Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Programming Close-Up: Project HAND

Programming Close-Ups

Because after-school is just around the corner, we want to give you better insight into how our after-school program operates and what we will be doing together this year. The post "What's New for After-School" briefly explains the basic structure for our programming; check it out for more info! To sum up that post, our students get to choose between several activities offered throughout the week. The goal of this Close-Up series is to thoroughly introduce you to each activity and the partner leading it. Hopefully after reading these, you will have a better idea what awesome things our Brashear Kids get to do!

Project HAND

Activity Leader: Mr. Neal

Our newest program this year is Project HAND: Helping Allentown Neighbors Dream. Instead of our AmeriCorps members interviewing and researching the community in order to develop a service project, we hope to include our students in this process. The end result will still be a service project that meets the needs of the community, however our students will drive the process from the start. As members of their community, our students should have a say in the way they want to impact those around them.


First Steps

While we want to include our students as much as possible, Mr. Neal has done some legwork to prepare for our showcase weeks (see our last post!). To kick-start interest within the community, Mr. Neal passed a flyer to community members, business owners, and officials. After explaining the project, he invited them to come to the center for an interview with the kids. Some poten
tial people we will talk to include Hilltop Alliance, Work Hard Pittsburgh, Dollar Bank, members from local churches, and residents of local buildings.
Mr. Neal has done plenty of brainstorming as to who to interview and what questions to ask, but has not gone any farther than that. Why? In the end, the students call the shots.


The Process

At the beginning of the activity time (4pm), the students will discuss the upcoming interview at 4:15 or so with Mr. Neal. He will introduce basic information about that person so we can brainstorm questions together. Questions can be about anything: What their job is, how long they've been in Allentown, what they like/dislike in Allentown, what they want to change, and so on. Of course, we do want to ask important questions, but there's always room for fun! What is your favorite food, do you have any pets, what kind of books/movies do you like, etc. While we want to learn from community members about how we can help Allentown, we also want to get to know them since we are all neighbors.

The Project

Once we interview different members of our community, we need to brainstorm. We will compare our interviews and try to find similar positives and negatives in Allentown. With the pros and cons in front of us, we will decide what our project should benefit. In the past, AmeriCorps members have organized days of service, clean-ups, fundraisers, and most recently, an Allentown cookbook.
To complete this project, we will need to brainstorm. Like before, all ideas are welcome! If we start with a very wide lense, even with silly and fun ideas, it will be easier to find the right approach for the project. We won't know if teaching everyone in Allentown to tap dance will help the bus system until we talk about it :)

Our Hopes

Whatever our project ends up being, we are excited that we can offer this opportunity to our after school kids. Through the process, students will develop interpersonal skills as well as gain insight on their community by interviewing community members. Organizing a service project will give them the experience to make more change in their area throughout the rest of their lives. Stay tuned this year; our Brashear kids are thinking up something great that will rock Allentown!



Friday, September 15, 2017

What's New for After-School

Making changes for the new school year

With only a week and a half until ALEC starts, we are preparing the space and the curriculum as much as we can. Specifically, we have made a few changes to the program since last year. Since this is our Education Coordinator Miss Maggie's first year programming for the school year in the summer, she and Site Supervisor Miss Dianna have discussed improvements to the daily and weekly schedules. We plan to implement these ideas this school year to enhance student freedoms, engagement, and responsibility. We hope you are excited about these new changes as we are!

Activity Sessions

Similar to our Mentoring programs where girls work with Strong Women Strong Girls and boys work on together in the community, students will have the opportunity to choose between two different activities on Mondays and Tuesdays. Mondays offer Venture Outdoors and Project HAND (explained below), while Tuesdays offer Art and the YMCA Creator Space. During the first two weeks of after-school, program leaders will provide a showcase lesson to each of the two classes. Afterwards, students will choose the activity they want to participate in the rest of the session. That's right, students won't be locked into their decision the whole year. Instead, we have split up the year into three sections: from September to December, from January to March and from April to May. Students will have the opportunity to keep their activity or choose a new one. Because the last session is shorter than the rest, program leaders are planning special projects for participants that dive deeper into the material they have already been working on all year.


Project HAND

As mentioned above, we are introducing a new activity this year: Project HAND, Helping Allentown Neighbors Dream. Every year, AmeriCorps members must conduct a service project that impacts the community with the help of the students they work with. Typically, AmeriCorps members interview members of the community in order to establish the community's assets. Using these assets, the member organizes a service project and incorporates the students to help execute the plans. This year, we will include the students at the planning stage of the service project. Mr. Neal will contact community members and ask them to come to the center for an interview. The students will then ask questions about that person's job, role in the community, and visions for a better Allentown. Once we gather enough notes from the interviews, we will brainstorm possible changes and projects that will benefit Allentown. Together we will organize a project and impact our community!

