Neighborhood News

Stories about the people and programs that connect us to Pittsburgh

Newest Computer Center Opens in West End

posted Dec 18, 2012, 2:54 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Dec 18, 2012, 2:56 PM ]

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl joined City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith to officially open the West End Works (WEW), a neighborhood employment and public computer center. One of four public computer centers operated through a grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Project of the National Telecommunications Information Agency, West End Works is equipped with laptop computers, printers and high speed internet access. 

The public computer center and employment program is located in the Emanuel United Methodist Church at 825 Lorenz Avenue where residents can drop in Monday thru Friday to use computers or get help finding work.  Weekend hours will begin in 2013.

Employment services provided at the West End Works include job searching, resume help, and job fairs. Many local employers have already sponsored recruitment and training sessions at WEW including UPMC, Comcast, AARP, and others.

For more information on West End Works call 412-532-6329.

NovaNet is Helping Students at Carrick HS

posted Dec 6, 2012, 8:47 AM by Jim Lenkner   [ updated Dec 18, 2012, 2:38 PM by Unknown user ]

Written By: Christian Freeberg

Summer may seem far away to us but when you’re a high school student sitting in a class barely keeping your own head up while a teacher lectures on about the differences between prokaryote and eukaryote cells, it can seem like it might never come. For most students the school year ends just in time to jump in a pool or go to a drive-in movie, but for the students who struggled throughout the year, a different much more terrifying fate lies ahead: Summer School.

But summer school is no longer the only option. With advances in technology and the integrating of computer technology into schools, students can now take online classes to help them recover lost credits needed for graduation. One of those programs is called NovaNET. NovaNET is an online credit recovery program. While serving at the Hilltop Computer Center I have had a chance to see just how great and effective this program is. Our site has partnered with The Neighborhood Learning Alliance to provide Carrick High School students with not only access to NovaNET but also on-site tutoring.

Students are recommended to the program by their teachers or guidance counselors. They are also assigned the classes they will need to take by the same teachers or guidance counselors. Once recommended, they are given a username and password to enroll into NovaNET as well as an enrollment packet that they fill out and return to the NovaNET site coordinator.

The NovaNET sessions are held Monday through Thursday from 3 PM to 5 PM. The students are each given a notebook and pen to use for the day and then they simply log on and begin. Each lesson begins with a pre-test. The pre-test determines what the student already knows so that the lesson can be geared towards focusing on what they need to go over. The lessons contain readings, videos, guided practice, quizzes, and a final post-test. The student must get at least an 80% on the post-test to pass the class.

While mentoring during these NovaNET sessions I am able to provide one-on-one assistance with any problems the student may be having. Through the administrator account I can also see when students get flagged. This happens when they are having trouble passing a quiz or post-test. The flagged students can then get the tutoring help they need without having to ask for it because in some cases the student may feel they don’t need or want help.

NovaNET is a great program and I’ve really enjoyed my time tutoring at Carrick High School. It’s really great to see a kid put his hands in the air and cheer once they pass a quiz or post-test they were struggling with. I think that any school would benefit from integrating it into their afterschool programs and I think that a lot more students are going to be enjoying their summers thanks to it.

Pittsburgh CONNECTS to NovaNet

posted Jul 11, 2012, 9:28 AM by Unknown user

“Come on in, take a laptop, and get started” is all it takes for tutor Alvan Mbongo to get his students started on their classes. This summer, Pittsburgh CONNECTS and Neighborhood Learning Alliance (NLA) have partnered to bring Pittsburgh Public School students a credit recovery program free of charge. NovaNet is a licensed and approved online K-12 curriculum published by Pearson Learning in use by the Pittsburgh Public Schools.  

During the summer tutors from NLA work with Pittsburgh CONNECTS staff to help more than 100 students from Perry High School, Career Connections Charter School, University Prep, SciTech, and other schools earn credits in classes they failed during the school year.

According to Stephen MacIsaac, Executive Director of NLA, “credit recovery in the summer is a logical extension of both our school year tutoring programs and our Graduation Champions project that focuses on getting students ready to graduate. It is a really effective way for us to partner with and support Pittsburgh Public Schools”. In addition to using the Bloomfield Garfield Pittsburgh CONNECTS center and NLA offices, students also attend sessions within specific Pittsburgh public schools.    

Alvan Mbongo with Student

Student with Delia Zharo
Tutor Jacob Geyer

Hilltop and Knoxville Library Host First Gaming Competition

posted Mar 16, 2012, 1:57 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 1:59 PM ]

 “Last round!” Christian announces to the downstairs room in Carnegie Library’s Knoxville Branch. Around this Hilltop staff member sit over a dozen participants in Mt. Oliver’s first ever gaming competition, hosted by the Pittsburgh CONNECTS Hilltop Computer Center in conjunction with the Knoxville Library.

In an effort to increase technology use in the community, the Hilltop Computer Center has partnered with the Knoxville Library. Their first joint event, Tuesday’s gaming tournament introduced youth to the world of games in local area networks (that’s “LAN” in gamer speak).

