Life and Love Celebrated in Schenley Plaza

You might see a flower bed in Schenley Plaza with a plaque in tribute to Jacqueline Reid Gerjuoy among the daffodils that reads, She loved gardens. We loved her. A few feet away a circular bench also stands in her memory, She lived with love for all and malice towards none. “That was Jac,” smiles Ed Gerjuoy, her husband for 68 years.

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Gerjuoy met Jackie at UC Berkeley in 1938. He was a graduate student in physics, she was a junior undergrad. The couple married in 1940 and eventually had two sons while Gerjuoy went on to be a physics professor at the University of Southern California.

In the summer of 1952 Gerjuoy took a temporary position in the Westinghouse labs. He found Pittsburgh beautiful and told Jackie how nice it was in his calls to her. He was offered a permanent position at Pitt (where he is still professor emeritus) and took it, relocating Jackie and the boys to the steel city. “I didn’t know that there was a steel strike going on that summer,” Gerjuoy remembers. Two days after his wife’s arrival the mills again started churning steel and emitting huge clouds of dust. “That almost ended my marriage,” Gerjuoy laughs.

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The family stayed in Pittsburgh and when Jackie passed in 2008 Gerjuoy selected the Parks Conservancy’s brand new Schenley Plaza to commemorate her. He also established the Jacqueline Reid Gerjuoy Nature and Environmental Resources Collection at the nearby Carnegie Library. “Half my money is hers and I wanted to spend it on her,” he says. “The only thing that makes me sad is that I didn’t tell her my plans before she died. She would have loved to be in Schenley Plaza.”

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Days before Gerjuoy’s 97th birthday, on a dreary-turned-sunny Sunday, a dozen kids from Temple Sinai and their adults kneel in those garden beds, bringing them to life. In a flurry of trowels and small garden gloves, hundreds of flowers take root.

Nearby, Gurjuoy and his two sons sit on the bench devoted to Jackie, laughing and chatting with the Parks Conservancy’s own Jaci, the caretaker of the Plaza gardens.

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Jackie loved gardens.

Sweaty and smiley, the kids finish planting and head over to where Gerjuoy and his family sit. Slowly, someone starts singing “Happy Birthday.” Everyone chimes in.

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And they love her.

Learners to Leaders: Learning Pathways in the Parks

What does it mean to be a life-wide learner? How does one travel a learning pathway?

Educators talk about moments when students “light up,” or demonstrate curiosity and an interest in learning more. Last year, I had the opportunity to spark those light-up moments while working with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy educators as an Activation Lab Design Fellow, a position with the Activation Lab, funded by the The Grable Foundation.

My goal? Design life-wide learning environments (learning that takes place both in and out of school) that ignite interest in students and encourage persistent engagement.

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Young Naturalists teaching youth how to identify macroinvertebrates.

To do this, I worked with Parks Conservancy educators on designing learning pathways that would lead students from the High School Urban EcoStewards program (a program through their schools) into the Young Naturalists program (an independent summer opportunity).

Teachers were critical partners along the pathway. They identified students who would be a good fit for the Young Naturalist program and supported them through the application process. With teachers as “learning brokers,” programs successfully drew youth from multiple high schools and neighborhoods. Strategic social support encouraged students to explore opportunities offered by other organizations. In fact, this summer, two of the Young Naturalists will be involved in field study and conservation work in our national parks as Student Conservation Association crew members.

Informal learning programs encourage rich learning experiences that build on what happens in the classroom. Programs like these in the parks are more flexible in honoring joy, humor, compassion, spirit, risk-taking, innovation, and curiosity as essential elements of knowing, learning and relating. They allow learners those chances to “light up,” cultivate a deeper sense of interconnectedness, and create their own personalized learning pathways that break out of the often-rigid structure of schools.

We didn’t test the Young Naturalists to see if the program improved academic performance; rather, we observed them engage with the natural world around them with increasing confidence, ask questions to further their understanding, and listened to them as they described how they carried their learning into their everyday lives.

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The five Young Naturalists presented to hundreds at the Sprout Learning Pathways Summit at the end of their program.

Every run I have on Falls Ravine trail in Frick Park triggers a memory of the Young Naturalists guiding young summer camp participants in finding and identifying macroinvertebrates in the creek.

Every day I think about a conversation with one of the participants in which she explained how she now catches herself instinctively identifying trees on her walks to school.

These memories are evidence of how informal learning programs can enrich and empower our young people, and I draw from them often to inform my own research, which I hope will contribute to the design of practices and infrastructures that expand equitable access to rich learning contexts.

Imagine if learning pathways like these were available for every learner in our region for whatever topic they were interested in? The Parks Conservancy was successful in bringing together a diverse set of learners through social support on a pathway that spanned the divide between in-school and out-of-school learning. Organizational practices like this have the potential to transform our regional learning landscapes from a set of individual programs to truly interconnected learning contexts that support the learning and development of all youth.

