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VisitPITTSBURGH engages Fox Chapel Area kids with program about being unique, special

| Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 1:03 p.m.
VisitPITTSBURGH's Tom Loftus invited students to discuss what makes them different during its pilot program at Fairview Elementary, Nov. 22.
Christine Manganas | For the Tribune-Review
VisitPITTSBURGH's Tom Loftus invited students to discuss what makes them different during its pilot program at Fairview Elementary, Nov. 22.

Updated 13 hours ago

Packed into the library at Fairview Elementary School, fourth- and fifth-grade students engaged in a friendly “Pittsburghese” debate.

As part of a new program for Allegheny County students, county councilman and guest speaker Ed Kress pointed to an item on his wrist, convincing about 60 kids at the Indiana Township school that it is called a gum band, not a rubber band.

“I'm here to help you,” he joked. “But in all seriousness, that's just part of the uniqueness of our language.”

Kress was a guest speaker for VisitPITTSBURGH's newest program for kids — “Why is Pittsburgh Different and Special?” While the nonprofit tourism agency is teaching them about Pittsburgh in the program, it is also showing them how each one of them is unique.

VisitPITTSBURGH's Tom Loftus said that he created the program as a gift to Allegheny County. Fairview was the pilot school for the program.

“We wanted to give something back to our community that supports us and what we do so well,” Loftus said. “We thought why not go into the schools and work with kids? This is an opportunity to share with students why differences make us special.”

Kress, Loftus and Kennywood spokesman Nick Paradise collaborated to teach the students about Pittsburgh's landmarks, history and unique attributes.

The key to the program is to engage the students rather than lecture them, Loftus said. He used quizzes and questions and invited them to speak in front of their peers during his presentation.

“We really want to make sure that the kids are hearing what we have to say,” Loftus said. “If they are having fun, they are going to remember more.”

During the one-hour presentation, a student told classmates she thought Kennywood makes Pittsburgh unique, while another mentioned Schenley Park as a point of interest. The action of engaging the kids is what Fairview Elementary School Counselor Stefanie Lipke said she liked most about the program.

“The students got to share things about themselves from hobbies and culture to ethnicity and religion,” Lipke said. “All things they felt made them different and special.”

With feedback from the first presentation and after some small adjustments, Loftus and VisitPITTSBURGH plan to present the program to more Allegheny County elementary schools, including ones in the city.

“Each class we do we will bring a different partner with us,” Loftus said. “Maybe in the future it will be Mayor Peduto or someone from the Pittsburgh Zoo. We want it to keep growing.”

Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.

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