Using laptops provided by the Hilltop CONNECTS site gamers gathered in the Knoxville Library to compete in tournaments of Armagetron, a game based on the movie TRON.

Simon, a library staff member who facilitated the event, enjoyed partnering with the Hilltop CONNECTS site. “It’s great. We should do more things like this,” he said.

Simon and Hilltop CONNECTS hope to make the competition a recurring event, perhaps alternating location.

Library CONNECTS to Train Computer Skills

posted Jan 27, 2012, 6:09 AM by Jim Lenkner   [ updated Jan 27, 2012, 2:30 PM ]

Classes at East Liberty CLPOn a weekly basis beginning in January instructors from Pittsburgh CONNECTS traveled with laptops and handouts to the meeting room of the East Liberty Branch of the Carnegie Library to conduct classes in a wide range of computer skills.  The first class conducted in late December explained Gmail and the benefits of Google voice and Google Docs.  January classes covered using social media in the job search, Microsoft Word and Excel.  The plan is to continue offering Pittsburgh CONNECTS training at the library indefinitely.

Chris Gmiter, Manager of the East Liberty Branch is pleased how “this partnership expands the library’s services to the community in a major way.” While there are many computers installed at the library it is not practical to use library desktops for group training.  With dozens of laptops provided by Pittsburgh CONNECTS patrons of the library now have a resource for building technology skills through the library.

Individuals attending classes at the library are invited to join the Pittsburgh CONNECTS centers to learn more and gain access to the latest technologies.  It’s a perfect partnership between agencies with the same goal of increasing literacy and technology literacy in the community.

For more information contact:  Chris Gmiter (412) 363-8273

Students Learn the ABCs of Computers at Bloomfield Garfield Corporation

posted Dec 22, 2011, 7:12 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Dec 29, 2011, 12:26 PM by Jim Lenkner ]

“There’s also a ‘redo’ button, so if you change your mind you can redo what you did,” Mike LaFleur tells his class.

“Like forward,” one student replies, alluding to the familiar technologies of the VCR and DVD player.

When LaFleur, director of the Pittsburgh CONNECTS Bloomfield Garfield Computer Center, began teaching a course called Computer ABCs, he hoped to share valuable computer skills with students who had none. He is thrilled by his students’ progress.

“It’s really enjoyable,” said Sarah Lee, a resident of the senior living center located on the floors above Bloomfield Garfield Corporation. Lee has attended classes since their inception in September.

The course is designed for students completely unfamiliar with computers. When teaching, LaFleur carefully explains every click he makes. This way his students learn not only how to complete tasks on a computer, but why computers work that way.

“I realized we as kids aren’t aware of how much we know about computers,” LaFleur said. He understands how to frame his class so that computer beginners can understand.

LaFleur, a former Apple employee, began the course by introducing his students to computers. He taught them about CPUs, monitors, memory, and networks. Eventually LaFleur’s students familiarized themselves with Internet tools such as online search engines and email. They are currently learning word processing on the Microsoft Word program.

Though LaFleur’s students were at first so unfamiliar with computers they did not know how to turn them on, many of his students can now log into their computers, use email, and open computer programs all of their own accord. “It’s good to see people actually get something out of it,” LaFleur said.

“I didn’t know too much about computers so I figured I’d come,” said Ruth Bobel, another student. Like Lee, Bobel lives in the residence above Bloomfield Garfield Corporation. After taking Computer ABCs Bobel is thinking of buying a computer.

Mary Rose Fignar is another of LaFleur’s consistent students. “Michael puts up with us, that’s the biggest thing,” she said jokingly. In addition to attending weekly Computer ABCs classes, Fignar often visits the Pittsburgh CONNECTS computer center to email her children.

Perhaps LaFleur’s most difficult task is teaching his students to be risk-takers, to explore the capabilities of computers. For his students, “Every click is like an adventure,” he said. His students are sometimes afraid to complete a step on their computers without understanding its consequences in advance.

Another of LaFleur’s students, East Oakland resident Sam Douglas, began taking the course unintentionally. Originally Sam entered into the Bloomfield Garfield Center in search of a job. Michael helped him with an application and told him about the course. Since then Sam has not missed a class.

“Anytime I’ve ever been with computers, I wouldn’t last,” Douglas said. “He’s a good teacher, Michael. It’s not easy, but he makes it easy.”

This story was originally published in the Bloomfield-Garfield Bulletin.

Hilltop Finds a New Venue

posted Dec 7, 2011, 7:07 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Dec 29, 2011, 12:23 PM by Jim Lenkner ]

The Center has partnered with Brashear Association in an effort to better serve the surrounding communities.

“I think it adds a bit to our pantry,” said Jen Huber, food pantry coordinator. She hopes the laptops brought by Hilltop staff will soon attract an audience of its own each week at the Henry Kaufman Neighborhood House. “I think it’s a great service,” she said.

