We're Not Monessen Around - Hear Me in the lives of teens

Jeff Baron and I just finished setting up the microphones in Monessen when students began trickling in.   Up came a blonde girl named Alisha with bright, though slightly downcast, blue eyes.  I asked, "Are you ready to share your story about bullying?" She answered, somewhat hurriedly, "No, I am going to share about the shelter!" - then launched into an accounting of her life with older brother as abandoned (then reclaimed) siblings. Texas, Belle Vernon, Monessen, mother, father, shelter, grandmother.  What amazed me during this journey of a story was that she did not tear up or feel sorry for herself, and neither did we - we sat still, enrapt, moved along by this teen's clarity and vulnerability.  Her teacher, Mary Dodaro, said Alisha wanted to be on the Hear Me youth leadership team.  And, she is.

Next, an eighth-grade student named Brian.  Toni, the guidance counselor at Greensburg-Salem, set up Hear Me as an opportunity to hear directly about how youth really feel about moving on to high school.  Brian was absolutely clear that he would fail Spanish, lose all of his friends, and ninth grade surely would end up a debacle - no confidence.  The school principal listened to Brian's story, said, "This cannot be," and found him in his classroom.  The Principal personally drove him to the high school to show him every inch of the building, showing Brian the reality that he can and will succeed.

Finally, last night on the way to teach, I got a text: "I gotta talk to you about college. ms. jen I want to go to college.  I kno I got what it takes bt my grades aren't the greatest! so what should I do?"  Hey, Michael, meet me on Monday after school and let's start - "let's start to start," as my mother used to say to me.

What does it mean to create opportunity?  I used to think that opportunity was linked to chance - being in the right place at the right time, or "options," but the more I work on this project, it is the simple acts of listening and responding that open up a world of possibility.  Not just for the youth, but for us busy, jaded grown ups - how we can see a situation anew because a child shared their story.  That's the opportunity of this project - hear me!

- "No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you." Althea Gibson

He Never Forgets to be Awesome

Devontay and Jen went to the John Green presentation at the Carnegie Lecture Hall on January 28.  John Green presented as part of the Drue Heinz Lecture Series, White, Blue and Read All Over.  They were blown away by the 500 enthusiastic John Green fans in attendance (John said this was the biggest crowd he has ever spoken in front of!).  There was also a strong showing of NerdFighters- people of all ages who vow to “increase awesome and decrease suck.”  One way NerdFighters do this is by following the authors of their favorite books.  They even started chanting for him before his presentation!

After his presentation, Devontay and Jen recorded young adults’ reflections on the lecture.  They were thrilled to have an outlet for their excitement over meeting their favorite author.  There was a line at the Hear Me table of youth waiting to record their stories.  Devontay interviewed one girl who had been a NerdFighter for 3 years and was seeing John Green for the second time; after seeing him again she remarked that John Green “never forgets to be awesome.”  

Linden Academy Students Visit SLB

On Friday, December 17 we had the pleasure of hosting 12 elementary students from Linden Academy (Point Breeze) at our SLB studios, as part of a winter field trip.  The students varied between 3rd and 5th grade, yet all shared the same enthusiasm for learning about audio technology.  While attempting to ingrain all of their names into memory as I am wont to do, I taught them the studio basics: proper microphone technique, active listening, enunciation, projection and the principles of sound waves.  It's always such a pleasure to watch young people react to hearing their recorded voices. Linden students were attentive, respectful and most importantly, engaged as we began to record their "Hopes for 2011."  Prior to our field trip, I had sent their teacher an attachment containing our New Year's QuickStory worksheet for advanced preparation.  This proved quite helpful, as each student's hopes were well thought out and articulate.  Many of these will be featured in our StoryBox gallery at Pittsburgh's First Night, as well as on Tell-Port.  I highly value my time with these students and recommend that others visit Tell-Port to get involved with HearMe.

