bike ride! Some kids hopped on and went full speed ahead (for four miles!), but others were less confident in their biking skills. Those who needed a little extra time getting used to the bikes got to hang back with some teachers and practice for a bit. Everyone made some pretty impressive progress! The Brashear Kids are usually pretty good sports when it comes to trying new things. 

Wednesday was kayaking day! It was an activity that a lot of kids were excited about, but a lot were nervous as well. The Venture Outdoors staff fielded a lot of questions before we got started (What if I can't swim?! What happens if I drop my paddle?! Are there sharks in the water?! etc.), but they were very patient with us. They taught us how to paddle correctly, fitted us with life vests, assured us that we would neither drown nor get eaten by sharks, and we were on our way!

Note the water bottle in J's pocket. Hydration is important!!

It was worth the risk! Everyone had a blast. While we were having fun, we got to revisit some of the lessons we learned from previous camps! When one of the kids asked why there was garbage in the water, it gave us a great opportunity to remember when GTECH visited during ECO Camp to talk about water sheds and water pollution. It's awesome to see their little minds start to independently draw connections between all the camps they've participated in.

Thursday was our last day of camp for the week, and we went on a hike in Frick Park! We got to test out all the exercise equipment along the trails, commune with nature, and play some games. At one point, the kids spontaneously rolled down a hill all together! It was a pretty silly sight. After our hike, we even had some time left over to play on the blue slide playground! 

As always, when we got back to ALEC, we had a healthy snack.This time, we got to chow down on some strawberries and cucumbers that we picked from our garden! Having fresh produce so easily accessible to us is a pretty rad experience. 

Thank you so much to Venture Outdoors for making this week possible! The kids AND the teachers are already jazzed to do it all again next week. 


Friday, July 29, 2016

Go! Camp: Week Two!

This week, the Brashear Kids soldiered on through Go! Camp! Even though it was an exceptionally hot summer week, we kept active, stayed hydrated, and refueled with a bunch of healthy snacks! 

On Monday, Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community came by Grandview Park to run some drills with us and teach us the basics of soccer. The coaches taught us how to properly warm up, how to best control the ball, and what kinds of foods can help your body prepare for a big game.

Keeping the coaches tips in mind, we traipsed back to ALEC to prepare the day's healthy snack. Using the basil we have growing in our garden, we made pesto with whole grain pasta! Pesto is a light, delicious alternative to heavy sauces, and whole grain pasta is a great way to carb load before a day full of moving around! Some of the kids found the green color of the pesto a bit off-putting at first, but with some gentle encouragement to try it, everyone was pretty pleased with how it turned out. And who knew it was so easy to make at home?! 

One of our pickiest eaters goes from apprehensive, to delighted, to waiting for thirds while announcing "I LOVE THIS!"

On Tuesday, Ms. Corey, a former KEYS Service Corps member who served with Brashear, came to show us some neat hula hooping tricks! The kids learned that hula hooping isn't just for playgrounds; there are tons of people who incorporate hula hooping with dance! And if there is one thing our kids love to do, it is dance. Ms. Corey even donated 10 brand new hula hoops to us so that we can keep practicing on our own! 

After we hooped for a bit, we learned about healthy foods we can eat that can also help keep us hydrated. We ate a ton of watermelon and played for the rest of the day. 

Thursday brought two guest instructors from Y on the Fly, which is generously funded by PNC and Comcast International Essentials. Ms. Brenna and Mr. Jordan got us running around our outdoor space with games that focused simultaneously on teamwork and healthy competition. 

After we were all tuckered out from the games, Mr. Jordan and Ms. Brenna showed us how to make our own salsa. They were super impressed when we added some peppers from our garden to their ingredients list! Later, one student said that the salsa was her favorite snack of the week, because it was fresher than "the nasty stuff you buy in the cans." I can't say I disagree with her. Before they left, Mr. Jordan and Ms. Brenna gave everyone a goody bag with a t-shirt, calculator, and healthy recipes. Not a bad haul!  

 Unhappy squinty faces can be attributed to the sun shining directly in their eyes

On the last day of summer camps, we usually go to the spray park down the street and have a picnic. It was not in the cards this week, since the forecast called for rain and thunderstorms. As Mr. Dave taught us during Tech Camp, you definitely do not want to be standing in a giant puddle of water when lightening strikes. Our back-up plan: movies & smoothies! Despite being cooped up indoors, we had a pretty good day. Besides, it's important to balance a lot of physical activity with adequate rest! 

Thanks so much to all the partners and volunteers who make this week possible. We couldn't have done it without you! Stayed tuned to hear about the adventures we'll have during next week's Outdoors Camp!


Friday, July 22, 2016

Go! Camp: Week One!

We had an exceptionally busy week at ALEC! We kicked off GO! Camp, and we never stopped moving. 

Go! Camp is all about staying active, eating healthy, and being kind to our bodies. On Monday, we learned about moderation, balancing rest and activity, and fun games to keep us moving indoors on rainy days! We tangled and untangled ourselves with the human knot game, played balloon volleyball, and topped it off with peanut butter roll ups. 

On Tuesday, we went hiking through Allentown and Mount Washington! We stopped along the way to admire some beehives and gardens, and remembered some of the things we did during ECO Camp. A mile and a half later, we found ourselves at the Mount Washington branch of the Carnegie Library! We took a break to mix our own trail mix, learn about the 90,000 book Summer Reading Challenge, and check out some of their resources for kids! 

