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City’s new lactation rooms part of Gilman’s vision for a family-friendly Pittsburgh

The sixth floor room at the City-County Building dedicated to nursing parents. Image courtesy of Office of Pittsburgh Councilman Dan Gilman
Katy Rank Lev
May01/ 2016

Dan Gilman, City Council representative for Pittsburgh’s District 8, remembers watching his friends and colleagues return to work after having babies and struggle to find a private place to pump their breastmilk. Even before his wife delivered their son, Sam, Gilman noticed women booking conference rooms to use for lactation, where they just had to hope nobody walked in unexpectedly.

“It really hit me how offensive this was to working mothers,” Gilman says. “I saw some of the work other cities were doing to support breast-feeding, and I wanted to see what we could do here in Pittsburgh.”

Gillman sponsored legislation to create two lactation rooms Downtown, one on the first floor of the Civic Building and another on the sixth floor of the City-County Building. The rooms are available to all city employees as well as contractors, jurors, or any member of the public who happens to be using those buildings. Gilman says each room offers a safe, private space for nursing or expression of milk.

The lactation rooms are just one piece of policy in Gilman’s vision for a more family-friendly city. “I think children are on the radar of city government now more than ever before in our city’s history,” he says, pointing to expanding initiatives like the Grub Up food campaign and Learn and Earn, the city’s summer youth employment program. “If you want to build a successful city, you have to have opportunities for everyone to succeed, and that includes everything from prenatal health to support for youth up to age 21.”

Gilman is particularly proud of his work to halt pregnancy discrimination for city employees, noting that Pennsylvania is a state where employers are still able to discriminate against pregnant women or even fire them from their jobs. “Locally, our city employees and contractors are now protected,” Gilman says.

He says he’s hopeful the lactation rooms will make a positive impact on young families, noting everything from expanded opportunities for women to serve jury duty to an easier transition back to work for young parents taking advantage of the city’s paid parental leave. Gilman, whose infant son is just 9 weeks old, says: “I’ve always been passionate about family-friendly policies like universal pre-K and affordable child care, but I didn’t really understand the importance of these issues until the birth of my son.”

Project R.U.N., fitUnited train runners for Pittsburgh kids marathon

Image courtesy of fitUnited
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan
April26/ 2016

A group of 150 kids from the North Side who might not otherwise have the opportunity to run this year’s Toyota of Pittsburgh Kids Marathon will lace up their shoes and head to the starting line on April 30th.

It’s a result of an innovative partnership between fitUnited and Project R.U.N.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 30 percent of school children in Allegheny County are overweight or obese, which could affect their school performance. Kids in underserved communities are particularly at risk.

So fitUnited, a United Way of Southwestern PA program, teamed up with Project R.U.N. (Reaching Underserved Neighborhoods), an initiative of the Kids of STEEL program from Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon, Inc. (P3R) to provide safe, fun exercise and access to healthy snacks for kids.

The fitUnited initiative aims to increase physical activity levels and improve nutrition in kids from birth to age 12. And Project R.U.N. provides complimentary race registrations and transportation to select youth-serving organizations. Children who complete the three-month program receive a new pair of running shoes and free admission to the Toyota Pittsburgh Kids Marathon, says Christine Grady, United Way’s fitUnited program director.

“Through Project R.U.N., we are able to partner with P3R to help young people make healthier decisions through physical activities and smart food choices,” Grady adds.

Last year, fitUnited hosted just one Project R.U.N. site. But in 2016, fitUnited expanded to five programs in the North Side including Providence Family Support Center, Allegheny Elementary, Sarah Heinz House, Bethany House and Allegheny Center Alliance Church.

Grady, who is also a fitUnited coach, meets with kids at Allegheny Elementary to help them train every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. In addition to building their endurance, kids in the fitUnited program are also introduced to new and healthy snacks.

“The kids at our site were chomping on bok choy at 8 a.m. in the morning and loving it!” said Grady. “And at other sites, nutritionists have been doing food tastings and cooking demos with parents.”

Next year, fitUnited hopes to offer training at more sites, but will need more than volunteers.

“We’re really looking for funding to help us expand the program next year,” says Grady. “We’re looking for corporate and individual donors who want to help buy a child a pair of running shoes or cover their registration fee, but also to volunteer to run with them.”

It’s been a long road, but Grady has seen these kids make amazing progress.

“The very first week we did one circuit of the gym and there was a lot of complaining. Now they are doing 10 circuits of the gym,” says Grady. “Running with the children makes running more enjoyable despite the fact that it’s 7:30 a.m. For someone who is interested in being active and giving back to the community, it’s very rewarding.”

For information on how to volunteer, email Christine Grady.

White House recognizes local STEM learning efforts

Ready Jet Go! will debut on PBS on Feb. 15. Image courtesy of WQED.
Melanie Cox McCluskey
April25/ 2016

The White House announced its support of early STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) learning for America’s youngest children this week, including the efforts of several Pittsburgh-based organizations, partnerships and initiatives.