Stacy Kehoe is a doctoral student in Learning Sciences and Policy at the University of Pittsburgh. Previously, she developed enrichment models for a public high school in Brooklyn, linking students to programs for travelling abroad, pre-college, visual and performing arts, the environment, and youth leadership. She is pursuing her graduate degree to study the incredible results she saw in Brooklyn and replicate them here in Pittsburgh.

Star Light, Star Bright: Shining the Stars at Mellon Park Walled Garden

The cosmos is within us. We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
Carl Sagan

All of our volunteers are all-stars. One group that recently worked in Mellon Park’s Walled Garden, however, was particularly star-studded.

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Seven volunteers from Macy’s joined Parks Conservancy Horticulturist Angela at the site of the Mellon Park art installation on a sunny Sunday to get the stars in the lawn to shine brighter than usual.

Armed to the teeth with toothbrushes, they spent the morning cleaning the 150 stone markers hidden in the lawn. The markers, part of an installation in memorial of Ann Katharine Seamans, reflect the stars and planets in the same alignment of Katharine’s birth in 1979.

Want to learn more about this special space? Read more about the Mellon Park Walled Garden art installation.

 

 

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These bright, shiny faces lit up the park. Many thanks, Team Macy’s!

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Interested in getting your company/organization out into the parks for a volunteer day? Click here!

What’s in Bloom — April 2015

Our regular “What’s in Bloom” feature typically highlights the exuberance of park gardens, blooming seasonally with all of the colors of the rainbow.

For this “What’s in Bloom,” however, we’re taking it to the trails, where wildflowers and native plants of all shapes and sizes are quietly blooming in living color.

Recently, we were delighted to see wildflowers flourishing along Falls Ravine and Nature Trail in Frick Park. If you’ll remember, many of this crop of ephemeral flowers and ferns were transplanted in preparation for the construction of the new Frick Environmental Center. We’re happy to report that they’re doing well in their new home!

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Twinleaf a-bloom.

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A transplanted fern unfurling on Falls Ravine Trail.

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Toadshade, or trillium sessile

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Dutchman’s breeches look like tiny little knickers on a line.

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A hillside covered with itty bitty spring beauties

Elsewhere in the parks, wildflowers are popping. Keep an eye out for all of the differently colored blooms.

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Jack-in-the-Pulpit

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Bluebells start off pink, then turn blue when they open.

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Trout lily in Schenley Park

Want to brush up on your native plant know-how? Join us at these two upcoming events:

Bird and Nature Walk with “Outside My Window’s” Kate St. John
Sunday, April 26th
8:30 – 10:30am
Meet at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center

Wildflower Walk and Campfire with the Urban EcoStewards
Thursday, May 7th
6:00 – 8:00pm
Frick Park
Register here!

Parks Are Gyms: Your Guide to Working Out

In the parks, we have a whole different approach to working out.

Smelly, sweaty gym socks? We’ve got blooming daffodils.
Recycled air? How about a cool breeze and wind through the trees.
Beige walls? Try chirping robins, rolling clouds, and kids riding bikes.

For the low, low membership fee of $0.00, you can sweat it out all day every day in the parks. Train for your first marathon, conquer hills on the bike sitting in your basement — just get out and get moving! Here are some ideas to start your new workout regiment in the parks:

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Tai chi in Mellon Square. Photo: John Altdorfer.

Tai chi in Mellon Square
Some call this Chinese traditional practice meditation in motion. Originally designed for practicing self-defense, this class is a splendid and graceful way to balance, strengthen, and de-stress. Take a class in the Modernist masterpiece park, Mellon Square, or in Schenley Plaza, for free all spring and summer. Schedule to be posted here.

Yoga in Schenley Plaza
Breathe in, breathe out on the Emerald Lawn in Schenley Plaza during these bi-weekly yoga classes. Bring your own mat or borrow one when you arrive at these free, open classes taught by expert instructors. Schedule to be posted here.

Disc golf in Schenley Park
Spread across rolling hills and sprinkled through shaded woods are 18 metal baskets that make up the Schenley Park Disc Golf Course. This go-at-your-own-pace course is an effective arm workout and a healthy walk, the length of which depends on how well you aim your shots. Find directions here.

Volleyball in Highland Park
Recently renovated, the sand volleyball courts in Highland Park are an ace place to work out while working on your tan. Find directions here.

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Biking in the park. Photo: Melissa McMasters.

Bike in Riverview Park
The popular Riverview Loop is all about the gluts. The topography of this two-mile loop is a challenge but takes you past amazing spots like the Chapel Shelter, Allegheny Observatory, and gardens throughout Riverview. See the Bike Pittsburgh bike map here.