When Nic Jaramillo, program director of Hilltop Computer Center, first visited Brashear Association’s food pantry he was only there to volunteer. After watching residents wait in line with nothing to do, though, he realized he could make a difference by bringing Pittsburgh CONNECTS laptops to the center when he volunteered at the pantry. The following week he and a staff member brought a few computers and registration forms.

Connecting with Brashear Association will allow the Hilltop Computer Center to reach a greater audience. “It’s great because we’re in the same zip code,” Nic said. “Everybody here likes to be here. It’s a positive place.”

One resident, Bella Luna, helped her young cousin use a laptop while they waited for their food. After hearing about the center from her neighbors and using one of the center’s laptops, Bella is convinced she needs to start visiting the center. “I would use it to get on the Internet, job search, you know: important things,” Bella said.

Bella and her fellow residents know initiatives like the Hilltop Computer Center can come and go without proper funding. “I think the government should keep the computer center open. It lets adults connect to the city because there are a lot of resources through computers,” she said.

The partnership between Brashear Association and the Hilltop Computer Center continues. Recently Brashear Association’s Michelle Flannery, of the Neighborhood Employment Center, visited the Center to register people for Pennsylvania Career Link.

University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing Teaches Us to SPAT

posted Nov 1, 2011, 7:58 AM by Jim Lenkner   [ updated Nov 1, 2011, 8:41 AM ]

by Lauren Mobertz

Pittsburgh CONNECTS is partnering with the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing to promote smart ways to use health information on the web. Elizabeth LaRue, Assistant Professor of nursing, was thrilled to jumpstart the project this October in the Homewood-Brushton Café Computer Lounge and the Bloomfield Garfield Computer Center.

LaRue specializes in consumer health and health literacy and has been working in Pittsburgh for 6 years. Not only does she often speak to the community on health literacy, but she also teaches her nursing students to do the same. “My role from the School of Nursing is to try to get the students engaged in the community and increase their opportunity to provide information,” LaRue said.

LaRue’s initial work in health informatics (the science of how information is stored and accessed) aimed at developing a health tool to help Internet users evaluate the credibility of health websites. The tool’s name is simple: “SPAT.”

SPAT is a tested mnemonic that shows users what to look for in websites before trusting information they read. S stands for “site,” P for “publisher,” A for “audience,” and T for “timeliness.” In other words, remembering “SPAT” helps you remember four specific characteristics to look for when seeking reliable information online.

SPAT emerges at a time when a Google search term as simple as the word “allergies” can produce over 78 million results. It is no wonder that users have difficulty finding websites they can trust. SPAT is a solution to this virtual information overload. “They were always complaining in the classes, ‘There has to be a way to tell if this information is good, to filter it some way,’” she said.

Now LaRue teaches SPAT to all of her nursing students, in public schools, and at universities. Her students will soon visit Pittsburgh CONNECTS centers to speak on topics like the flu vaccine.

LaRue was impressed by the progress the Pittsburgh CONNECTS Computer Basics course students have made. “It’s impressive that within a month they’re opening a browser, and they understand Google and Yahoo,” she said.

To learn more about SPAT, visit their website at

Congressman Doyle Celebrates Pittsburgh CONNECTS

posted Sep 28, 2011, 11:19 AM by Jim Lenkner   [ updated Nov 4, 2011, 2:33 PM ]

Thursday, October 20 at 11:00 AM - Congressman Mike Doyle visited the Pittsburgh CONNECTS center in Bloomfield to recognize the work being done at all four of the public computer centers. 

"I think about growing up as a kid and knowing people in my neighborhood that never got outside the neighborhood they lived in, and never saw any other part of the world.  But now this technology brings the whole world to our children" Doyle said. 

Technological tools are needed to compete in education and employment today and too many people living in rural and urban low income communities simply don't have access to today's technology.  Doyle went on to say "It's so important to me that communities that don't have a voice, get a voice through programs like this". Congressman Doyle joined in a live video conference connecting all four centers to the celebration.

YouTube Video

Comcast Internet Essentials Training

posted Sep 28, 2011, 11:05 AM by Jim Lenkner   [ updated Sep 28, 2011, 11:35 AM ]

Pittsburgh CONNECTS is working with Comcast to help the public take advantage of the Comcast Internet Essentials Program.  Internet Essentials provides low cost broadband Internet service to low income families with with children in school.  At $9.95/month, free startup, and free installation families with limited financial resources can now share in the benefits of broadband technology.  In addition, eligible families can also choose to purchase a laptop for $149 through Comcast.

Public training and information programs are scheduled through Pittsburgh CONNECT

Wednesday September 28, 2011

Wednesday October 11, 2011

  Wednesday November 16, 2011 
 Bloomfield Garfield Pittsburgh
 CONNECTS  5321 Penn Avenue

 Homewood-Brushton YMCA
 7140 Bennett Streer

 Hilltop Pittsburgh CONNECTS
 500 Brownsville Road

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