These groups, celebrated by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services and Invest in U.S., include:

  • The Sprout Fund, which has teamed up with ASSET STEM Education, Pew Fund for Health and human services, the Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood and Pennsylvania Southeast Regional Key to reach more than 1,000 educators nationwide by 2020 with STEM-focused support.
  • The Grable Foundation, which promised to invest $1 million to encourage early STEM learning through the development of robust, hands-on activities for young children. This funding will also support early educators who incorporate technology and those studying how STEM topics can play a constructive role for children.
  • The Peg + Cat Early Learning of Math Through Media (ELM2) Project will design and distribute resource guides on early mathematics to 80 educators and 1,500 children in Head Start programs. ELM2 grew out of a partnership among The Fred Rogers Company, The Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Head Start and Math and Science Collaborative, the University of Pittsburgh’s Collaborative for Evaluation and Assessment Capacity and Rockman, with funding from the National Science Foundation. ELM2 integrates animated math-based PBS television show Peg + Cat,
  • Ready Jet Go!, another PBS Kids show, is heading into its second season armed with digital resources like a free app in English and Spanish that lets kids explore the night sky on their phone or table.
  • Frazier School District also committed to launching new STEM initiatives for the 2016-17 school year. The rural district in northwestern Fayette County plans to review curriculum and resources, to develop its staff’s technology skills and to bring more parents into the school for workshops to increase STEM activities at home and in the community.

The White House received over 200 submissions of innovative STEM work from across the country and recognized the work of state and local entities, foundations, nonprofits, media organizations, technology companies, research institutions and museums. In addition to the public and private sector groups across the country that are stepping up their STEM presence, federal agencies are taking the following actions:

  • funding new research grants for early elementary science
  • creating STEM tip sheets and resources
  • inviting public comment on a technology policy statement
  • studying how television and digital media can support math learning for young children
  • creating learning activities based on NASA astronaut training.

8 questions for local teen lit author Siobhan Vivian

Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Melanie Cox McCluskey
April22/ 2016

Highland Park-based writer Siobhan Vivian is looking forward to the April 26th launch of her seventh young adult novel, The Last Boy and Girl in the World, published by Simon & Schuster.

Kidsburgh talks with Vivian about writing for teenage girls, raising a family in Pittsburgh and juggling deadlines with the needs of a newborn.

Your new book, The Last Girl and Boy in the World, takes place in a small Pennsylvania town. Can you talk about the setting?

[The book]’s not necessarily set in Pennsylvania, but it’s inspired by Pennsylvania and the town formerly known as Livermore, Pa., which is up the river. In the 1930s, it suffered a severe flood and the government figured out that it wasn’t safe for people to live there. It was a poor town so they decided to buy out everyone and dam the river and create the lake and protect the interest of Pittsburgh. A friend did a painting of a bunch of young girls staring at the water. You could see the roofs of houses in the water. I started to think about what it would be like to have a mass exodus of a town. I thought it would be like senioritis on steroids.

I could read the names of the people who lived there and how much they settled for. All evidence of this town is gone. I felt like the place was truly forgotten because it’s been gone for so long. This was once a vibrant town full of people.

You’ve been writing young adult literature for 10 years now. Why does this genre appeal to you?

I can’t imagine writing anything else. The energy and the stakes that come from young people discovering who they are and what they’re going to be is such a rich place to explore as a writer. There’s this magical thing. Some people dismissively say every young adult story is a romance or every story is a coming of age. But everybody falls in love for the first time and everybody has their heart broken for the first time. I don’t think those experiences are the same for everyone. You feel that no one is hurting as bad as you. It leads you to discover who you want to be. I love the voice of young adult literature. That’s where my voice leads me.

How does living in Pittsburgh influence your work?

I wrote my last solo book called The List very soon after I left New York and moved here and that was influenced by Pittsburgh as well. I love living in Pittsburgh because living in New York, if you told anyone you were a writer, they were not impressed. It is more of a special thing here. It has opened up other things for me. (The University of Pittsburgh) always wanted a Writing for Children class in their English department, but they just didn’t have anyone to teach it. I’m always falling into opportunities here that would be less forthcoming than other places.

What are the undergrads like in your Writing for Children class at the University of Pittsburgh?

I love my class. It’s full of people who don’t get there accidentally. It’s all kids who want to write books for teenagers. They feel embarrassed or shy to share that in a regular fiction workshop. Sometimes they’re dismissed by their peers for being juvenile, but when they come to my class, it’s a meeting of like-minded people. It’s a really warm place to create, and everyone’s super enthusiastic.

How is your work different from what else is out there for teens and young adults to read?