Tennis in Frick and Arsenal parks
Serve it up on the red clay courts in Frick Park or the newly refinished courts in Arsenal Park for two unique playing experiences. If you’re game, there are a plethora of clinics and tournaments held on the many courts throughout the parks. Click here for the Frick Park Clay Court Tennis Club.

Have your own workout recommendations? Leave them in the comments below!

Celebrating Earth Day in Pittsburgh’s Parks

This week’s post is from our “Let’s Talk About Parks” series. Posted bimonthly in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Let’s Talk About Parks” is designed to encourage exploration and discovery of Pittsburgh’s urban parks. See the complete series here.

Every year, people around the world celebrate Earth Day on April 22. It’s a time to recognize the importance of protecting our natural world, to take note of human actions that are hurting our environment and to learn about actions that each of us can take to help make our world cleaner and healthier.

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Schenley Park tree planting, 1923. Photo credit: Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

The first Earth Day was held April 22, 1970, but before that people did not pay as much attention to the condition of land, waterways and air. The success of a city was measured by how much its factories produced, how many businesses and jobs it had, and how fast it was growing. But over time, as cities and neighborhoods grew and trees and green spaces were replaced with buildings and parking lots and roads, people began to see that there were consequences when you didn’t pay attention to nature. They saw that rivers and streams were being polluted, smog and smoke in the air was making people sick, and species of birds and animals were starting to disappear. They saw that a place that was good for working also needed to be clean and beautiful, or else, in the end, no one would want to live there.

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Two girls plant a tree in Highland Park.

Pittsburgh is special because many years ago city and community leaders had the wisdom to set aside hundreds of acres of woodlands as parks for everyone to enjoy. Today, thousands of trees in our urban parks help clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide, they help protect our waterways by capturing rainwater that would otherwise wash into our sewer systems, and they act as home to countless species of plants and wildlife. About 15 years ago, Pittsburgh’s first Earth Day in our city parks involved dozens of volunteers planting trees on Clayton Hill in Frick Park. Even though it poured rain participants had fun and kept planting, showing that Pittsburghers will celebrate our parks in any weather.

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Will you be joining us for our annual Earth Day in Frick Park? From April 17 – 19 the park is the place to be, with free family-friendly activities like a community campfire, volunteer event, and a full day of naturalist-led hikes. Find the full schedule of events here. 

The first ever Pittsburgh Earth Day will also be taking place on April 22. With scheduled activities and events all over the city, there’s something for everyone. And be sure to swing by Market Square for the Everpower Earth Day Festival. Proceeds from the festival benefit the Parks Conservancy! See the full schedule of Pittsburgh Earth Day events here.

BREAKING: Carousel Animals Escape!

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Carousel animals run wild, paint town red
Giraffes, elephants, creatures of all sorts set out to complete Pittsburgh bucket list

APRIL 1, 2015 – PITTSBURGH, PA – The lunchtime crowd in Schenley Plaza today enjoyed springtime temperatures, budding gardens, and the cheerful chatter of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy staffers directing PNC Carousel animals to their respective poles when surprised by a sudden commotion of carousel creatures running in all directions.

The breakout, seemingly coordinated by the mischievous — and aptly named — eagle “Freedom,” was swift and efficient. Onlookers gaped in amazement as Nancy Elephant, Toofus Tiger, R Merry Seal, and others in the menagerie stampeded, hopped, waddled and flew in all directions. Their intentions were quickly revealed by Harry Skettle Camel who, when caught, spilled the beans. “We carousel animals are always reading this town’s ‘best of’ lists,” he proclaimed. “Today, we’re setting out to complete those Pittsburgh bucket lists.”

warholgiraffeMr. Skettle’s testimony was confirmed as reports started to trickle in from around the city. Incline operators spotted Topper Triceratops and Henrietta Pig on their ascent up to Mount Washington. Troy Polamalu Giraffe was cornered in the photo booth at the Andy Warhol Museum. Wholey’s employees called in something fishy when a dolphin and sea horse in fake mustaches tried ordering the store — the entire store.

Investigators are concentrating their search on prominent Pittsburgh ‘best of’ spots. “No Primanti restaurant or Kennywood ride will go unturned. And we have Rick Sebak on 24-hour watch,” assured Police Chief Cameron McLay.

The carousel animals are exceptionally kid-friendly; all are de-clawed. Parks Conservancy staff is scouring Pittsburgh’s parks in the hopes of finding the creatures in time for the April 11th opening of the popular Schenley Plaza attraction.

Spotted any of these animals? Reports can be sent to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy via Twitter (@pittsburghparks). And stay tuned this month for a special Groupon offer on PNC Carousel Family Passes for the 2015 season!