Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Say Hello To Miss Christa

Hey Everyone, My name is Christa Drew and I am an AmeriCorps KEYS Service member who is so very excited to be working with the Brashear Kids, at the ALEC location. I am originally from the Pittsburgh area and have spent a handful of time in East Cleveland, Ohio and a larger amount of time in San Francisco, California. I began my education as a Forensic Animation student while minoring in Biology, and transitioned my studies further into Photography. I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. I am so happy to be back in Pittsburgh and am eager to use my diverse and creative background to educate our city's youth.

When I'm not at the ALEC location, in my spare time I'm also a photographer and enjoy drawing and painting. I absolutely love cooking (I am always feeding people),and researching horticulture and holistic healing methods. I am slowly introducing myself to the outdoors and am really happy to explore our city's lovely landscape with our students. I am also a proud mom of two awesome dogs, Max and Dante that also keep me occupied with their energy and just plain cuteness.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Programming Close-Up: Y-Creator Space

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!

Y-Creator Space

Activity Leader: Miss Alex

Coming back from last year's school year program and summer Tech Camp, Y-Creator Space will be joining us on Tuesdays for hands-on work with technology and building. Based out of the Homewood YMCA, Y-Creator Space operates both as its own after-school program and as enrichment in other after-school programs. Most of their programming across all fronts involves hands-on activities that implement STEM subjects and the Maker model.

STEM and the Maker Model

Both the STEM and Maker Models are important to the Y-Creator Space curriculum. STEM stands for the academic subjects Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The Maker Model is a project-based learning method that focuses on hands-on problem solving. When asked about the use of the models in their after-school program, Y-Creator Space  Alex Rice claims that their approach is "the intersection of STEM and Maker." Given the nature of the Maker Model and lack of safe and portable materials, however, it is hard for Y-Creator Space to include hands-on activities that focus on Science and Math. Therefore, Y-Creator Space focuses mainly on the Technology and Engineering portions of STEM while providing authentic problems for students to solve and build. 
At Tech Camp, students design and construct
their very own robots and structures
All hands-on, all fun!

This Year's Theme

Themes in Y-Creator Space programming include robotics, circuitry, and cardboard/plastic construction among other Technology and Engineering subjects. This year, students who elect to participate in Y-Creator Space on Tuesdays will work on robotics projects. During our Showcase Weeks (See "What's New at After-School), students learned the basic terms for the working parts of a robot (such as servo, LED lights, motor, motherboard, etc.). Additionally, Y-Creator Space brought in some awesome re-purposed robots to work on. Students hooked stuffed animals and cardboard cutouts re-fitted with robotic parts into the laptops to turn on lights, move arms, and make sounds. We're looking forward to what we can do by the end of the year! 

Maybe by the end of the year
they'll make their own!
Our students check out all
the cool robots during Showcase Week

The Level Approach

Working in teams!
When talking to Alex Rice about the structure of the program, she explained that they are starting to implement an approach that focuses on Levels. Each Level consists of a certain or knowledge or skill in robotics that students will learn or develop through Maker activities throughout the year. Levels, in increasing levels of difficulty, include naming the parts of a robot and circuit board, hooking things up onto a circuit board, making a robot with all the parts, incorporating sensors, and automating processes and movements. As the students try new things with different robots and setups, they will learn more and more about the discipline. At the end of the year, we hope that the students will have basic knowledge about robotics that they can transfer to their future technology classes and interests in Technology and Engineering.

We are so happy to have Y-Creator Space join us again this school year. As you can see, the activities they provide for kids are very unique yet also growing in popularity. We cannot wait to see what our kids are able to learn and achieve with Y-Creator Space this year!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Programming Close-Up: Saturday Drop-Ins

Starting up on Saturdays

Now that after-school is in full swing, our Saturday Drop-in hours have also begun! Aside from our weekday program running Mondays through Thursdays, we also offer "Drop-in" hours on Saturdays from 12-3pm for ALEC students and family members to hang out at the center. Drop-ins are meant to be a change of pace from the normal after-school program in that students can freely work on an activity. Additionally, they get to just hang out, play games, and use Tech once finished with the activity. Most activities are laid back are hands-on and fun to do on a Saturday afternoon.
Check out our plan for past and upcoming Drop-ins below!

I'll give you a hint: A=Z,
B=Y, C=X, and so on.
Good luck! 

Past Drop-Ins

Secret Codes (Sept 30)

Our last Drop-In was all about writing and cracking codes. We learned that if we take a secret message and apply a rule (or key) to it, we will create a message full of confusing words and letters that seem to make no sense. But if you use that same key, you can decode that jumble of words into the secret message again! We used a bunch of different code types to decipher many different messages. We started with simple keys like writing backwards, using numbers instead of the alphabet, and pairing each letter with the letter on the other side of the alphabet (A=Z, B=Y, etc.). Eventually we tried harder codes: a book cipher (we used Dr. Seuess's "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish), a decoder wheel, and pig pen (see below). Although challenging, these codes made writing messages fun and made us think differently about how we write.

The Decoder Wheel and Pig Pen Keys were some
of the hardest codes we cracked.
Try them out yourself!

The book cipher was really unique: the first number is
the page, the second is the line, and the third is the
word in that line.
Impossible if the recipient doesn't have the same book!

Upcoming Drop-Ins

ALEC Time Capsule

Since the school year has only just begun, we want to take time to remember how we started the year. Today, we will be documenting things about ourselves through lists, drawings, pictures, hand prints, and letters. We will decorate our very own ALEC time capsule that we will bury and only open at the end of the school year. Questions about our goals for this school year and next summer will make us think about this year as a whole as we take it on. Once we open it in May, we can look back at all that we achieved and the people we used to be!

Cooking: Salsa!

Mr. Neal sure loves to cook, so this won't be our last Saturday cooking session! For the first cooking Drop-in, we'll be throwing together salsa! We'll start with talking about salsa: what typically goes in salsa? What variations can we make? What flavors do we like? Afterwards, we will start to learn basic knife skills as we cut up tomatoes, peppers, onions, and more. Finally, we'll assemble several different salsas and try them out with a bunch of different kinds of dippers. Maybe there will even be enough to take home :)

Adventures in Reading

Similar to last year's Wednesday programming, Miss Laura from the Mt. Washington Public Library will be coming to ALEC every third Saturday of the month for Family Story Time! She will lead story time as well as activities having to do with reading. All ages are welcome so come with your family and read with us!

Halloween Activities

We HAVE to celebrate Halloween some way! Before our Family Fun night on October 30th, we'll celebrate Halloween here during a Saturday Drop-In: from Halloween snacks to masks and games, we'll all be busy getting ready for the holiday. If we're lucky, we'll even be able to decorate the center for the upcoming Family Fun Night. Everything we make here we can show off an Monday! Come by in a fun costume and join us!

As you can see, we have a lot planned for this month!  As you can tell, we love the idea of hands-on, fun activities for our Drop-Ins. The more we can get our kids moving and making something the better. We hope to see you at a Drop-In soon!

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.


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