Vibant and Diverse by Rose Saville-Iksic, an entry in the Dream & Do Art Challenge

Calling all budding artists and scientists!

Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media, producers of the Working Class public television series are seeking entries in its latest K-12 art challenge, “Why Science Matters.”

Do you think of art and science as being very different subjects?

What if it is possible to explore a wide variety of the educational opportunities by combining the two?

A high school teacher from Omaha, Timothy Bogatz, believes, “When you are looking at the intersection between art and science, the connections can be endless.”

He wrote “11 Fascinating Artists Inspired by Science,” an online article with links to incredible works of art that can be used in the classroom “to show the fascinating depth offered by the world of science, and how it can inspire incredible art.”

“The greatest scientists are artists as well.” – Albert Einstein

I would like to invite the teachers and parents in our Working Class audience to share Bogatz’s article with students as a source of inspiration for the “Why Science Matters” art challenge.

I was amazed at the beauty and brilliance depicted in each featured artist’s work, from Rachel Sussman’s photographs of the oldest living things in the world and Janet Saad-Cook’s “Sun Drawings” to Jen Stark’s paper sculptures and live artwork, sculptures and installations created by Luke Jerram, whose work tests viewers’ senses and perceptions.

I can imagine that student artists viewing such incredible contemporary works might be inspired to look into their next science lesson for ideas. Likewise, a student who loves science might feel challenged to use an art form to display his/her knowledge of scientific principles.

A look at the science-inspired art might even motivate art teachers and science teachers to work together and promote a cross-curricular challenge to students interested in exploring “Why Science Matters.”

The great Albert Einstein once said, “The greatest scientists are artists as well.”

The “Why Science Matters” art challenge offers K-12 students and educators an opportunity to prove Einstein’s assertion was correct. It invites student artists to depict the importance of science in everyday life. Students may use any medium and supplies they choose.

Entry deadline is Dec. 1.

Entries are accepted via email, with a digital photo (JPEG file) of the original artwork attached. A separate email is required for each entry and must include the following information: challenge title (Why Science Matters); artist’s name; teacher/parent name and email address; grade, school (or homeschool); city and state; and entry category (Student in Grades K-6 or Student in Grades 7-12).

Deadline for entries is Dec. 1. Awards will be presented in two categories: Grades K-6 and Grades 7-12. A chosen artist in each category will receive a basket of books and supplies related to the art challenge.

Please email entries and questions to me – Elaine Lambert, executive producer of Working Class.

The Working Class website features images of student work created for other recent K-12 art challenges sponsored by the series’ producers.

Gundam Trees by Russ Gleeson, an entry in the Dream & Do Art Challenge

Inspiration for the “Why Science Matters” art challenge comes from the most recent release in the Working Class documentary series: Working Class: Competition Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters, which premiered over the summer.

Among the highlights of Working Class: Competition Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters are interviews with K-12 students and teachers at Warrior Run Middle School and Bloomsburg Area High School, participants in regional Rage in the Cage combative robot events, as well as K-12 students participating in SMART (Science & Math Applications in Real-World Technologies) Girls events at Penn College.

WVIA Public Media plans to broadcast a back-to-school marathon featuring four episodes of the Telly-Award winning Working Class series in October.

The marathon begins on Sunday, Oct. 7, when WVIA-TV will air Working Class: Dream and Do, Working Class: Build and Grow Green, Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters and Working Class: Competition Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters.

A big Working Class thanks to WVIA Public Media for hosting the October broadcast marathon and to The Art of Education (an online resource for educators that covers topics including creativity, technology, curriculum, classroom management and instructional strategies), which published Tim Bogatz’s article “11 Fascinating Artists Inspired by Science.”

Stay tuned … and get ready to be fascinated by our student artists’ entries in the “Why Science Matters” art challenge!

Drak’a Cola by Breanna Gillow, an entry in the Build & Grow Green Recycled Art Challenge





Honest labor bears a lovely face.*

Labor too often gets a bad rap.

We tend to think of labor in terms of its definition as a verb, “to work hard, to make a great effort.” Hard work, great effort does not sound like a good time.

