Written by Bekah Knab, Graduate Student and RD at Geneva College
When I moved back to Beaver Falls in 2018 to start graduate school, I was overwhelmingly encouraged by the projects and developments happening in the city. To be honest, I was not thrilled to move back to my hometown, but I was quickly humbled by the individuals who were faithfully engaged in pursuing the best for Beaver Falls. I needed to move away and come back to have eyes to see the beauty that currently exists in this city and to be excited about the potential for things to come.
One of the projects that sparked excitement was Neighborhood North: Museum of Play. A children’s museum? Opening right here, in Beaver Falls? The more I heard about it, the more I knew I wanted to be involved. The energy and vision of NN drew me in as I saw their pop-up exhibits around town, or heard individuals share about the project at CDC meetings. This big dream for a place of creativity, play and belonging in Beaver Falls was actually a reality, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Now, as part of the Education Committee at NN, I get to combine my passion for education, development, and Beaver County. Working with an incredibly gifted team of individuals has inspired me not just at NN, but also as I complete my graduate program. Being involved in the greater community gives more purpose to my studies and work at Geneva College. This college exists in a resilient city where innovation and creativity are thriving, and it is a privilege to learn from the Beaver Falls community as I also learn in the graduate classroom.
As a Resident Director, I am passionate about showing students what it looks like to live in the community. Through my involvement at NN, I am able to encourage the college students with whom I live to be involved in the city and build relationships outside of campus. I have the opportunity to invite students to be a part of something bigger than campus life and learn what it means to be a good neighbor. These opportunities not only shape us now but will continue to influence our community involvement, as we eventually move into neighborhoods and cities of our own.
The invitation to be involved with NN has also confirmed my desire to stay in Beaver County after I graduate in the spring. Although it is not the only factor, participating in this project has helped me re-plant roots in the community. The shared vision of everyone committed to NN and to this city has inspired me to stay and continue to grow here. Once you catch hold of the passion for this place, it is difficult to imagine leaving. Good things are happening here at NN as we navigate the current COVID-19 season and continue to plan for the future. It is a privilege to be on this team of hard-working, creative, and committed individuals, and I am grateful to be a part of the NN family.
The Springtime of March Park
Written by Bethany Williams, Director of Community Development, City of Beaver Falls
Community work takes time. Trust me, when I started talking about doing creative community development work as a government official, I knew that even building the trust that was needed to do that was a near-impossible dream. And, even if it was possible, it would talk a long time to work through the barriers of mistrust and economic decline. But, when I was able to announce that the City of Beaver Falls received funding to start the redevelopment of the park in between the Carnegie Library and the News Tribune Building, it was an emotional moment of relief for me personally as the City’s Director of Community Development.
When we created the Department of Community Development in 2014, the first thing I did was listen. I attended countless community meetings and met with stakeholders of all kinds to try to get a sense of what the community was hoping to see happen in Beaver Falls and how we, as the local government, could help connect the pieces to facilitate growth. Through all of that listening, I heard the pain of a community that had faced immense loss, the passion the lifelong residents had for their city, and the relentless hope that maybe there might be a better future out there for us. As the community started working together to accomplish some of these goals, the City officials acknowledged that, if we are going to ask our residents and stakeholders to invest in the City to create a better future, we needed to be doing the same.
The park next to the Carnegie Library was an obvious place to start. This public space looked as sad as our community was feeling about the state of our city. By the end of 2014, I had begun putting together all kinds of plans that I submitted to City Council and worked with my community partners to try to prove the value of investing in this small, yet pivotal space.
It was a tough sell, though. The crumbling concrete and empty planter beds in that space have done little to inspire creativity or hope. And, because it looked like no one cared about it, the park tended to attract the kind of negative behavior that would prevent anyone from wanting to spend time there.
Yet, despite the park’s appearance and negative reputation, it has been used regularly by community groups to host Santaland, regular children’s programming, free meal distributions, and festivals because it was centrally located. We appreciate that community organizations have consistently “made it work” in the park to bring incredible opportunities to the residents of our city. But, it’s time to create a public space that actually meets our needs and instills a sense of pride over what can be accomplished when we stay committed to the long-term success of our community.
So, it gives me an incredible amount of joy to announce that, after 7 years of advocacy, the City of Beaver Falls was able to secure $250,000 from the Community Development Block Grant Program for Phase 1 of the project which will cover the demolition of the current space, restructuring of the park layout, providing better ADA accessibility, implementing sustainable rainwater management, and installing of the electrical conduits for Phase 2 installations. We are currently working to apply for funding for Phase 2 that will invest in public art installations, landscaping, seating, and other design elements.