-Jeff Baron, Director of Education, SLB

Math (and Science) in the Afternoon

Saturday, December 11, I spent a few hours with some wonderful girls at the Carnegie Science Center.  I visited the Girls, Math and Science Partnership’s Arts and Craft program to talk with these young ladies a little more about their experiences with math and science.  Although it was a short visit, they taught me a lot about how much students crave math and science!

While the girls worked on science and math related crafts, I interviewed them about why they liked math and science, what was hard for them, what they did when these subjects got hard, and the ways in which they wish science and math were more of a focus in their schools.  All of them wanted to see more hands-on approaches to learning these subjects.  One girl even wanted to know why she’s been on many field trips but never been on a math field trip.  As a teacher, they inspired me to think about the ways I teach math and science and the need to make sure these subjects are engaging because, as the girls told me, that’s what the students want!

East Liberty Library Holiday Party

On Saturday, December 4th, I went to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s East Liberty branch to be a part of their Multicultural Holiday Celebration.  They had a table for me in the room and, before I could even get my materials ready, families were walking over.  The children were excited and instantly began to color while I showed them our audio recorders and told them about recording their stories. 

It was a successful morning in that many stories were collected, but I thought it was even more successful in spreading enthusiasm about Hear Me.  The children were excited to know that their stories were going to be online and that others would see them.  Parents and the library staff were pleased to be a part of the project and asked enthusiastic questions about how the children’s voices are heard.  Even before I entered the library, I met a group of people who I struck up a conversation with and watched as they too became energized about Hear Me.  While we waited for the library doors to open, my unusual, unmarked black box (which was my audio recorder) became a conversation starter and soon I was explaining Hear Me to a group of adults who had never heard of our project before.  They were intrigued by our project and asked so many questions (“What types of things do these kids talk about?”  “What ages are these kids?”  “How can I hear their stories”) that by the time the doors opened and I walked into the library, their interest made me eager to begin collecting stories. 

In only two short hours on Saturday morning I was greatly inspired by the number of people who had and had not heard of Hear Me before, but who now are excited about “turning up the volume on kids voices!”


Mics & Hikes; Cultural District StoryBoxes Coming Soon

SLB welcomed enthusiastic, soon-to-be HearMe heroes from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and CitiParks to our studios this morning for a training class covering tips for eliciting, recording and editing stories.  Participants included Erin Copeland, Ali Gelormino, Kendall Ayers, Lydia Konecky, Marijke Hecht, Melissa McMasters, Patty Himes, Phil Costanzo, Wendy Osher, Laura Cook and Mike Cornell.  We had a terrific session and both organizations have really cool plans for using HearMe portable audio recorders and techniques to record thoughts and stories from children while outdoors in Frick Park and other city parks.  Imagine hearing children talking about our great city parks along with the sounds of birds, squirrels, creeks and hikers!

As Jeff, Larry and Jess conducted training, Justin was putting finishing touches on the first co-branded SLB/HearMe StoryBox™ units (sneak preview above). As shown, these StoryBoxes will feature voices of children expressing hopes and aspirations for the New Year, all instantly playable at the touch of a button.  Liz, Rob and Jeff have been collecting these hopes throughout December from students at area schools (including Pittsburgh King PreK-8, Pittsburgh Allegheny K-8, University Prep at Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12 and Mon Valley School) as well as informal workshops in our museum studios.


Six StoryBox units will be installed at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Arts Education Center, 805/807 Liberty Avenue, Downtown in late December through late January in collaboration with The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.  In addition to providing public display of the voices of children during this period, SLB and HearMe will be on hand on during special events on 12/31 (First Night) and 1/28 (Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District) to record additional hopes.


Looking for early inspiration for the New Year?  Tune in to hear selections from this collection of hopes on The Saturday Light Brigade, 6 to noon on Saturdays, starting 12/18 through 1/29.  We’re heard on six public radio stations covering Pennsylvania and Ohio (and online).  See www.slbradio.org for an affiliate list.

-- Larry Berger, SLB