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Teens on the Rise

Carnegie Museums gainfully—and meaningfully—employs city teens

By Danielle Scherer

According to a recent study by economists, young people ages 16 to 24 have been hit hardest by the recent recession.  Last year, more than one million young adults lost their jobs, as compared to 100,000 workers.  And, young African-Americans fared the worst, losing nearly a decade’s worth of employment gains in 2001 alone.

            Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is working to reverse this trend with two outreach education programs that employ city teens while they develop skills they can apply in school and, later, in the workplace.  “Our vision inspires us to integrate with our communities for the advancement of this region—socially, culturally, and economically,” says Carnegie Museums’ president Ellsworth Brown.  “Working with local schools and social agencies to help prepare young people for the workforce is an important part of fulfilling that vision.”  The teens’ eligibility for and participation in these programs is overseen by YouthWorks, a consortium of public, private and volunteer organizations.

Science in Your Neighborhood

In a working world increasingly dominated by technology, young people who lack the appropriate skills may find themselves virtually unemployable.  At the same time, many schools and social agencies, especially in inner cities, lack the funds to give children a sufficient education in science and technology.

            Carnegie Science Center bridges this gap with Science in Your Neighborhood, which currently employs 30 high school students for up to 15 hours every week as “Youth Explorers.”  The teens are trained to present hands-on science and technology demonstrations at after-school programs for children in disadvantaged neighborhoods.  Training includes math, science, and technology as well as in public speaking, child development, and more.

            Those skills were on admirable display recently at Thaddeus Stephens School in the West End as Youth Explorers Cliff Davis and Arnika Watson, both 15, presented “Chem in a Bag” to a small group of children.

“Do you know what chemistry is?” Cliff asks them.

The children silently shake their heads “no.”

“Well, do you wash your clothes?” he prompts.

“Yeah!” several of them shout, a little indignantly.

“That’s chemistry,” he informs them. “Laundry detergent mixes with water in a chemical reaction to clean your clothes.  Do any of you cook?”

Yetysha and Robbyn cook eggs.  Alexis says she cooks chicken and hamburgers, but Tyrell doesn’t believe her.

“Well,” says Cliff. “That’s chemistry, too.  Any time you mix things together to make something else, you’re doing chemistry.”

            Cliff and Arnika lead the children in conducting their own chemistry experiment—combining baking soda, calcium chloride, and Phenol Red to produce a chemical reaction.  Cliff encourages the children to observe the results.  “Eew.  It’s hot!” says Julia.  “No, it’s cold,” corrects Marshall.  Actually, as the children discover through continued experimentation, it’s both:  the calcium chloride and Phenol Red produce a hot reaction the baking soda and Phenol Red produce a cold reaction.

            Impressed, Marshall asks Cliff when he’ll get to take chemistry in school.  “In a couple of years,” Cliff assures him.  Marshall nods. “That’s cool,” he says.

            As Science in Your Neighborhood program coordinator Kenya Boswell notes, most after-school programs—especially in low-income neighborhoods—offer only tutoring or recreation.  These weekly presentations give the children quality academic enrichment.  Concurs LaTonya Mixson, assistant group supervisor of the after-school program at Thaddeus Stephens, “Just look around you.  You can see that we don’t have a lot of supplies to work with.  We don’t have any science supplies at all.  This program really helps us out.  The kids learn something, and they really enjoy it.”

            The children also get to see someone from their own neighborhood—someone not much older than themselves—mastering science and sharing it in an understandable way.  The relationship between the children and the teen Youth Explorers is mutually beneficial.  “I really enjoy working with these kids,” says Cliff.

            Cliff and Arnika say they also enjoy working with their peers and in their own neighborhoods, rather than at anonymous jobs in the mall or at a fast-food restaurant.  Besides, they say, unlike those unskilled jobs, they can actually use what they learn at work in their high school classes.  Plus, through Science in Your Neighborhood, they receive assistance with professional development, career exploration, and college preparation.             