I write books for girls. I like realistic books for girls that feel real to me. When I was an editor, I edited a lot of “rich girl” books. That was not my life and was not the life of anyone I knew. I wanted to set my compass to telling the authentic stories of teenage girls. My work embraces a feminist message. I’m more inspired by the relationship between girls than romance. When I was in high school, I could fall in love with a different boy every day. But when my friends were upset with me, those were the things that turned my stomach. I like to explore the complexities between girls and what it means to be a girl in this moment.

You recently had a baby. What’s it been like juggling a young family with finishing up a novel?

Horrible (laughs). I did two of the final drafts when Marie was three weeks old. My mom moved in, and I had a babysitter. I worked all day long from 9 to 9 and then I’d be up all night with Marie. I made time to do the work. Things have settled down now that Marie is 10 months old. I’m working on a new book. I wouldn’t duplicate that situation of finishing a book with a newborn and a 2-year-old. But I can’t complain.

Why did you choose Pittsburgh?

My husband grew up in Evans City. Nick and I met in New York, and he was always speaking affectionately about a magical place called Pittsburgh where houses were affordable. I had never spent much time here, but we lost our apartment and made the move. I can work remotely from wherever I am, and I fell in love with [Pittsburgh] super-fast. I took to it quickly and I’m super prideful of Pittsburgh. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Any favorite spots in the city?

Every morning I walk to my local coffee shop, Tazza D’Oro. And I have 15 places that I cycle through with my kids. One of my new favorites is Hatch Art Studio. I’ve been there twice with Viv. It’s fun to make a mess in a place that’s not my house.

The public is invited to a family-friendly launch party and book signing for The Last Boy and Girl in the World at 6 p.m. April 26 at Livermore in East Liberty. Vivian will also speak at a Made Local event for the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Series on July 26th at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Main Branch in Oakland. She’ll appear at the B&N Teen Book Fest on June 11th at the Barnes & Noble in Settlers Ridge, Robinson Township.

The Bartko Foundation empowers single moms in Pittsburgh

The Bartko Foundation hosts Irene's Dream Luncheon & Boutique Shopping
Deanna Lee
April21/ 2016

Five years ago, Tamika Dawkins and her 2-year-old daughter were living in a small apartment in Pittsburgh. She was a single mom with little money and resources, and she was living with stage-three renal failure. “A friend told me about the Bartko Foundation,” she says. “And since the summer of 2011, my life has been forever changed.”

The Bartko Foundation provides financial support to single, minority mothers like Dawkins, helping them succeed and achieve self-sufficiency. It was founded by the family of Ted and Irene Bartko, who were committed to generosity and supporting others as they watched their own family grow and prosper over their lifetime. In the spirit of Ted and Irene, the Bartko family wanted to give back to women in the community who did not have the same opportunities as they did.

Since its founding, the Bartko Foundation has helped more than 300 women and their children overcome hardship and achieve financial independence—awarding more than 1 million dollars in grants for education, employment, housing and transportation.

The Bartko Foundation works with local agencies, charities and churches to connect with individuals who are already working on self-sufficiency goals. Once a woman is identified by an agency as a potential candidate, she may submit a request to the foundation for possible funding. Successful applicants are those who are taking active steps in their journey toward self-sufficiency.

The need for supporting struggling women in the Pittsburgh region is very real: According to the Pennsylvania Self-Sufficiency Standard, a Pittsburgh family of one adult, infant and preschooler needs $49,504 annually without public or private assistance to be considered self-sufficient. With an average income of $36,726 for all full-time women in Pittsburgh, four out of 10 families headed by single mothers in Pittsburgh live in poverty.

To continue fighting this statistic, the Bartko Foundation seeks support from the community. There are three annual fundraising events each year, including Irene’s Dream Luncheon & Boutique Shopping, which was held this year on April 16th at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh.

At the luncheon, guests heard success stories from moms like Tamika Dawkins’, whose own story is ongoing: Since connecting with the Bartko Foundation, she has her own home, has earned her bachelor’s degree from Point Park University and is also working toward her master’s degree. “Bartko does not give handouts,” she says. “They help in a way that lifts women up and empowers them to raise standards in their lives and relationships. They helped me gain confidence to believe in myself and go after my dreams again.”

Featured Image: The Bartko Foundation hosted its annual fundraising event, Irene’s Dream Luncheon & Boutique, on April 16, 2016, at the Fairmont Hotel. Photo courtesy of the Bartko Foundation.

The best ways for kids to enjoy Pirate games and Riverhounds games

Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Christopher Keough
April15/ 2016

Hope springs eternal this time of year. We can hope for a mild summer where it rains only while we’re sleeping, the mosquitoes are lazy and the grass stays green. Most of us also hope the Pirates will continue their winning ways and the Riverhounds can best last year’s 11 wins. And we can hope that Pittsburgh family outings to PNC Park on the North Shore and Highmark Stadium near Station Square result in the sort of family fun that makes Pittsburgh a great place to raise kids.

Pittsburgh’s professional baseball and soccer teams are doing their best to create safe and fun opportunities for families to take in games. Some attractions are obvious, some less so.