On our way back to ALEC, we stopped at Grandview Park to play and hang out for a little bit. Even though we hiked more than three miles, we still found the energy to play freeze tag! 

On Wednesday, special guest teacher Ms. Mara stopped by! Ms. Mara is a competitive Irish step dancer, and the kids were in awe of her fancy footwork. She taught us a few new dance moves. Even though it was hard to keep up with her, some of the kids really caught on! 

After Ms. Mara's lesson was over, we refueled with some summer salad. We picked some leafy greens from our garden, and piled them on our plates with strawberries, apples, blueberries, carrots, green peppers, craisins, sunflower seeds... The list goes on! Everyone built a healthy salad suited to their tastes, and almost everyone was clamoring for seconds. 

On Thursday, we took another hike! We stopped for delicious peanut butter bagels before hitting the trails in Grandview Park. We topped our bagels with fruit and agave nectar, proving once and for all that you can have a sweet snack without a ton of refined sugar. Yum! Of course, we each had a water bottle to carry, because hydration is important when you're on the go! At ALEC, Ms. Amber makes us water infused with fruit and herbs that come from our garden. Some of the kids kept that in mind, and made their own infused water with strawberries and apples! It was cool to see them take an idea and modify it on the fly. 

After our snack, we went through the woods, poked some stuff with sticks, and wound up at the playground again. We let the kids vote on whether they wanted to stay late at the park, or return to ALEC early and have Tech Time. They voted unanimously to stay at the park! Once you get moving, it's hard to stop. Especially when you're sharing a beautiful day with your friends. 

Go! Camp continues next week, and we've got some really cool guests lined up to teach our kids new sports and activities! We can't wait!


Monday, July 18, 2016

Tech Camp in Review: Hello/Goodbye from YCS Dave!

Hello Brashear community!

My name is David Fuhrman. I am a KEYS Service Corps AmeriCorps member serving as a program facilitator from The Y Creator Space (YCS) at the Hilltop YMCA. It is my role to deliver STEM programming, especially robotics and tech programming, to different sites in Pittsburgh. YCS delivers STEM programming through the lens of design thinking, to engage kids in problem solving. Our philosophy is that STEM knowledge can usually be attained through a quick Google search, while the experience of problem solving through STEM-related challenges enables kids to learn how to tackle problems involving uncertainty, which leads to preserving a sense of wonder, higher educational attainment, and a richer intellectual life. 

These last two weeks I have had the pleasure of working with ALEC to bring their kids STEM programming, and what a ride it's been!

We explored mechanical engineering and computer programming using Hummingbird Robotics Kits, Create Labs Visual Programmer, and SNAP! 

We constructed LED flashlights to learn about circuits, and electromagnets to learn how DC motors work. 

We deconstructed some electronics, including laptops, a VCR, and a large 100 disc CD player, to learn about the various components that make up the electronics in our homes. 

In our discussions and during free time we touched on STEM careers, like engineering and programming, and we even learned a bit about Rubik's Cubes, binary, and hexadecimal.

It was such a fun week for me, and it went by so quickly. The way ALEC is run, and the staff relationships with the kids, created an ideal atmosphere to bring in YCS programming. The kids here were immediately engaged and focused on learning from the experience. Behavior problems, which can sometimes eclipse lessons, were mostly absent thanks to ALEC's staff and their thoughtful approach to behavior management.

The kids went from having little to no experience with robotics to building and programming their own robot animals in four days. They engaged with electronics actively, instead of passively turning them on for normal use. They tackled a lot of STEM material in two weeks, and best of all they enjoyed it. 

I feel grateful to have worked with ALEC, the awesome staff here, and especially such a wonderful group of kids! 


Friday, July 15, 2016

TECH Camp: Week 2!

From left to right: Team Mole Panda, Team Dragon, Team Turtle, and Team Poodle

Mr. Dave from the Y Creator Space was here again this week, teaching us all about technology! 

For inspiration, Mr. Dave showed the kids a robot that he made from a stuffed animal! We all agreed that the diabolical robot puppy was equal parts cute and creepy. Then, the kids got to work finishing the robot animals that they started constructing during week one of TECH Camp. We ended up with some fascinating specimens! 

While last week's focus was mainly on the blueprints, background, and physical construction of the animals, this week incorporated a lot more coding! Our robots have limbs that flail, eyes that light up, heads that turn, and mouths that open. One even breathes (fake) fire! In fact, our robots are so cool that they'll be on display at the Hilltop YMCA's Family Fun Night on Friday, July 22! Anyone interested in robots can stop by from 4:30-6:00 PM to see them. 

On day 2, Mr. Dave brought in an old VCR, a big CD changer, and two laptops. We got to rip them apart and figure out what makes them all tick. Do you know what diodes, capacitors, or solenoids are? Because our kids do! 

Day 3 brought about some smaller maker projects. We learned about circuits, and put that knowledge to use by making popsicle stick flashlights. We also made small electromagnets, and some of the kids opted to help Mr. Dave make a spin art machine during their free time! 

Day 4 saw the end of TECH Camp. We thought the kids deserved a treat for working so hard these last two weeks, so we herded them down to the spray park and splashed around for a few hours! We had a little picnic with healthy snacks, and had a ton of fun. The kids made up their own version of water tag, and thought up obstacle courses for each other. Good things can happen when you just let them play!  

Thanks again to Mr. Dave for all the cool activities he planned for us! We learned a lot, and we had a blast doing it. Go! Camp starts next week, and we are jazzed to get moving with all the kids! 



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