Girls Going Places by katzb

On Tuesday, I accompanied two of the high school girls in my after-school program to an entrepreneurship conference at Chatham University. The conference was called “Girls Going Places.”

I had never been to Chatham University, and it was neat to see the quaint campus in the middle of bustling Oakland!

The girls were a bit unhappy that they would be split up upon arrival, as they were assigned to separate tables with girls from other schools. It gave them a chance to meet new peers and get to talk to the two professional women assigned to each table. I had to sit at the chaperone table, but that didn’t stop me from benefitting from the lectures and lessons of the day!

First, the girls played a board game that taught them about loans, investing and starting a business. They then reflected on the experience as a group. One of the girls said she learned that if you don’t claim your work, someone may take credit for it. Another explained how she invested in a failed ice cream store, and losing money was discouraging to her. Others made lots of money off of their investments, and the biggest earner won a prize at the end.

Next, the girls got to ask questions of the professional women at their tables and neighboring tables. These were local women who are entrepreneurs in the Pittsburgh community and who were willing to share their insights with the next generation of businesswomen. The girls got lunch, snacks, and listened to guest speakers.

Most of the girls at the conference had come with their schools, and the chaperone table was filled with teachers and school guidance councilors. I picked their brains and learned what they thought about the field of education, as I am considering getting my master’s in teaching next year. Just like the high school girls got advice for their futures, I got the chance to talk to educators and get advice on my future too!



Speak Up Oliver High School grant application by katzb

One of the main components of the after-school program I work at is service. The high school students must complete at least 10 service projects by the end of the school year, and the Pittsburgh Young Leaders Academy where I work at Oliver High School has completed about 7 projects so far.

To fund a big project idea the students had, I recently applied for a grant through Pittsburgh Voices of Youth. The project we request funding for is called “Speak Up Oliver High School.” If our group wins the money, we will work with the non-profit called PAX/Real Solutions for Gun Violence to set up a special text messaging code for Oliver High School. Students and community members can use the anonymous text code to report a weapon in their school. The text alerts the nearest police department, which we would set up beforehand with PAX.

There were originally about 35 awesome projects that requested funding for their unique social development projects. Earlier this week, a panel from Pittsburgh Voices of Youth narrowed the projects down to 7 finalists, and “Speak Up Oliver High School” is one of the finalists! It now comes down to a vote, and the top 3 projects with the most votes on March 15th are each awarded up to $15,000 for their project!

To learn more about Oliver PYLA’s project and read about the other 6 finalists, click here:

Please vote for “Speak Up Oliver High School” and help the kids in my after-school program win the grant for their awesome service project idea!


Busy week for PYLA service projects! by katzb

This has been a busy week for PYLA as we race to complete three service projects! As a recap, I work at an after school program called the Pittsburgh Young Leaders Academy at Oliver High School. The program is for 9th and 10th graders, and includes leadership activities, field trips, and service projects, among other things! The program requires that each school complete 10 service projects throughout the school year, and Oliver’s PYLA is in the middle of some big ones!

For the past three sessions, we have been working on making 20 no-sew fleece blankets for “Winter Fun Kits” that the students will be donating to mothers and children at the Sojourner House, a recovery home in East Liberty. We have been working for hours cutting and tieing, and are very close to completing all 20 blankets! The students ended up loving working on the blankets. They often put music on and used the time to relax and unwind after a hectic school day. The Kits will eventually include books and winter accessories; we plan to present the Winter Fun Kits to the Sojournor House in February.

The students are also actively working on another service project aimed at interaction with younger peers. We will be heading to the Providence Family Support Center next Thursday. There, the PYLA students will read to the younger kids, and teach a lesson about Martin Luther King Jr.

As if those two major projects aren’t enough for the PYLA students, a group of them will be painting the inside of a home for a community member this weekend. The students are excited about this opportunity to help a local family, and I think they will enjoy the painting as well!

It has been a busy week for the leaders and students at Oliver’s PYLA, but we are all really enjoying making a positive influence on the community.


Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night by katzb

Last night, we took our students from the Pittsburgh Young Leaders Academy at Oliver High School to Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night for their November field trip. The PYLA students go on a field trip of their choice each month, along with doing service projects and leadership activities. We had originally hoped that they would be able to go ice skating at the rink in PPG Plaza, but we could not get the tickets donated. Despite that, the students were still interested in heading downtown to see the lights and join in the activities.

We took the PAT bus from Oliver High School to downtown and started the evening off in Market Square. The students loved touching and taking pictures next to festive ice sculptures. There were even two huge ice sculptures of the Stanley Cup and the Super Bowl Trophy!

Next, we headed over to the stage adjacent to the ice rink in PPG Plaza where Mike Clark, from WTAE (and professor at Duquense!) was the MC for live performances all evening. We listened to some Christmas music and the students cheered loudly for the performers. A few songs into the performance, the woman singing began singing songs from the 60’s and 70’s, and the students became uninterested! They were ready to move onto to the next activity!


The huge Christmas tree on the ice rink at PPG Plaza.

We wandered around PPG Plaza for a little while longer, snapping pictures of the decorations, and even caught up with Santa Clause! Although the temperature last evening wasn’t unbearably cold, we were getting a little chilly after standing outside for hours. The other Change Leader and I decided to take the kids to the McDonald’s downtown and buy them all hot chocolate. They were very grateful for the warm drink, which made hanging out outside much more bearable!


With out hot chocolates in hand, we hung out by the adjacent street to watch some marching bands walk by. Many of the kids in our PYLA group are in Oliver’s marching band and dance team, so they enjoyed getting to see another band perform, and danced along to the music.

After the band passed by, we decided to head to the student’s respective bus stops to get them on the right PAT busses back to their homes. We directed kids in all directions and spent another hour downtown making sure they had all left and had gotten home safely.

After the students were gone, the other Change Leader and I caught a bus back to Oliver High School where we were parked. On the way back to the Northside, we could see the fireworks from the bus window! It wasn’t a great view, but it was a perfect end to a night of fun! The students sent us text messages all night thanking up for taking them to Light Up Night. Some said they were glad we went even though we couldn’t ice skate, and some even said they had never experienced anything like it before.


My job at the Pittsburgh Young Leaders Academy by katzb

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am working as a “Change Leader” for the Pittsburgh Young Leaders Academy, which is an after-school program for 9th and 10th graders at the Pittsburgh Public Schools. This is our fourth week in the schools, and so far I am really enjoying it! The after-school programs are three hours long, twice a week. It can get tiring, but I always look forward to Tuesday and Thursday afternoons!

We recently completed our first service project with the 9th graders, which is a big component of the program. The students will complete 10 service projects by the end of the school year, all planned and done by them! For this project, the 9th grade PYLA students advertised an anonymous, toll-free number students call to report a weapon or threat in their school. They made posters and flyers to hang around the school, and passed out information, snacks and bracelets at a table during lunchtime to let students know about the 1-866-SPEAK UP telephone number.

As a part of spreading the word about speaking up against violence, the students in PYLA participated in a Student Design Project as a part of National Safe Schools Week. Each student wrote a rap song, poem, or short story about how violence has affected their lives in hopes of encouraging other students to speak up about violence! The students really enjoyed the project and many said it was a good way to get their feelings out. This project was fun, and challenging. Now only 9 more projects to go!

As a part of the program, students also get to go on a field trip each month. PYLA is held in 5 Pittsburgh Public high schools, and all 5 schools independently chose to go to a haunted house this month! We are going to Hundred Acres Manor tomorrow evening, and I am legitimately nervous! The only think I like about Halloween is the candy, and I have never been to a haunted house! I hope the students have fun, but I am scared!