Pirates Director of Group Sales and Hospitality Cassie Wilkinson says the team has 13 kids’ days scheduled throughout the spring and summer. These Sunday events begin two and a half hours before first pitch with a street party on Federal Street featuring inflatables, face painting, games and kid-oriented activities.

Greg Umbras of Mt. Lebanon says his boys Leo, Auggie, and Solomon enjoy taking the Gateway Clipper to PNC Park, so they park at Station Square and catch the ferry. The panoramic view includes the Water Steps and Canal Square at North Shore Riverfront Park. Those stops are a carrot for postgame, assuming everyone’s managed to hold it together. After all, nine innings can be a long time for kids to stay engaged.

Image courtesy of Greg Umbras
Image courtesy of Greg Umbras

What about once you’re inside? Anyone who’s ever taken little kids to PNC Park knows about the climbing apparatus and mini-PNC field of Highmark Kids Zone just inside the Right Field Gate. But veteran PNC Park chaperones know to take their charges to Bucaroos Concession Stand near the Highmark Legacy Square Gate, where you can get kid-sized portions and family-friendly prices for fries (both chicken and French), hot dogs, popcorn and the like.

On languid summer evenings, parents can turn to the many between-inning features that youngsters can play along with: The Chik-fil-A Spot the Cow after the second, the Pirate Legends Treasure Hunt on the scoreboard after the fourth, and, of course, the pierogi race after the fifth.

Image courtesy of Greg Umbras
Image courtesy of Greg Umbras

Seth Mundorff of Finleyville says he developed his own between-inning strategy to keep his girls Zoey and Addison from going off the rails. He figures it’s best to be preemptive.

“Plan a different activity for each inning break,” he says. “Maybe it’s food after the second, a Pirates gear store after the third, a bathroom break in the fourth.”

The strategy has its downside, of course.

“Such a schedule of running around probably means that you’ll get to see far less of the game yourself,” Mundorff says. “But if you were going to the Pirate game to watch baseball, then you wouldn’t have taken the kids in the first place.”

After each Sunday matinee game, kids 14 and younger can run the bases. Yeah, the same bases on the field their heroes just competed on. The line for this activity starts forming in the eighth inning right around that kids zone at the Right Field Gate. The line only looks intimidating, though. It starts moving as soon as the teams are off the field, (about 20 minutes or so after the last out) and takes less than an hour to get everyone through.

“My best suggestion is to get there early, get in line, and let your kids enjoy the kids zone while you wait in line,” Wilkinson says.

The Riverhounds

Over on the South Shore, the Riverhounds offer their own family experience.

“Coming to a Riverhounds game is a really family-friendly experience,” says Riverhounds Marketing Director Rachel Vigliotti. “For starters, you always know how long the game is going to be. Ninety minutes is perfect for kids.”

Kids are built into the fabric of the Riverhounds operation, Vigliotti said. The team runs summer camps and has the Riverhounds Development Academy, a skills-oriented training academy for kids from 3 to 17 years old. And, with a capacity of 3,400, Highmark Stadium is an intimate venue, fostering pleasant crowds that are the antithesis of the football hooligans of British lore.

“You can let your kid run around here and don’t have to worry about beer getting spilled on their head,” she said. “Once we get people in here we want them to have a good time and want to come back.”

Aside from efforts to build family into the main product, the Riverhounds also have scheduled several kid- and family-specific events throughout the soccer season.

Kids Days at Highmark are slated for May 7th, July 23rd, Aug. 13th and Sept. 24th, when one child gets in free per ticket-holding parent. On superhero night May 7th, any kid – or adult — in costume gets 25 percent off at the gate.

Stadium officials are working to bring back the spirit of the Kids Zone near the entrance gates with bounce houses and face painting, Vigliotti says. Some of the Kids Days also will include partnerships with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and Kennywood. Representatives will be on hand with tables, mascots and giveaways like family four packs to the zoo and Kennywood.

“We’re looking to build on that,” Vigliotti said. “We’re playing around with some ideas for halftime—skills tests and that sort of thing.”

Jennifer Davis of South Fayette Township says she’s always got a couple of tricks up her sleeve in the event her kids, Brynn and Dylan, start to get antsy at Highmark Stadium.

“Our kids really like the autograph session with the players on the field after the game,” she says. “We use that as a bargaining chip for good behavior.”

Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Riverhounds





Riverhounds Kids Days

May 7th:          Superhero Night (mini travel bag giveaway and 25 percent off for wearing a costume)

July 23rd:         Book It Night (25 percent off with book donation for the book drive)

Aug. 13th:        Youth Sports Night ($5 off tickets for youth sports teams)

Sept. 24th:       Fan Appreciation Night (beanie hat giveaway)

Image courtesy of Greg Umbras
Image courtesy of Greg Umbras

Kids Days at PNC Park

April 17th: Josh Harrison Gnome

May 1st: Andrew McCutchen Silver Slugger Plastic Bat

May 22nd: Portable Speaker

June 5th: Pillbox Cap

June 12th: Tech T-Shirt

June 26th: Andrew McCutchen New Replica Alternate Jersey

July 10th: Francisco Cervelli Wall Decals

July 24th: Josh Harrison Wall Decals

Aug. 7th: Starling Marte Wall Decals

Aug. 21st: W.B. Mason Collectible Truck

Sept. 4th: Flat Bill Snapback Cap

Sept. 11th: OYO Buildable Figurine

Sept. 25th: Drawstring Bag

Image courtesy of PNC Park
Image courtesy of PNC Park

Pirates In-Game Features

Middle of 2nd Inning:   Highmark Feature with activities like Body by the Bird, Pictionary and more.

End of 2nd Inning:       Spot the Cow

End of 3rd Inning:        La Roche Know the Bird Quiz

End of 4th Inning:        Pirate Legends Treasure Hunt

Middle of 5th Inning:    Pierogi Race

End of 5th Inning:          T-Shirt Toss

Middle of 6th Inning:      Beat the Bucco



How important is breakfast to our school kids? An Allies for Children report links breakfast to learning.

Image courtesy of Allies for Children
Tina Tuminella
April14/ 2016

At Grandview Upper Elementary, Principal Kimberly Price sees the school’s breakfast program as the safe, friendly beginning of a focused, engaged morning of learning.

“Students start the day eating together,” Price says. “Knowing there is always enough food seems to help our students relax and focus on their most important jobs: learning and growing.”

At Highlands School District, where Price works, the number of students eating breakfast grew from 170 to 465 since the program began at the start of the 2015-16 school year. That figure is just one revealing statistic uncovered in a recent report on school breakfast consumption in Allegheny County.

Allies for Children, a local nonprofit dedicated to putting the needs and interests of children at the center of policy discussions, released the study in conjunction with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The report highlights how changes in school policy can increase the number of breakfasts served and ultimately, how policy changes can help combat childhood hunger. Data was obtained through interviews and on-site observations at schools using alternative breakfast models.

Researchers point to schools serving breakfasts as a tool in improving educational environments, helping children learn and enhancing overall health. Erika Fricke, Allies for Children health policy director, points out that “adults who care about the health and education of children identify school breakfast as a key component of student’s overall learning, so we already knew our goal: to make sure children eat. The study helped show us what’s happening now and what schools could try differently. We heard from schools that trying alternative breakfast models can be difficult at first, but can work wonderfully once the kinks get worked out. We also learned that serving breakfast beyond the traditional few minutes before school in the cafeteria can increase the number of breakfasts served–sometimes dramatically.”

Image courtesy of Allies for Children
Image courtesy of Allies for Children

School districts vary greatly in the percentage of breakfasts served, and within a single district, wide variation can occur. The report highlights how Pittsburgh Public Schools has implemented the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), an option that allows schools with high poverty rates the chance to serve free breakfast to all students.

CEP eliminates the application for free and reduced meals and therefore can reduce the stigma associated with program participation. At the same time, administrative costs for schools are reduced. Food service employees no longer need to collect unpaid fees from families, a job they never wanted in the first place. Allegheny County districts not participating in CEP stand to lose hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, in uncollected bills annually.

Out of the top 10 school districts for breakfast consumption in Allegheny County, nine rely on CEP to finance their breakfast programs. Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, recognizes that “healthy eating is critical for all children and providing meals at school is one important way to help all of our children, particularly the most vulnerable, succeed academically while also improving their health.”

Image courtesy of Allies for Children
Image courtesy of Allies for Children

Out of 73 large school districts surveyed in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Public Schools was one of only 23 districts that hit the desired target of 70 low-income students eating school breakfast for every 100 low-income students eating school lunch.

Within Allegheny County, 58 individual schools met this goal, witnessing an overall increase in the number of students participating in school breakfast programs.

Millvale Community Library celebrates the heroes who made it happen

Millvale Community Library
Anne Trabandt
April11/ 2016

“You are nuts. But in a good way.”

Those words began a partnership that created an outlet for creativity and exploration in a hard-working and underserved borough: the Millvale Community Library. Grable Foundation Executive Director Gregg Behr spoke those words before agreeing to help fund a project that many others declined. Over the next few years, an old abandoned electronics store morphed into Millvale’s only library, a place that hosts 15,000 people every year.

On April 15, the library’s Celebration of Learning and Innovation will honor Behr and MCL Executive Director Lisa Seel for their contributions to the library.

“The library represents a pillar that was missing in the community,” Seel says. “A place where folks are treated equitably and given agency to change or affect their surroundings.”

Millvale Community Library
Image courtesy of Millvale Community Library

Children are a major focus of library programming. In addition to weekly story hours, music and teen book clubs, the Millvale Makers program has really taken off. MCL teamed up with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Makeshop to stoke the creativity of kids of all ages through hands-on creation.