Personal Badges

Apart from programming, we are introducing a new button system to ALEC that will increase engagement and responsibility in the activities,. On the first day of after-school, students will create a badge (pictured ABOVE) that leaves spaces for their name and each activity offered this year. If a student completes a session of an activity as an active participant or helper, they will receive a sticker on their badge. At the end of the year, the result will be a decorated button that represents what each student accomplished with us. In addition to the programs mentioned above, students can receive stickers for collecting many Helper points throughout the week (labeled H), by completing their homework every week (HW), and by being a Saturday Superstar that attends many Saturday Drop-In sessions (S). We hope that this system will encourage students to commit to completing activities, whether the same or different, with excitement and curiosity.

Free Time

When we aren't taking part in activities, we have free time. Free time is getting a slight change itself: the 20-30 minutes of daily free time will take place at the beginning of our after school schedule (3:00 PM) instead of at the end. We find that early free time provides a brain break for students to transition from school to after-school. Additionally, this approach gives students the freedom to come down to the center when they want, for example after talking with a teacher or a friend. After catching up on each other's days, playing games, and reading independently, we will all be ready to tackle homework and the day's activity together.

Family Surveys

Lastly, even though we have made a lot of changes, we know that we haven't found all of them. That's why we need you! Periodically, we will share a survey (paper and online) for students' families to complete. The surveys will ask the family's opinion on certain parts of our program. Based on the results, we will make changes to better serve our students and their families. But wait, there's another reason to participate! Every time a family member completes a survey or attends one of our Family Fun Nights, that family will be entered to win a prize. So come see the center and tell us what you think!

After making all of these changes, we could not be more excited to start the school year. We hope to use these new approaches to better help our students have fun and grow with us here at ALEC. Now the 25th just has to come soon!








Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Meet Mr. Neal

Hello Everyone!

My name is Neal Donovan and I am one of the newest KEYS Service Members (AmeriCorps) for ALEC this year! I’m extremely excited to prepare for the year with Maggie and Dianna to eventually meet and work with your child at the end of September. Anyone who knows me will tell you: I don’t like to sit still, so I’m just itching to get started with the school year.
A little background about myself: I am originally from Reading, PA and started my trek into Western PA to start a degree in Foreign Languages and Linguistics at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA. After graduating in 2016, I spent a year in Germany as a Fulbright scholar teaching English in two German public schools.

My time in Germany was life-changing: I utilized my German skills while representing the USA and native English speakers in the classroom. The most rewarding experience was working with two German as a Second Language courses: one for adults which I led myself and one for children in which I aided the teachers. Because the students were primarily refugees with different languages, these classes were challenges as well as insights into other cultures.

Besides settling into my new life in Pittsburgh, I spend a lot of my time either outside or cooking. I play in two Ultimate Frisbee leagues here in Pittsburgh and am always looking for options to play pickup in local parks. I enjoy riding my bike and taking hikes whenever I get the chance. When I’m indoors, I like to hang with friends and family while playing games, if possible. To get creative juices flowing, I'll break out my balloons to twist animal creations more complex than your typical dog. Apart from that, I’m usually preparing food for the week or experimenting with vegetarian, vegan, and DIY recipes such as fermented foods (sauerkraut, kombucha, etc.), homemade hummus, pizza, and bread.

In general, I am a fun-loving guy. I always look for opportunities to play games and incorporate fun into everyday lessons and activities. Establishing a strong relationship with my students through fun is very important to my approach to education. Because we are all kids at heart, I believe that connecting through fun and silliness helps build a mutual understanding that contributes to learning and working together. Plus, it makes the day more interesting :)

I’m very excited to serve at ALEC this year and cannot wait to get the year started!
All the best,
Mr. Neal


Monday, August 21, 2017

"Uncle John" Would be Proud

       

     Do you know what it takes to make a Camera Obscura? We thought we did...but it turns out it takes a lot longer than we thought. Perhaps this is how our namesake, John Brashear felt, when he was trying to create different pieces of technology? It took us three hours to create our own--and one that would enable us to successfully view the solar eclipse, at that! But after much trial and error--we had success! Up, we went to Grandview, and with our boxes on our heads, and backs to the sun, we were able to witness the eclipse. What a reward that was! :)


      Today, we put on our thinking caps--and set off to seek the light at the end of the tunnel. It's a sort of lesson in life, that if you persevere, something beautiful and bright will be waiting for you, at the end of the tunnel.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Reinventing the Classroom (Brashear Addition)

              It's a rainy and dreary day here at Brashear (ALEC), what do we do at Brashear on a rainy day you may ask? We rearrange our learning space, of course! At Brashear, we want to do whatever it takes, to provide an individual with the best, and most purposeful experience as possible. As our youth learn and grow, we, as teachers learn and grow.