I’m excited to continue sharing this journey of revitalization with you and to show a small example of how persistence and commitment to the future of our city can produce a public space that is worthy of the resilient people of Beaver Falls.
Building Organizational Muscle Behind the Scenes in 2020
During the past months, we have not only had feet on the ground at the Learning Pods and Tribune Building but have been building organizational capacity, as well. Through the support of PMI Pittsburgh and the Forbes Funds, Neighborhood North has been able to take advantage of capacity building processes, skills, and knowledge.
In late October, the Board of Directors at Neighborhood North spent a Saturday morning envisioning the future and identifying organizational goals during a Strategic Planning Session. Led by seasoned facilitators from PMI Pittsburgh, we began by clarifying our core values and identifying the essential steps that we can make at this time to create sustainability within our organization. It was the first step in a long process of organizational development, but I am excited about the ideas and energy that came out of that session and the renewed commitment by our staff and board. It is not easy to create vision during a time of global pandemic, and I am honored to lead a team of bold and pragmatic dreamers.
Neighborhood North joined other nonprofit organizations throughout the Pittsburgh region to complete The Forbes Funds’ first Scenario Planning Cohort.
Over the course of 18 weeks, our Executive Director worked with other leaders through Risk Management, Financial Sustainability, and Strategic Crisis Communication coursework around how to prepare our organization to plan for various scenarios and navigate uncertainty. Our organization gained greater confidence and the skills needed to continue to pursue our mission during this time of widespread uncertainty. If you see this digital badge of our website or literature, you will know that it means we have put in the work to become a more prepared and qualified organization for our community. Thank you to the great folks at The Forbes Fund who made this possible!
·Connecting with a larger network: The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) has launched Museums Mobilize, a new initiative to highlight how children’s museums around the world are launching new initiatives or transforming existing programs to support children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Neighborhood North is proud to be a member museum of ACM and a registered project with Museums Mobilize. Read the Museums Mobilize press release here.
#communityovercovid - Restoring the News Tribune Building
We are still working and moving forward! In the midst of adjusting our near-term goals to serve our online distance learners during this time, we have not lost sight of our long-term vision of bringing a children’s museum to our downtown community in Beaver Falls. Over the past several months, we celebrate some tangible measures that have brought us a few steps closer to making that dream a reality.
Neighborhood North has been working with the Beaver Falls CDC and a committee of people invested in the restoration of the iconic News Tribune Building, which is centrally located in the core business district of downtown Beaver Falls and contains decades of memories. The vision is to collectively work toward bringing the children’s museum project into that space. However, the Tribune Building has stood vacant for decades and needs both imagination and serious muscle to help reveal her amazing potential. Fortunately, that is exactly what several groups of volunteers brought our way this November!
On November 24, a group of over 20 folks from Nursing ABC/Portage Learning spent their Wednesday doing some incredible demo work, clearing out and removing unstable structures on the second and third floors of the Tribune Building. Brad Frey, Professor of Sociology at Geneva College and one of the folks vested in the Trib summed up the day in this way: “The building was a total disaster when [Portage Learning] got there and for the first time since we’ve owned it, it felt like the vision for it becoming a children’s museum took a huge step toward being a reality.
“On Saturday of that same week, 26 guys from Geneva’s men’s basketball team spent the morning taking piles of debris the Portage group had built and left (because we couldn’t get more dumpsters) and filled two more dumpsters. We could’ve filled more but they wouldn’t deliver anymore. A smaller group from Geneva’s Center for Student Engagement came that afternoon and continued to clean up and prepare more piles for future dumpsters.”
During a time when the world has seemed to stand still, it was such an encouragement to have folks step up and help this audacious project take a step forward!
Beaver Falls Catalytic Project: News Tribune Building and March Park
RiverWise and Beaver Falls stakeholders have selected a vacant building and adjacent park to act as a catalytic ecodistrict project that will be transformed into the Neighborhood North: Museum of Play children’s museum.
Catalytic development projects are public or private projects that focus on reinvigorating areas abandoned as a result of suburban migration in the 20th century, focusing on creating walkable urban places. They are planned and designed to cause a corresponding and complementary development reaction on surrounding properties.