MCL also wants to make sure kids’ brains don’t take a prolonged vacation this summer. They are offering a summer camp session focused on technology, art, making and social interaction.

Two and a half years after opening its doors, the library still faces funding and staffing challenges. But library founder Brian Wolovich says the obstacles they have already overcome prove that the sky really is the limit for the people of Millvale. Building the library took thousands of volunteers, tens of thousands of labor hours and generous donations. The upcoming Celebration of Learning and Innovation will honor all of these contributions.

“We cannot emphasize enough how much the leadership and support from Gregg Behr and The Grable Foundation and Lisa Seel’s constant commitment has made,” says Wolovich.

Witnessing the library’s successes makes taking a chance on a lofty project worthwhile.  “All of us at The Grable Foundation are honored to support the Millvale Community Library,” Behr says, “a library at the forefront nationally of reimagining what a community library can be in service to children and families in the 21st century.”

Woolslair Mosaic builds “a mosaic of community” as it teaches kids valuable skills

This month’s Remake Learning: Woolslair Mosaic builds community
Kidsburgh Staff
April10/ 2016

The room is quiet as little hands are busy. They’re cutting tile. Applying paste to colorful clay pieces, all shapes and sizes. Placing them carefully on a beautifully outlined design. The third graders at Pittsburgh Public Schools Woolslair PreK-5 are working hard to complete about a half dozen fun, fantastic mosaics that together form, as one explains, “a mosaic of our school and our community.”

It’s a wonderful project that’s happening this spring in Joseph McLaughlin’s class, located in the really cool building on 40th Street, on the border between Lawrenceville and Bloomfield. Joe is a veteran public school teacher – he has 23 years under his belt and seven at Woolslair – and he’s part of his school’s new STEAM focus. The historic school was slated to close two years ago, but parents, the school’s administration and community activists worked hard to keep Woolslair open. It was named a “magnet” school and is one of a handful around the city that is focused on STEAM education – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

The mosaic is a collaboration between Joseph and Laura Jean McLaughlin, a noted area mosaic artist whose work can be found all over the city – in places like Whole Foods in East Liberty, the Montessori School and other Pittsburgh Public Schools. You might have noticed that she shares the same last name as Woolslair’s third grade teacher, and you’re right: the two are brother and sister.

“My brother talked with me about a potential collaboration,” Laura Jean explains. She’s an artist-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and when the opportunity to collaborate with her brother appeared, she jumped at the chance. The project is being supported by PCA and the STEAM initiative through PPS, and it brings together many different STEAM aspects.

“Each nine weeks we’ve been working on a project related to STEAM, so this project really pulls in a lot of different areas. It pulls in math when we were first measuring and deciding how the sections were going to be put together,” Joe explains. “Even cutting tiles, I’ve been talking about what shapes are these, because they’ve been learning about polygons and quadrilaterals and hexagons.”

The students are incorporating art as they complete the mosaic – they had a big hand in its design — and they’re going to do a personal narrative or writing piece when they’ve finished about their experiences.

“And it also pulled in what we’ve been doing at Arsenal Park at our last STEAM project on geocaching,” Joe adds.

Laura Jean is in residency with the kids for 10 weeks. The project began with the students playing “surrealist” games to “loosen them up creatively,” she says. She then showed them a presentation about different mosaics over the ages “and we talked about how something that they created or their story can last for a long time.” She taught them about clay, they did measuring and math, and they learned about their community and the surrounding area in preparation for their eventual mosaic.

“They all did drawings of what they thought should be in the mosaic, and then I took all their drawings and came up with a cohesive design using as many of their ideas as possible,” Laura Jean explains. “And then I drew it out and they helped paint it in.” When we visited, the class was busy breaking tiles and placing them on the mosaic, now in several sections.

“Since it’s focusing on community, the students came up with their ideas of what community is, so there are scenes of when we go to Arsenal Park, which is right down the street, there’s a school bus, the school is included, and we have some STEAM related items,” Joe adds. “Just a lot of things that they think go in together to make a community.”

The completed mosaic will hang by the school’s library, downstairs from their classroom. It’s large – it will measure 15 feet by 6 feet – and it will be a permanent fixture in the school.

“You’ll always remember what you did in third grade when you see it,” one little third grader observes. “I put that one in,” another adds, proudly pointing to his tiles.

“This is a pretty big project; it’s been a learning experience for me, too, but they love it and I keep telling them, you know when this is finished you’re going to see it on the wall, and say, I did that,” Joe says. “And we’re also going to be pulling in some students from other classes to add some tile so the whole school is going to be participating.”

This article originally appeared on WQED’s website for the Remake Learning Series, a multimedia partnership of NEXTpittsburgh, Pittsburgh Magazine and WESA. 

