Heinz Field. PNC Park. The Children’s Museum. The Priory. The National Aviary. It’s hard to imagine that for more than a century, the community with so many Pittsburgh landmarks wasn’t part of Pittsburgh at all.
From 1788 to 1907, the Northside was called Allegheny City. And it was a city — the third largest in Pennsylvania, with its own government and a distinctive population of largely German immigrants who came to settle “Deutschtown.” Annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907, Allegheny City became the Northside — a collection of 19 different neighborhoods among two rivers and seven hills.
As anyone who walks the Mexican War Streets will tell you, plenty of Allegheny City’s historic beauty remains. But there are struggles, too: several Northside neighborhoods face high rates of poverty and unemployment, and iconic landmarks such as the Garden Theater have sat vacant and blighted for years.
That hasn’t stopped Northsiders from forging ahead in their own unique way. Signs of rejuvenation and community pride are everywhere, from local favorite Randyland to City of Asylum’s Alphabet City Center, “a home for writers, readers, and neighbors” that aims to bridge divides and celebrate diversity. And now the community that remade Pittsburgh is remaking learning, too, partnering with new institutions and longtime anchors to host exciting events in several Northside neighborhoods. We sat down with Melanie Claxton, manager of partnerships and quality improvement for Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time (APOST), to learn more about what to expect.
Can you tell us a bit about your work at APOST and in the Northside?
I focus primarily on coordinating professional development for members of APOST’s Quality Campaign, which works to promote quality out-of-school time programming in Allegheny County. Before I came to APOST, I was a project manager for the One Northside Afterschool Collaboration, where I coordinated last year’s Remake Learning Days events.
Having been a part of Remake Learning Days last year, what are you most excited for this time around?
We’re off to a great start! I’m particularly excited about our being more intentional about where Remake Learning Days events are located. One thing we learned from last year is that we have a lot of amazing resources in the Northside, but sometimes you need to meet people where they are. So I’m excited to see that our partners are hosting events in the community where families tend to already congregate, like the Sarah Heinz House and The Pittsburgh Project. That way, we can be sure we’re reaching as many residents as possible with these amazing learning opportunities.
I also love that there are a variety of different activities themes so that youth can explore what’s of interest to them. I think the theme days are really great, especially if you know what your interests are or if you’re interested in learning something new.
What do you hope attendees get from Remake Learning Days?
I hope that first and foremost, it’s exposure to new programs and opportunities. Sometimes kids don’t know what they’re going to like until they’ve actually had an opportunity to experience it firsthand. I also like Remake Learning’s focus on hands-on learning and rethinking how we engage youth in different ways. Sometimes, when you ask people to describe their concept of learning, they’ll tell you about the traditional school building — you know, sitting behind a desk and having someone talk at you all day. And I think the beauty of Remake Learning Days is that the events engage you in these project-based opportunities that can reshape the way you engage with the world. It’s something special when you make something that you can take home and use in your community. That’s really what I hope kids take away from these events.
What do Northsiders want for their community?
Well, I think it’s really no different than what anyone wants — they want their community to be something that is attractive; something they can look and can be proud of. They want their community to be a place that ensures that kids are safe and that they have all the opportunities they need to grow into successful, contributing adults.
The unique thing about the Northside is that it has these amazing institutions for kids, like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Science Center, and Carnegie Library branches. Everybody knows that these places exist, but there’s a big difference between being aware of them and really feeling like you belong there. Kids might ask, “Is this really something for me? Is this a place that’s really going to engage me and speak to me and my interests?” And sometimes, as adults, we assume that kids won’t like something, so we limit their exposure to it. But then we find out the opposite is true!
Like I said, you never know what kids are going to like until they try. So the beauty of Remake Learning Days is that everyone gets a chance to explore, and hopefully see their community assets as spaces that were made for them and designed to support them. These places are here for all of us!
To learn more about Remake Learning Days events happening in the Northside, visit remakelearningdays.org/northside.
This blog is part of “Neighborhood Navigators: Remaking Learning in Your Neighborhood,” a special initiative to connect children and youth in six Pittsburgh neighborhoods and parts of West Virginia to Remake Learning Days (May 15-26). Each week, we’ll spotlight a new community. In Pittsburgh, we’ll visit neighborhoods in the Northside, the Hilltop, the Hill District, the Mon Valley, the East End, and Hazelwood; in West Virginia, we’ll visit Morgantown, Charleston, and Wheeling.
Follow writer Ryan Rydzewski on Twitter @RyanRydzewski.
Remake Learning thanks APOST for coordinating the Northside’s events and outreach, and the Buhl Foundation for supporting the neighborhood as a Good Neighbor Sponsor.