In 2014, after sitting unoccupied for over three decades, the historic News Tribune Building was acquired by the Beaver Falls Community Development Corporation. Thanks to the visionary leadership and substantial investment of three local families, the roof of the structure was entirely replaced in 2017, stabilizing the building, while also providing a beautiful rooftop view of downtown and the hillside across the Beaver River. Engineering assessments of the facility have been conducted; gutting of the building has commenced, and a team of committed residents have been meeting in earnest throughout 2019 and 2020 to envision future uses for the space. The building is slated to house Neighborhood North: Museum of Play, a growing children’s museum being led by a committed group of local visionaries. The building provides endless opportunities to dream of and enact principled sustainable design that contributes richly to the life of the community.
The News Tribune Building is located on 13th Street, adjacent to the Carnegie Free Library of Beaver Falls. In 2018, Beaver Falls City Council voted to discontinue use of 13th Street so that it could be turned into a park adjoining the library’s property. When completing their submissions, designers will be asked to consider both the News Tribune Building and March Park as their site of intervention. The intent is to create an integrated amenity, blurring the boundaries between indoor and outdoor space, all the while utilizing sustainable building principles and green design throughout.
In May 2020, Beaver Falls engaged evolveEA to produce a conceptual design for the building. A conceptual design plan for the park was completed by Klavon Design Associates in May 2020. The News Tribune Building design incorporates elements to represent each of the six quality-of-life issue areas, including:
Equity: children’s museum
Food: café and cooking classes
Water: stormwater management practices
Energy: green construction practices and demonstration projects, potential use of solar energy
Air: green construction practices and demonstration projects, pollinator gardens, onsite air quality monitoring, and considerable green space
Mobility: location within a walkable community along a major arterial road
Next, Beaver Falls will solicit for community feedback on the proposed design and will work to acquire funding to construct the park and renovate the building.
This summer, Neighborhood North pivoted again as we recognized the impact a rapid transition to online learning had on our low-status communities. Like many others, our school district was unprepared to make that swift transition, and student learning bore much of the weight. Neighborhood North felt we could use our network of partnerships to support some of our more at-risk learners during the summer months. In June, we put aside the online STEM workshops, and Neighborhood North, Trails Ministries, and Big Beaver Falls Area School District developed a Community Summer Learning Program that offered small-group tutoring sessions, STEM programming, and family engagement events to families living in local public housing communities.
The Community Summer Learning Program ran for 5 weeks and served 60 K-5th grade children and 10 families with approximately 98% being African-American or biracial. The success of the program can be measured both through the lens of academic and social support provided to the children and families. Using the DIBELS as a benchmark test, the program was able to help participating at-risk children maintain and even improve their reading skills during a time that usually sees a drop in such scores. A third set of DIBELS tests will be performed on students who attended this program mid-year to ascertain the long-lasting impact, if any, of participation in the summer program. Just as importantly, the program provided children with a structured informal environment and positive connection with their teachers and peers in which they were able to flourish as a social learner. It was interesting to note that many students who were not initially happy to attend a tutoring program in the summer were looking forward to coming back by the end of week two. Finally, we were able to spend time listening to the needs and concerns of students, parents, and educators around the challenges of online schooling last spring and the opening of schools in the fall.
Neighborhood Learning Pods
As a response to the COVID crisis, the Big Beaver Falls Area School District was required to rapidly shift to an online learning platform for which they were not prepared. From March through the present time, great effort has been made to update and purchase technology, enabling 1:1 ratio as well as to establish a district-wide digital platform using Google Classroom. Beaver Falls is well-positioned for online learning this fall.
However, during the previous semester, many students reported difficulty with online learning, due to several factors, including lack of internet access, lack of a quiet place to work, being responsible for younger siblings, and lack of necessary adult support to complete work (especially younger students). We also heard from many parents and grandparent guardians that they were unable to both work and provide adequate academic support for their children and were often not in the economic position to even have a choice in how to provide support for online learning.
Neighborhood North, Trails Ministries, and Big Beaver Falls Area School District began meeting to discuss ways to help support the education of Beaver Falls students as they transition to the hybrid learning model for the first nine-weeks of the 2020-21 school year. Our goal is to leverage the collaborative and individual work of partners to serve as a coordinated asset to Beaver Falls Schools, students, and families to ensure equitable learning opportunities and resources for every student.
The most urgent identified need was a safe, quiet, structured space for our community’s young learners to go where they could be supported during the days they were doing “asynchronous online learning”. We developed a Learning Pod model that was scalable for the community’s needs and could be adapted to the district’s requirements. In Beaver Falls, the Neighborhood Learning Pods will offer 4 different pod locations to students in grades Pre-K through 5th Grade. These will be open Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday, 10:00 am-2:00 pm, and will be run by credentialed staff as well as volunteers. Each location will have WIFI available, however, each student will be required to bring their own Chromebook or iPad supplied by the school as well as their homework. Staff will work with district educators to support students’ online learning. Additionally, supplemental activities will be provided to help enhance learning, as well. Transportation is available to families for whom that is a need, and all students will receive free breakfast and lunch each day they attend. There is no participant charge for the program, however, registration is required as Beaver Falls students will be assigned to a Learning Pod and we will adhere to CDC guidelines concerning COVID precautions and contact tracing.