Barriers to breastfeeding exist despite education efforts

Connor Mulvaney for PublicSource. 20160223. Donated breast milk is stored in freezers awaiting to be pasteurized the lab at Three Rivers Mother's Milk Bank in the Strip District. Milk donations from the bank are mostly given to babies that have been born prematurely at local hospitals. Andrea Frazier.
Kidsburgh Staff
April08/ 2016

By Andrea Frazier for PublicSource

When Elizabeth Janci’s son, Rudy, was born in a Pittsburgh hospital in 2011, he spent seven days in the NICU, where she says nurses discouraged her from breastfeeding.

“As a first-time mom, I was just flailing,” Janci said.

The nurses implored Janci to pump and feed her son breast milk from a bottle, claiming this was necessary to measure his meals. Later, she learned they could have done this by weighing the baby before and after he nursed.

“That made it so he was used to the bottle nipple and bottle flow before we had any kind of breastfeeding relationship established,” she said.

Although Janci went on to successfully breastfeed, a federal health survey found that only 15 percent of Pennsylvania mothers breastfed without supplementing with formula until their babies were six months old, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

And with Pennsylvania’s breastfeeding rates below the national average — when the United States already lags behind other developed countries — the state stepped in one year ago by establishing the Keystone 10.

Of 102 eligible facilities in Pennsylvania, 69 hospitals and birthing centers signed on to the initiative, signaling that over an estimated three to five years they’ll implement procedures that encourage successful breastfeeding.

Because many new moms may be the first in their families to attempt to breastfeed for generations and often lack knowledge and support, all while experiencing societal and workplace pressures, medical professionals say too few infants are reaping the lifelong health benefits of breastfeeding.

Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma, ear infections, diarrhea and pneumonia; breast milk may also help to avoid sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or obesity.

In addition to the Keystone 10, advocates are championing a bill that would ensure all women — both wage workers and salaried professionals — have accommodations to pump at work.

“Breastfeeding is not just a lifestyle choice for a mom; it’s actually a very critical decision for the infant,” said Dr. Jennifer Zarit, interim medical director at the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh, which offers lactation consulting and classes.

‘Intense to learn’

When her daughter, Lucy, was born in 2004, Angel Vogel didn’t know she had to pump her milk regularly to continue to produce it.

By the time she realized her mistake, her supply had nearly disappeared. Vogel, a nurse from Baldwin, spent five months trying to cultivate a breastfeeding relationship with her daughter before giving up.

Angel Vogel watches her daughter, Lucy, play in their Baldwin home. Vogel had difficulty breastfeeding Lucy, who is now 11 years old, but she was able to breastfeed her younger son, Sam, with guidance from La Leche League. (Photo by Connor Mulvaney/PublicSource)

“My mom had not breastfed me; my husband’s mom had not breastfed him; I didn’t have any friends that breastfed their kids, so it was just something new,” she said.

Now, Vogel is a leader at the South Hills chapter of La LecheLeague International, an organization that educates moms who want to breastfeed.

According to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73 percent of infants born in 2011 in Pennsylvania breastfed at least once, compared to 79 percent in the United States.

We live in a “bottle-feeding culture,” and breastfeeding can be a strange concept to some, said Mary Unfar, a lactation consultant with the Allegheny County Health Department’s WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program.

When WIC displayed a photo of Beyoncé nursing in its office, “that did more for breastfeeding than what we could have done for probably six years,” said Diane Eberle, the WIC program’s public health nutrition administrator.

Dr. Debra Bogen, a physician and associate professor of pediatrics at UMPC’s Magee Women’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, said: “If Dad [and Grandma say] to Mom, ‘I really want you to breastfeed,’ that’s a powerful message. If your community says breasts are for sex and not lactation, that’s a powerful message.”

Without targeted intervention and education efforts, families that have been choosing formula over breastfeeding for generations will continue to do so.

“It’s intense to learn how to breastfeed,”  said Dr. Loren Robinson, deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “You’ll see commercials on TV about [formula]… and it’s a lot easier to buy the formula…than to put this angst and energy and time into breastfeeding.”

Tanya Sloan’s, daughter, Ella, struggled to latch onto her breast after coming home from the hospital in December. Until five weeks later, the baby preferred the bottle because of her trouble latching.

“I felt heartbroken, I felt rejected,” Sloan, of Highland Park, said. “I cried a lot.”

With help from support systems like La Leche League, Sloan was able to nurse her daughter at the breast before returning to work. Now, she’s pumping during work and breastfeeding Ella whenever the two are together.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages new moms to breastfeed except in rare situations, like if they have HIV or are using drugs.

However, breastfeeding can be more challenging or impossible for some women.

A condition that affects about 1 to 5 percent of women prevents some mothers from being able to produce enough milk for a baby. Other health issues, like hormonal imbalances or a history of breast reduction or radiation, can also make breastfeeding problematic, Dr. Jill Demirci, a lactation consultant at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, wrote in an email.