Labor Day is an annual reminder that “labor” and “fun” can go together. From its beginning in 1882, the holiday turned a normal workday into a celebration.

“Everyone picnicked, drank beer and listened to speeches from the union leadership …The newspapers of the day declared it a huge success and ‘a day of the people,’” said former U.S. Department of Labor historian Linda Stinson.

More than a century later, we continue the tradition of Labor Day picnics (some with legal beverages). Across our picnic tables, work may be a topic of conversation.

We may have family and friends with exciting work-related accomplishments to share, while others are jobless or stuck in jobs that seem to be going nowhere. We also may celebrate Labor Day with students, parents and educators who are in full, back-to-school mode and grateful for the long weekend to catch their breaths.

Labor Day is a good time for all of us to think about what we really think about work.

The world of work is constantly changing. The best piece of advice we  can give young people starting out today is to embrace lifelong learning, so their skills will continue to match the needs of the workforce throughout their lifetimes.

The top job skills required to match the highest levels of projected employment opportunities in the state through 2024, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor, include a wide range of activities.

There will be job openings, the statistics suggest, for people who know how to order materials, supplies or equipment; who can calculate costs of goods or services, take customer orders, sell products or services, monitor inventories of products or materials, process and collect payments.

Other top skills needed, according to the report, are the ability to explain technical products and service information to customers, to compile data and prepare documentation for contracts, transactions or regulatory compliance, and to communicate with customers to resolve complaints and ensure satisfaction.

There also will be a need for specific skills to serve food industry customers (prepare and serve food) and health care patients (administering basic health care or medical treatments, recording patient medical histories, collecting biological specimens).

Skills that will be required across all fields include maintaining clean work areas and having the ability to confer with coworkers to coordinate work activities. These may seem like little things, but they make a big difference in the workplace, and they are things we can teach youngsters at home and in the classroom. These skills will last a lifetime.

Basic skills required for employment are things we can teach young people at home, in the classroom, and in part-time jobs. I always had a part-time job as a teenager and I am surprised that many teens now graduate from high school without ever working to earn a paycheck. It is the best way I know to prepare for future success in the workplace.

Yes, technology plays an important role in today’s job market. Computers and software lead the list of the Top 50 Tools and Technologies required in Pennsylvania today. Yet, on that list, there are still “manual” tools that appear along with spreadsheet, database and query, presentation, point-of-sale, inventory and project management software.

There are career opportunities for people who know how to use other “top 50” tools including screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, ladders, tape measures, power saws, hoists, hand trucks and forklifts.

Labor Day and other holidays often provide opportunities for several generations to gather and share stories and advice. Young people can benefit from the wisdom and guidance of adults who care about their futures.

If you have the chance, take time this Labor Day to encourage the youth around your picnic table to get excited about their futures. Ask them to think about what they would like to be able to write on their business cards over the next few decades. They may give some off-the-wall answers but, instead of preaching to them about why something will not work, consider how they might turn their passions into real profit in the workplace. Successful people do that every day!

How we choose our careers can be a great point of Labor Day conversation. Whether we found our dream job or not, we all know that what we do for a living influences our overall satisfaction in life.

Throughout our communities and in many of our families, people of all ages are dealing with addictions and mental health issues. Meaningful relationships and purposeful work connected to an individual’s passions can be a path toward healing.

An Ohio State University study suggests that low job satisfaction early in our careers can lead to higher levels of depression, sleep problems and excessive worry, impacting overall mental health. Knowing that even very early feelings about jobs can influence future health and wellbeing signals a need to have positive conversations about career satisfaction with teens now.

If you happen to find yourself across the picnic table from a young person this Labor Day, consider opening a dialogue about careers – not to criticize their youthful choices, but to encourage them to pursue a path that really sparks an interest. Guided by passion and a sense of purpose, they can find satisfaction in life. Your encouragement can help them get there.

Maybe you need some encouragement to find the fun in your labor as well. J.T. O’Donnell, founder and CEO of Work It Daily, says, “You don’t have to be the smartest person to succeed in finding a satisfying career, you just need to be willing to work at it every day until you get there … Those who are willing to invest time every single day in getting smarter about how they manage their careers are the ones who succeed. Studies show the average American spends over an hour a day on Facebook. Imagine what would happen if you peeled off 10 minutes of your social media time each day.”

