Monday, October 24, 2016

Light Up! Lights on Afterschool at Grandview

Blog enthusiasts, have we got a treat for you. This past Thursday was the culmination of weeks of planning to host an afterschool event for the Grandview school community. We wanted to create an event for parents and students alike to visit the very place where learning happens, and celebrate that process with a variety of engaging activities. Present at the tables were fitUnited, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the YMCA Hilltop, GTECH, Hilltop Alliance, Venture Outdoors, the Mt. Washington Library branch, APOST, and of course, yours truly, the Brashear Association.

Tables were set up in such a way that attendees could navigate them one at a time, much like a game, from start to finish. The activities were aimed for the kids, of course, but it was very rewarding for parents and school staff to witness.

There were minute to win it games, such as Brashear's cheerio-race, where our young students picked up cheerios with a straw using suction and raced to transport them from plate to plate.

Ms. Laura from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh challlenged visiting students to test their balancing skills in this fun game, pictured below.

GTECH taught kids about water's impact on environments with this watershed activity, a creative spin on a science activity with visual representation.

The YMCA is so great at coming up with STEM activities that are fun, entertaining and packed with learning. Check out the makey-makey station they created with a focus on electricity conduction where circuits meet organic material. Can you say a match made in heaven?


We're so glad that the library offered reading material as a reward for completing activities, as well. We want to especially thank them for their generosity!  

Please keep scrolling to see more examples of the tables, including making trail mix, drawing and monster making in the spirit of the season. 

Thank you for reading, and thank you so much to everyone who showed up, and worked so hard to make this wonderful event happen!

-Alyce and Anna 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Brashear Girls Bring the Show!

Our seasoned readers are well aware of our wonderful Wednesday programming, but for our new followers- Strong Women Strong Girls is an organization out of Boston and Pittsburgh that seeks to match girls with strong women role models. In doing so, they give young girls the opportunity to take pride in themselves and each other- as well as have clear representation of women mentors in college. The Point Park University students visit us at ALEC once a week on Wednesdays. 

This week was especially special. We focused a light on social injustice through fostering a discussion with our youth, but not before they showed us their incredible dance moves. 

Our girls love meeting with the Strong Women leaders, especially when they challenge them to talk about their potential. This week our youth were asked, what do you want to do when you're older? And- do you believe you have the tools right now, today, to make it there?

The girls read about a powerful woman each week, this week's choice being Emma Watson. Watson is a great role model as she has been heavily involved in discourse around women's rights as of late, specifically the "He for She" campaign. This exercise also has a fun spin on it, as each time the words "she" or "girl" appear in the reading, the girls scream with all their might. Talk about power-building!

While a certain type of magic emanates from the space created by Strong Women Strong Girls, the leaders bring a challenging curriculum and ask the tough questions. As they say, there will be roses, and there will be thorns. This week they brought to the table the issues of social injustices, a highly integral and relevant issue to our youth's lives. The topics of inequality regarding one's gender, race and class were hashed out through a play recital. The girls split off into two groups and designed a play around these issues. We came together to preform them as a group.

Each session ends with the trademark chant, and then the we thank each other for our hard work. Now get out there, and take a stand!

In strength,


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Open up and Observe- Venture Outdoors October!

Open your eyes and open the front door! There's a whole world out there to discover. There is so much evidence out there that a very unique and imperative kind of learning occurs when a young mind is outside, immersed in nature. In this busy life, surrounded by concrete landscapes, such learning can easily be lost. This is why we are so grateful to the wonderful folks from Venture Outdoors. They provide critically enriching programming for us in areas where these gaps may occur.

What would you wear in a desert? A tundra? The arctic? A swamp or a mountain? You never know what the world outside of the city will bring, be it rewards or challenges. In this game, we imagined ourselves as explorers dressing for different terrains and environments. Four teams chose a model in each round to run to the pile of clothes in the middle and select weather-appropriate clothing. It was a very insightful exercise and the kids taught us a lot, too!

 Sometimes, just getting out into our neighborhood and looking at it from a new lens is all we need. That hill to your school? It's a 'hike'. The various flora growing in the city? An opportunity to  learn about different vegetation. And of course...

Spending time outdoors together fosters growth, friendship and camaraderie!

Thanks for reading,


Friday, October 14, 2016

Meditation Musings with Brashear Kids

Hello blog followers, what is your mantra? Meditation is no stranger to our kids or staff here at the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center. However, we wanted to take the opportunity to speak again about its amazing benefits. 

This is an especially pertinent subject considering October 10th, which just passed, is World Mental Health Day. This day serves as a platform to speak on the importance of mental wellness in comparison to physical wellness, both of which should be regarded as equal. 