With support from the Eden Hall Foundation, Alcoa Foundation, Verizon Foundation, and others, Science in Your Neighborhood had doubled both the number of Youth Explorers it employs and the number of children it reaches over the past two years.  In addition to visiting after-school programs throughout the school year, the Youth Explorers also visit city day camps during the summer.  Last year, the Youth Explorers saw about 400 campers a week.  This summer, says Kenya, they expect to see more than 1,000 a week.

Urban Interview

Andy Warhol’s seminal magazine, Interview, was famous for having its finger on the pulse of contemporary culture.  For the past __ years, teens from the North Side have been creating their own version of Warhol’s magazine, called Urban Interview, with assistance from The Andy Warhol Museum and funding from the Alcoa Foundation, Alfred M. Oppenheimer Memorial Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation, Verizon Foundation, and others.

Like Warhol’s original magazine, Urban Interview records what’s hip, hot, and happening among today’s teens.  Each issue contains interviews with local and national personalities—past interviewees include Mayor Tom Murphy and Steeler Jerome Bettis—as well as artwork, photography, poetry, and prose by the teens.

            “We’re young teens on the rise,” says Stephen Curges.  The sky is the limit for Stephen, the five other young people employed as artist-apprentices, and the two former apprentices who are now employed as student assistants.  Among these eight young people are aspirations to be a chef, a lawyer, a computer network specialist, and a cartoonist—and, because of the broad range of professional experience they are getting at The Warhol, they feel that their dreams are that much closer to reality.

            On a recent Thursday evening, the artist-apprentices are lined up at a bank of computers in The Warhol’s education studio, using advanced multi-media programs to work on various aspects of the publication.  Stephen Curges is using Adobe PhotoShop to refine a puzzle motif for the magazine’s cover.  He says he’s increased his computer knowledge significantly while working on Urban Interview.  “I’m learning how to use a lot of different tools,” he says.

            Each artist-apprentice interviews someone of his or her choice for the magazine.  Stephen chose artist Jim Campbell, whose work he had seen at the Wood Street Galleries.  “He uses lights and LEDs and digital media to create motion,” Stephen reports.  “I wanted to know how he did it.”  Stephen is applying some of Campbell’s techniques to his personal Web page, the creation of which is another facet of the Urban Interview project.   

Meanwhile, Harry Diggs is positioning text art on the back cover.  The text is an inspirational phrase written by fellow artist-apprentice, Jeff Porch:  “Stay on track and piece your life together.”  Harry is on track to fulfill his ambition of becoming a computer network specialist.  He got some first-hand information on computer careers from Tom Lebar, The Warhol’s LAN administrator/PC support technician, his interview subject for the magazine. 

Kristina is putting the finishing touches on the transcript of her interview.  Like Harry, Kristina, who wants to be a chef, got some career advice from her interview subjects, chef Scott Schmucker and admissions counselor Lisa Sandier of the Culinary Arts Institute of Pittsburgh. 

Michael Mason and Shavon Beasley, the two student assistants who help The Warhol’s artist-educator Nicole Dezelon supervise the students, say they can already see how their experiences at Urban Interview will help them launch their careers.  An aspiring cartoonist, Michael can include the illustrations he’s done for Urban Interview in a portfolio to show prospective colleges and employers.  Shavon, who plans to be a lawyer, used the resume she prepared with assistance from The Warhol staff to apply for a law school preparation program sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.  “No matter what you want to do,” she says, “you always need to use computers.  Someday, I’ll use a computer to prepare briefs.”

Affirms Tresa Varner, assistant curator of Education at The Warhol, “Computer skills are a large focus of the program, since they are of such paramount importance in the world job market.”

Nevertheless, traditional skills such as short-term and long-range planning, problem solving, teamwork, and interpersonal relations are still important in the workplace.  After working nine hours a week for 28 weeks to produce Urban Interview, the teens will have refined these critical job skills as well.

The 2002 issue of Urban Interview will be published this summer and will be available at various locations throughout the North Side and online at The Warhol’s Web site, 





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