Remake Learning Days: What’s happening on the Northside?
Meet Willy James and Learn Why He's Excited for Remake Learning Days on the Northside
Natives of Pittsburgh’s Northside are famously proud of old Allegheny City: as one joke goes, “If you’re not from the Northside, you’re from the outside.”
Of course, despite the good-natured jab, it’s easy for even outsiders to catch the Northside’s enthusiasm. After all, who doesn’t love Randyland, the Children’s Museum, or the one-of-a-kind houses along Sampsonia Way?
But beyond the Northside’s historic landmarks and homes, there’s also struggle: according to a 2015 report from the Buhl Foundation, 40 percent of residents have reported trouble paying for basic goods; and a third cite drugs, noise, and vacant property as a problem. Despite these challenges, residents are leading the march toward change — launching projects and forming partnerships to improve quality of life in the area, especially for the community’s children. Together, they’re ensuring there’s plenty more to discover in the Northside’s 18 neighborhoods.
And where there’s something worth seeing, you’ll find Willy James with his camera. A self-taught filmmaker and native Northsider, he’s made a name for himself with short documentaries that capture city life in the Northside and beyond. “Last year, I did one about the Pittsburgh Banjo Club at the Allegheny Elks Lodge,” he says. “I’d heard so much about it that I decided I had to film it. And it was so endearing — all these banjo enthusiasts with a great mix of people. Some were in their 70s; others were just turning 21. It was a real neighborhood vibe. I thought that was such a special thing.”
Fresh off a fellowship with WQED, James is considering his next project. “I want to do something interesting, something different for Pittsburgh,” he says. “I really want to get out there and engage with the community, because I’m a big fan of that.”
Case in point: James is the Northside’s Community Champion for Remake Learning Days. We caught up with him to learn more about his work, his ideas about learning, and his hopes for his longtime neighborhood.
Can you tell us a little bit about you and your work?
Definitely. I create short documentaries about things going on around the city. It started out as a way to create a career and a social life for myself — I used to go to a virtual school, so this was my way of getting out there. Since then, I’ve become a big proponent of community engagement. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m so excited about Remake Learning Days.
I consider myself a very contextual learner. I learn by doing things, and I think Remake Learning Days events bring that kind of learning to other kids. It’s exciting because you’re not just sitting there with a textbook — you’re learning by doing, by playing, by interacting, and having fun. I’m very enthusiastic about that.
Why did you choose to become a Community Champion for Remake Learning Days?
It’s such an exciting opportunity, and a perfect way for me to express what I’m about. I mean, it’s nine days of kids learning, playing, and having fun all at once — who wouldn’t want to endorse that? It’s awesome.
Which Remake Learning Days events are you particularly excited about?
I’m excited about lots of them, but I narrowed it down to five. Meet the Makers at the Children’s Museum sounds great. So does What Does Your Voice Look Like? at the Saturday Light Brigade — that one looks really cool because it allows kids to actually see their own voices and screen print them onto a shirt. I love seeing kids get involved in media like that, and the Saturday Light Brigade is a great organization.
These ones aren’t in the Northside, but I’m also excited about Your Neighborhood in VR, because I’m a nerd. [Laughs] But seriously, virtual reality is such a cool concept to me. Can you imagine what it’s going to be like to play video games ten years from now? It’s going to be next-level. I also have to shout out Make a Movie with the Steeltown Film Academy, because they interviewed me once during the CREATE Festival and made me feel like a celebrity. Plus, I’m a filmmaker, so I love Steeltown!
Lastly, I want to check out the Code To the Future Minecraft Showcase because I’ve always been a big fan of coding. It’s a very profitable skill to have right now, and getting into coding is a great career move.
Why is Remake Learning Days important to the Northside? What do you want parents to know?
Children are the future of the Northside. The more opportunities we give them to learn and play, the better, and I think Remake Learning Days is especially important because these events aren’t just fun — they’re also challenging in a way that will benefit kids in the future. We need to give kids the space to try new things, to use their hands, to make things, to code. If we let them, kids will challenge themselves and take themselves to a new level. They just need the opportunity — and that’s what Remake Learning Days provides.
Parents: Take your kids to the next level with even more great events!
Thursday, May 17 | Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Join Art Educator and Scholar Merav Kamel in the Children’s Museum’s Art Studio to learn how she creates her ideas and contribute to a collaborative piece using her techniques!
Friday, May 18, 5-6:30 pm | Carnegie Science Center Fab Lab
A Fab Lab is a digital fabrication workshop for learning and innovation: a place to play, create, learn, mentor, and invent. Learn to design and print on the Carnegie Science Center’s 3D printers, and explore the technology of 3D printing using a 3D printing pen!
Saturday, May 19, 12-5 pm | The Andy Warhol Museum
Visitors of all ages and abilities are invited to explore some of Andy Warhol’s signature art-making techniques in the Andy Warhol Museum’s underground studio, The Factory. This special edition of The Factory will be led by members of the museum’s Youth Arts Council — a small team of high school students from across Pittsburgh that go behind the scenes, collaborate with museum staff and artists, create art, and develop public programs and events for other teens. Hands-on activities include watercolor painting, blotted-line drawing, acetate collage, silkscreen printing, and more!
Tuesday, May 22, 6-8 pm | Pressley Ridge
This event will be centered on helping youth find their sense of self and what defines them as an individual. Support will be offered by professional staff and foster parents of Pressley Ridge. Youth will be educated on the various aspects of what makes them who they are as unique individuals. They will have the opportunity to create their own My Intent bracelet, selecting one word that best represents who they are. While children are learning and creating, parents will have the opportunity to learn about how to support their children’s skills in stress management, relationship building, and self-esteem building.
Thursday, May 24, 4-5 pm | Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Branch
If you’re into cool art projects, epic games, music, movies, books and just chilling out, come kick it at Teen Time! We’ll be using Sphero SPRK robots to code and create.
For more events on the Northside, 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 (Hazelwood, Homewood, Hill District and Northside) and West Virginia to Remake Learning Days (May 17-25).
Remake Learning thanks APOST for coordinating the Northside’s events and outreach, as well as its sponsors, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Allegheny Health Network.