At ALEC, we pick up the children directly after the end of their school day. They have been sitting in classrooms all day and are expected to immediately transition into homework time. This world of busy-ness can be difficult for an adult to navigate and maintain wellness and focus. Imagine then, the stresssors of daily life for a child. Everyone has stress, both healthy and unhealthy. Managing these aspects of life are something we can use as a tool throughout our lives, and we are placing value on teaching these skills. 

Emotional and social development is tied into mental health intrinsically. More and more scientific studies are being theorized which point to mental health being a key player in the overall success of a person. We are here for a short time in our youth's lives, and are dedicated to making an impact with these tools so that they can have them in their toolbox in their future. 

Below you can see photographs of our first successful meditation session. We played a mindful listening video aimed for children that took them on a mental journey through an enchanted forest. Not everyone was as excited as some to begin the exercise, which lasted around five minutes, but at the end all were very relaxed. In fact, we had trouble waking a couple of kiddos up! 

After our mediation session, we saw improvements in attention, staying grounded, and homework completion. Considering the benefits, we encourage everyone to experiment with meditating daily.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Let's get!

Here at the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center, we emphasize the critical importance of S.T.E.A.M. in the learning experience.  The acronym S.T.E.A.M. stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

Our partners at the Hilltop YMCA have commenced the ALEC S.T.E.A.M. experience with an integral aspect of computer science: coding!  What is coding and why is it important you may ask? Coding, in simple terms, is telling a computer what to do!  It is important to expose youth to coding in order to develop critical thinking skills, and to prepare them for this rapidly expanding job market.

What have we learned so far?  First, each class learned about the definition of an algorithm: steps that can be followed to achieve a goal.  In the second lesson, we learned that an algorithm can be compiled into a program, which enables a computer to function.  Brashear kids enthusiastically applied what they've learned so far on with Minecraft!

 Students in Ms. Alyce's enjoyed seeing their coding transfer to the TV! is great for partner and independent work!

Ms. Anna's students partnered with Ms. Maggie on their Minecraft task. 

 Mr. Alex, a Duquesne work-study student, joins two students to reach the next level!

When it comes to computer coding here at the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center, it's full S.T.E.A.M. ahead!

- Anna

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Peek-a-boo! at our October ALEC Family Fun Night

It's finally time for Halloween here at the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center. Our kids are already anticipating the spooky season, as the leaves just begin to turn. What better way to celebrate the festivities than to throw a family fun night with a screening of Its The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!? This classic film reaches across generations, touching a nostalgic nerve in some of us older folks, and getting our younger ones excited for this time of the year.

ALEC prioritizes intentional community and family involvement. Our team is committed to bringing the whole gang together, for a multitude of reasons. When it comes to children, we go by the age-old saying: "it takes a village". We couldn't do what we do without the support of our youth's families, the community in Allentown, and our wonderful partners.

If you follow our blog on a regular basis, you know how enthused we are about our new garden space and the continued improvements upon it by GTECH. That's why we open our doors to our lovely community to share in our space and joy. Below you can take a peek at some of the activities set up by Big Brothers Big Sisters and GTECH, as the crowd eagerly awaited for the movie to begin (pop-corn included, of course). Our partners really know how to bring a crowd together.

 A few family members try their hands at puzzles and mask-making! 

 A wider scope of our game and mask-making fun!

Our festivities at large

Thank you, Big Brothers Big Sisters for your generous donation of pizza, and GTECH for the big screen that brought us all together.

Monday, October 3, 2016

"An American Ascent" with Venture Outdoors

On September 17, 2016, staff, youth and family members local to the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center were given the opportunity to attend a viewing of the documentary "An American Ascent" at the Hill House.

© "An American Ascent", 2014

This feature documentary chronicled the first African American expedition to summit North America's highest peak, Denali.  The following commentary from the official website encompasses the dilemma writers sought to tackle in this film:

"In only a few decades the United States will become a majority-minority nation, as people of color will outnumber the white majority for the first time ever. Yet, a staggering number of these people do not consider the outdoors as a place for them. In June 2013, nine African Americans set out to build a legacy and become role models for inner city kids and people of color all over America to encourage them to get outside. They did so by taking on the grueling, 20,237 foot peak of the continent's biggest mountain".

This documentary raised questions about the future of nature conservancy and how we view the outdoors.  Specifically, what steps can we take to close the "racial adventure gap"?  Our outdoors depend on inclusiveness for our soon to be majority-minority nation.

As you can see, everyone had a great time and left feeling inspired!  A special "thank you" to Venture Outdoors for the opportunity to see this film and the Hill House for hosting us.  Outings such as this are critical in connecting youth to new ideas, but most importantly, to show them that anything is possible!

- Anna


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