In Beaver Falls, we were able to put this in place rather quickly due to our historic collaborations and partnerships with both the school district, nonprofits, and churches as well as to the openness and leadership of the Big Beaver Falls Area School District Superintendent, Donna Nugent. During this time, it has been encouraging to see the Beaver Falls community working towards the common good and care of its students in a truly collaborative way. To echo the sentiments with which we began this newsletter, we are excited about the possibilities and opportunities for education right now.
Our pods are set to begin the week of September 14, and we will keep you posted on this year’s journey!
To learn more, volunteer, or to contribute to our Learning Pods, follow this link.
To register your K-5 Beaver Falls district student, click here.
Community Summer Learning Program
Due to systemic inequities, children in Beaver Falls elementary schools test lower on PSSAs than their peers in neighboring communities. Closed since mid-March, schools have moved to online learning, but many families in our Beaver Falls community did not have computers or affordable Wi-Fi. Without access to the schools' curriculum, there has been fear that the typical "summer slump" may become a "super slump" for Beaver Falls' neediest children. In response to this need, Neighborhood North is partnering with the Big Beaver Falls Area School District, the local library, and a local youth development organization, Trails Ministries, to provide intensive support for these children in the form of small group reading and math tutoring, weekly STEM programming, and family engagement activities. Neighborhood North plans to integrate our activities into the Trails Ministries' Hayes Summer Camp, which runs late June through August. Their summer camp normally includes in-person activities and visits to local organizations, which will not be possible this summer because of COVID-19 restrictions. Already a close partner, Trails Ministries works with families impacted by incarceration and their summer program specifically works with children living in public housing sites in Beaver Falls and several other towns throughout Beaver County. Working with the school district, we will use students’ DIBEL scores to identify a baseline, which will be repeated at the end of the summer. Our K-5th grade students will be broken into small groups by grade level to receive in-person reading tutoring twice a week by teachers from the local school. In addition, we have put together a cohort of junior and senior high school students to tutor our 3rd-5th graders in math skills once a week.
But tutoring alone is not enough. Studies have shown that parent engagement is essential to increasing a child's academic achievement and enthusiasm for learning. Neighborhood North's board (including 11 educators) has been trained by WQED/PBS in their parent engagement curriculum and will host activities with the cohort children and their parents. Food is always part of the family events, and through nonthreatening activities, we hope to share some digital literacy resources with parents that will equip them to be technology mentors for their children. We will host four families each week for in-person family engagement programs.
Neighborhood North will also provide weekly STEM experiments and Maker activities to help promote curiosity and expand student learning. We will deliver our STEM education through a real-time remote platform to all of the in-person camp locations throughout Beaver County to approximately 150 K-5th grade students. Additionally, a bin with all necessary materials and any additional instructions will be delivered to Trails Ministries for each location each week. This collaboration is exciting and will bring a great deal of benefit to the kids in our communities in Beaver County.
Neighborhood North will plan to provide continued support throughout the school year by extending the tutoring program and providing STEM/Maker activities to the students in this cohort as part of the after school programming at Trails Ministries. Additionally, Neighborhood North will facilitate Family Engagement dinners throughout the year. We are excited to be part of the learning ecosystem of the Beaver Falls community that is working towards creating greater equity for our learners. To help support this program, please sign up to volunteer or donate now.
Artists Building People Power: Civic Leadership by Neighbors for Neighbors
Christine Kroger, our Executive Director, had the privilege of presenting as part of a panel facilitated by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, ioby, and New Sun Rising on May 5th. The topic of the day was: Artists Building People Power: Civic Leadership by Neighbors for Neighbors.
Christine had the chance to share about our awesome Beaver Falls Community Mosaic and to be inspired by the truly cool and creative work that is being done throughout this region!
The Beaver Falls project begins at 1:00, but we recommend listening to the entire panel. Give it a listen here! Access code: 6g!h?^5#
Collaboration is on its way in Beaver Falls
Join the Executive Director of Neighborhood North, Christine Kroger, as she talks with Renée Suhr, Owner of Mycelia Development. Let's watch them dream about the partnerships that may take place in Beaver Falls, PA.