Remake Learning Days: What’s happening in Homewood?
Meet Shimira Williams and Learn Why She’s Excited for Remake Learning Days in Homewood
Sometimes learning happens — and life changes — in an unexpected place. For Shimira Williams, it happened in a candy store.
“My family owned one of those mom-and-pop corner stores,” she remembers. “I worked the register there to help out, and kids from the neighborhood would come in to buy candy.”
It was there that Williams saw firsthand how children struggled to count. “They had trouble with those simple transactions,” she says. “That’s when I decided I wanted to help kids learn math.”
She quickly got her chance. When her mother opened a childcare facility, Williams jumped in to help with the paperwork. Before long, she was teaching — and inviting people from the community to come in and discuss their careers.
“It was an in-home facility, so we had kids who were anywhere from age 3 to age 10. A 10-year-old would start by asking our speaker a question, and a 3-year-old would follow up and take it in a whole new direction. We’d go from ‘Did you go to college?’ to ‘Do you know how to swim?’” says Williams, laughing. “But everyone loved it, because it was a very human thing. And it’s important for kids to see people from their community who are flourishing. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Today, that ethos guides Williams in her many roles: educator, consultant, and entrepreneur. It also guides her work as Community Champion for Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood — a juggling two identities. On one hand, writes Rev. Ricky Burgess, the neighborhood’s city councilman, it’s “the city’s poorest, least-diverse, most dangerous neighborhood, with the highest amount of violence and economic distress.” But on the other, it’s also a place of transformation — a place where “good things are happening.”
Good things are indeed happening, and Williams makes it her mission to lift those things up. We caught up with her to talk about a few of them — and how Remake Learning Days fits in.
Can you tell us a little bit about you and your work?
Sure — my background is in business economics and management information systems. I’m the owner of Productivity, LLC, and TekStart, which are technology consulting firms. I also just co-founded another company called C.C. Busy, and I work as a project coordinator at WQED’s Education Department, where I focus on iQsmartparent.
I’m a Pittsburgh native who has always done some tutoring, going all the way back to the candy shop, and I’ve been interested in teaching with technology for a long time.
When I started teaching at my mother’s childcare facility, I had a webcam in my room — a big, cumbersome thing that I’d use to take videos of the kids and send home to parents. Later, when the iPad came out, I got one of those, too. And since then, it’s really been my work to build digital citizens, whether I’m working with small nonprofits or small children. My goal is to find out what kinds of technology people have access to; what kinds of technology they need; and what would work best for their lives.
Why did you choose to become a Community Champion for Remake Learning Days?
Early on, I applied for and received a grant from Remake Learning to have students interview people who worked in the community and videotape it. We can say to kids all we want, “You should be a scientist,” or, “You should be an engineer.” But if you haven’t met a scientist or engineer, then those careers can seem lofty and far away. At the same time, if there’s a scientist or engineer in your community who reflects your students, then those careers become easier for kids to aspire to.
I saw this a lot when I was teaching. I’d meet people at community meetings or through Productivity, and I’d ask them to come in and speak. I went over some ground rules and etiquette with my students, but they were the ones coming up with the questions and leading the discussion. I think it was cool for them to hear about people who’d relocated to Pittsburgh and their pathways into their careers. They saw people in all kinds of jobs. One talked about being a teenage mother and overcoming that. Another talked about the importance of diversity at work. I think it was a different way to show kids their potential, and that’s how I see Remake Learning, too.
Why is Remake Learning Days important to Homewood?
I want kids to know that just because they’re from Homewood, that doesn’t define their position in life. That there are plenty of people from Homewood who flourish here, but I want kids to know they’re not restricted to this neighborhood, either. A child’s life experiences don’t have to be limited to the place he or she grows up — it’s possible to be from Homewood and go to, say, California. Or to Washington, D.C. It’s possible to become a senator or an international business guru.
As a child, when you grow up in an impoverished neighborhood, you don’t necessarily know that until an adult tells you. You don’t think you can’t be what you see on television until an adult says, “That’s not for you, because you’re from this place or this ZIP code.” Today, we’re all competing in a global market, and that can be hard to grasp if you’ve never left the place you grew up. I think Remake Learning Days are a way to open up the world to the community’s kids.
Are there any events you’re particularly excited about?
What do you want parents to know about Remake Learning Days?
Remake Learning Days events let your children explore places, people, projects, and spaces that they might not typically engage with. There are no barriers. There’s no pressure. If you child has an idea, he or she can test it. It’s almost like prototyping: they can figure out what they like and don’t like, and they can see what kinds of possibilities and opportunities are out there for them. There’s a lot more than they might think!
Parents: Let your kids explore these other great events!
Thursday, May 17, 4:30-7:30 pm | Creative Youth Center at Homewood-Brushton YMCA
This all-ages event features a variety of art and maker activities for kids, teens, and families. Maker Mixer activities are hands-on, including robotics, circuitry, Minecraft, hip-hop beat-making jam sessions, and open studio recording. Live DJ and food are provided.
Friday, May 18, 4-6 pm | Creative Youth Center at Homewood-Brushton YMCA
Hear powerful poetry! First, youth guide participants through an interactive look at the history of civil rights protests and the activists who were there. Then, youth pick up the baton of the ancestors, as they connect the struggles of the past to their aspirations for a better future. Come out and get inspired by the energy and insights of our youth!
Saturday, May 19, 10 am-1 pm | WARM Center
This event aims to provide youth and families education regarding environmental competencies, such as conservation, sustainability, gardening, healthy food, and environmental stewardship. Exhibitors host engaging, hands-on, kid-friendly educational activities on eco-friendly/green topics, along with vendors selling eco-friendly products and food vendors selling healthy snacks and lunches.
Saturday, May 19, 11 am-3 pm | The Frick Pittsburgh
Investigate the permanence (and vanishing acts!) of plant and mineral pigments. Explore the greenhouse and the Frick grounds with an interactive scavenger hunt and outdoor adventure bingo. And find inspiration from nature and found objects to create an Andy Goldsworthy-inspired piece of art, with the chance to snap a picture of it.
Friday, May 25, 5-7 pm | The Shop
Celebrating the grand opening of the co-working space at The Shop, we are bringing partners together to showcase the incredible work happening in Homewood to “Remake Learning.” There will be food and tons of maker-centered learning activities for those both young and young at heart!
For more events in Homewood, download a free Remake Learning Days planning guide.
This blog is part of a special initiative to connect children and youth in four Pittsburgh neighborhoods and West Virginia to Remake Learning Days (May 17-25).
Remake Learning thanks the Homewood Children’s Village for coordinating Homewood’s events and outreach.