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Finnish organization to put global spotlight on Pittsburgh educational programs

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5/30/2019 By Elizabeth Behrman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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Three years ago, two first-grade girls at Avonworth Primary Center came up with an idea to sell the items they made in their school’s maker space and donate the money to charity.

Their toilet paper roll crafts and window clings made of recycled grocery bags eventually expanded into anti-bullying buttons, and then T-shirts. The club, called JAM, now boasts more than 60 members, and the students have raised about $10,000 for nearly 30 charitable organizations and causes, their teacher said. And since they started selling them last year, the group has sold more than 18,000 shirts emblazoned with their trademark, #BeTheKindKid.

“I think these simple words resonate with a lot of people,” said Maureen Frew, the digital media specialist at the Ohio Township school whose initial makes the “M” in JAM, combined with the first initials of now-4th graders Julia Nardozzi and Amelia Lucas.

The club is one of a dozen innovative educational programs and ideas in the Pittsburgh area to be recognized by HundrED, a global non-profit based in Finland that aims to research and share education innovations across the globe. The organization announced this week that it selected the 12 Pittsburgh-area programs to be the first that it will spotlight and share as models around the globe.

Besides Avonworth’s JAM program, other programs chosen by HundrED include Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Summer Dreamers Academy and Global Minds Initiative; a summer program at the Hillman Cancer Center; and the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. The programs were selected with the support of The Grable Foundation and the Remake Learning Network, according to a news release.

Julia and Amelia, both 10 and “best friends since preschool,” never thought their idea for JAM would expand not just to surrounding school districts, but across the globe. 

“I thought it would just be us hanging out with Mrs. Flew every Wednesday,” said Julia. “It’s completely crazy that two ordinary girls did something so big and so cool.”

“It just blows my mind,” said Amelia. “Am I dreaming?”

Ms. Frew said the T-shirts were so popular that the first 100 — which the group made on its own using a Cricut machine — sold out within about 24 hours. Since last April when they began selling the shirts, JAM has built an online shop, worked with a local attorney to trademark #BeTheKindKid, a local accountant to help keep track of their earnings and a local printer to help keep up with production. Other school districts, like North Allegheny and South Fayette, have placed large orders for the shirts. Amelia said she spotted an adult runner in the Pittsburgh Marathon wearing one this year. 

A simple white T-shirt with the hashtag on it sells for about $5, Ms. Frew said. They club will customize the shirts in different colors, and those sell for a bit more. 

All of the proceeds from the shirts, buttons, games and other items the group makes go to local charitable initiatives which the two girls research themselves and then present the proposal to the rest of the club for a vote. They’ve made donations to projects at other Allegheny County schools, Meals on Wheels, the Make a Wish Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and more. 

Ms. Frew said the group’s goal is to help launch 10 new JAM clubs at other schools each year. 

Avonworth Superintendent Tom Ralston said the program shows how the district has been focused on trying to make education engaging and relevant for its students. 

“What we hope for with something like this is that it inspires somebody else,” he said. “It’s unique, in a time where we all need to be more kind.” 

The programs selected by HundrED are:

• Fabricating Change in Mental Wellness

• The FinchGlobal

• Minds Initiative

• Hillman Academy

• JAM

• The Labs @ CLP Summer Skills Intensives

• MAKESHOP

• Manchester Craftsmen's Guild

• Simple Interactions

• Summer Dreamers Academy

• transformED

• Youth Express

Elizabeth Behrman: Lbehrman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1590 or @Ebehrman on Twitter.

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