             After studying our learning space, we saw opportunities for our space to change, in ways that would benefit our wide variety of learning styles. We believe that by tweaking just a few things within our learning space, we will be able to cater better to our youth in the Fall.



           Classroom layout has proven to be very crucial in the learning development of students. A learning space is also important for the teacher. The teacher should be able to cater to each and every individual student, holistically, while teaching a group-oriented lesson.

           Once all of the appropriate tables are set-up for the Fall, they will be situated in such a way, that students can collaborate, listen, watch, and feel connected to each lesson. The idea, is for these tables to be set-up in a U-shaped kind of way. This would also enable the teacher to literally step in the middle of the youth, while teaching. This would ultimately allow for teachers to connect better with youth, and be able to walk-around the room, instead of remaining stationary.

                         We are very excited to see how this impacts our learning this school year!!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Namesake: John Brashear

       



            Another year of summer camp has come to an end. It has been a summer full of fun and excitement. Thousands of children and individuals alike for one hundred years, have been impacted by the Brashear Association. Several are quite familiar with the name, Brashear, but few know anything about our association's namesake. Allow us to put the name with the face; the face of a man, whom for a century has changed the lives of many.

         Surprisingly the story begins with science. In the mid-eighteen hundreds a young John Brashear began falling in love with the idea of astronomy.  He began by making a refactor in a workshop behind his home. He would work once he got home from work in the evenings, and on into the night, on his refactor. This is where the road began for John.

         Perhaps you may say it was something of a domino effect for John Brashear. Soon after the completion of his refactor, John began manufacturing his own astronomical and scientific instruments. Each one signed and numbered by hand, by John himself. Little did he know at the time, John would be soon establishing his own company, appropriately named, "The John A. Brashear Company"; gaining world-wide respect.

        Brashear went on to become the director of the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh. It was here that he established a true name for himself. Once his time with the Observatory was through, John went on to be the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. And then on to become the President of the Academy of Science and Art.

       John began to truly establish roots in Pittsburgh and around the world, quickly becoming a common household name.  He was endearingly called, "Uncle John", by all who knew of him. Brashear's passion for education, and children, is what led to the start of the Brashear Association.

      The Brashear Association was born in the year, `1917, only three years before his death, in 1920. "Uncle John" would be astonished at the momentum that has kept the association going for 100 years. It is in just two weeks that we celebrate the birthday of this incredible association. It has been a full and plentiful 100 years, and thousands of people have been impacted--all with the start of a telescope.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

In the Garden







                 It is the last week of Summer Camp, and things are beginning to wind down. There are lots of cool things going on this week, as we wrap-up a fun-filled summer. We kicked-off this week learning about the various parts of a plant. What cycles a plant goes through, what makes a plant grow, etc. We took this simple idea, and turned it into our own little gardens (taking cut-off milk cartons and filling them with soil and seeds). We also had the opportunity to make-up our own plants; they could be made up of anything we wanted them to be. Some of us used seeds that looked like eyeballs, or plants that grew actual money, etc.

                The underlying theme of this entire summer, has truly been to take care of our planet. With this is in mind, everything that we have done has been with recycled materials. This simple idea enables the youth to truly see what can be done with "garbage".

                We had a very special guest with us this week, someone who will be with us for the remainder of the week, Ms. Maggie's Mom. We have had a very enjoyable time learning from Ms.
Sandy, as she has illustrated a children's book, on the various types of plants in a garden.


               We kicked-off today, by learning about the water-cycle. We played a game that showed us how the water cycles works, using buckets of water (clouds) and cups (water molecules). We turned this into a fun race, to see who could get all of the water from their team's bucket, into the buckets the quickest.

                To wrap-up the water cycle, we made our own flowers out of plastic water bottles. These water bottles were cut-up by each of us, to resemble a flower.

We are very excited to see that the rest of the week has in store for us!! We will be in touch!                   











                                                   

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