Infants breastfed at least once in their life

Infants still breastfeeding at 6 months

Infants still breastfeeding at 12 months

Infants exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months

Infants exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months

Breastfed infants receiving formula before 2 days of age

Graphics by Natasha Khan / PublicSource


A 2013 voluntary CDC survey on infant feeding care processes found only 29 percent of participating Pennsylvania birthing facilities were adhering to guidelines “against routine supplementation with formula, glucose water, or water.”

The Keystone 10 aims to correct deficiencies like this.

“It’s all about the better you do at the hospital, the better you will do at home,” Bogen of UPMC said.

That includes helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within an hour of birth and encouraging the mother and baby to stay together 24 hours a day.

If a mom initially has a low milk supply, Bogen said, the doctor can suggest obtaining donor breast milk, which Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank began providing to NICU babies in January. This communicates the importance of breast milk.

Lea Walls, the clinical director of Uniontown Hospital’s Family Beginnings Birthing Center, which is implementing the Keystone 10, said some of the initiative’s tenets—such as the stipulation that babies not receive formula unless medically indicated—can be divisive.

“People say… ‘Don’t make me feel like I was a bad mother because I went to formula,’” she said. “Some people feel that [breastfeeding] is just being forced on them.”

Some believe the benefits of breast milk have been overstated. A 2014 study that included siblings with one who was breastfed and the other who received formula found indicators of health and well-being may be attributable to upbringing rather than nursing. The two populations showed little or no difference in categories like math skills, hyperactivity and obesity.

Uniontown Hospital is preparing to submit data for nine of the 10 steps for approval, Walls said. The final step is especially challenging: fostering the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and referring mothers to them. The hospital will likely have to start its own because there are no existing groups in the area, she said.

Everyone at the hospital has had to change their habits.

“Not just nurses — doctors, anesthesiologists, the patients, the patient’s family,” Walls said. “Because we’ve gone out of the breastfeeding mode, where grandma, mom and everybody did. And now these patients are pioneers sometimes.”

Race has also affected breastfeeding rates.

In Allegheny County in 2012, the health department reported about 55 percent of new black mothers initiated breastfeeding, while 74 percent of their white counterparts did.

That could have an influence on the higher rate of infant mortality among blacks in Allegheny County. Demirci said breastfeeding directly reduces the risk of two large contributors to infant mortality: SIDS and complications associated with premature delivery.

Protections, or lack thereof

Paige Beauchemin, who took 12 weeks of partially paid leave when her first baby, Gus, was born in 2012, said she can’t imagine how tough it is for new moms to return to work earlier than that.

She pumps for her baby daughter, Ruth, during her job at the Midwife Center for Birth & Women’s Health in Pittsburgh, a workplace that’s especially friendly to employees’ pregnancy and child-rearing needs.

Pennsylvania does not do enough to protect moms who are working and breastfeeding, said Amal Bass, a staff attorney with the nonprofit Women’s Law Project based in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Paige Beauchemin, a nurse at the Midwife Center for Birth & Women’s Health in Pittsburgh, looks at pictures of her children while pumping breast milk at work for her 1-year-old daughter, Ruth. Seeing their kids can help mothers pump breast milk, she said. (Photo by Connor Mulvaney/PublicSource)

While federal law requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide hourly workers with break time to pump their milk, many salaried women are not protected.

Even though Pennsylvania factory worker Bobbi Bockoras should have been covered under the federal law, she filed a lawsuit in 2013 because she was expected to breastfeed in unsanitary areas, including an old locker room with dead bugs covering the floor. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2014.

Bass has advocated for a Pennsylvania bill that, if passed, would ensure that all women have a sanitary, private place to pump that is not a bathroom. All employers would be required to accommodate breastfeeding moms, including salaried workers not currently protected under federal law — unless it would mean “undue hardship” for small employers.

Opponents in the business community argued at an October House committee hearing that the proposed legislation opens businesses up to frivolous lawsuits.

Federal law guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave to women who have worked at least 12 months and 1,250 hours for larger companies. Others are forced to cobble together other types of time off to stay with their babies.

Many other advanced countries offer paid maternity leave; mothers are offered 39 weeks in the United Kingdom.

The only breastfeeding law in Pennsylvania protects a woman’s right to breastfeed in any public or private location where they have the right to be.

In contrast, California has a spate of laws associated with breastfeeding that include requiring the Department of Public Health to promote breastfeeding and mandating employers provide time and space for employees to pump breast milk.

There, 93 percent of babies were breastfed at least once in 2011, a figure that towers over Pennsylvania’s 73 percent.

“People aren’t different in California than they are in Pennsylvania; it’s the systems in place and the culture that’s different,” Bogen said. “If the whole community doesn’t think it’s important, it doesn’t happen.”

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation has contributed funding to PublicSource’s healthcare reporting.

Reach freelancer Andrea Frazier at andreanfrazier@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @andfraz.