Labor Day weekend offers you the chance to peel off a few minutes and consider how choosing the right career path can turn your labor into love.

As one of my favorite actresses from the golden age of films, Bette Davis, once said, “To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy.” #LaborDay

*Quote from Thomas Dekker 17th century Elizabethan dramatist

Photos of lovely faces, courtesy of Pennsylvania College of Technology

P.S. – An Invitation for You

After Labor Day, consider visiting the Gallery at Penn College to experience Mindful – Exploring Mental Health Through Art – an exhibition that explores the impact mental illness has on society and how the arts can support healing. The exhibit will be in place through Oct. 11.

On Thursday, Sept. 6, at 5:30 p.m., the Gallery will host a lecture on “Trauma: Legacy, Biology and the Path to Healing,” which addresses family history, the human spirit and the gift of healing.

The exhibit, reception and lecture are free and open to the public.






“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.” – Nikola Tesla

Penn College Professor Tom Ask and student Nina Hadden celebrate opening of new campus makerspace.

A new space for creation is warming hearts at Pennsylvania College of Technology, the home base for production of the Working Class public television series.

Last week, at dedication ceremonies marking the opening of The Welch Workshop: A Makerspace at Penn College, President Davie Jane Gilmour said, “When I look around this space, I envision ideas that will turn into inventions, and inventions that will turn into exciting partnerships among students who wish to dream, create and innovate.”

Penn College students Thomas P. Abernatha, Christopher D. Fox and John A. Gondy, who designed the makerspace, were the first to put their creative talents to work there.

“… I envision ideas that will turn into inventions, and inventions that will turn into exciting partnerships among students who wish to dream, create and innovate.” – Davie Jane Gilmour, Ph.D.

Gondy, a senior in residential construction technology and management, called the challenge a “definite peak” in his college experience and said, “Seeing this come to fruition makes me feel like I’ve left a legacy behind that will give others the ability to create and innovate with no bounds.”

Makerspace design presentation led by Penn College students in 2017

His “innovate with no bounds” ideas echo those of the legendary inventor Thomas Edison, who once proclaimed, “There are no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.”

I feel very confident that many “somethings” will be accomplished in the future in this new campus makerspace, which was a dream of faculty, administrators and former students in recent years.

During a roundtable discussion featured in the Telly Award-winning Working Class: Dream & Do documentary, Thomas Ask, professor of industrial design, said the idea for creating such a space at Penn College was “nothing radically new.”

Professor Tom Ask leads an industrial design lab, a program-specific forerunner of today’s campus makerspace.

While there were many small, program-related maker spaces around campus for years, Ask and others knew that students would benefit from one that was larger and more inclusive.

“If we had a communal one, not only do you get better facilities, but you get a community …You have to get the right kind of people doing the right kind of thing, and then it grows from relationships and it grows organically,” he said.

2017 Academic Impressions article noted that while, in past, specific academic departments managed most campus incubators, new makerspaces, including  The Garage at Northwestern University, create a kind of “Switzerland” on campus, where students and faculty in different areas of study come together to share ideas and resources.

The executive director of The Garage at Northwestern was quoted in the article as saying: “We want to help students develop an entrepreneurial toolkit, but I don’t believe you can do this in the traditional classroom. You need to create space for students to solve problems creatively, build a team, and develop and pitch surprising ideas and projects.”

Interesting side note: Penn College and Northwestern have at least two things in common – a campus makerspace and a Wildcat mascot for campus athletics!

Penn College wildcat

A makerspace should tap into the notion of “creativity and creation and wonder and play and desire to improve things … It really helps when you have a place to do it and other people to do it with,” declared Professor Ask during the Working Class roundtable discussion.

Andrea McDonough Varner, K-12 art curriculum coordinator in the Williamsport Area School District and adjunct professor at Lycoming College, who also participated in the roundtable, echoed the professor’s thoughts about building a community of doers.

“It’s about rebuilding human interactions,” she said. “When we collaborate, or we’re given the opportunity or the space to collaborate, to speak with one another, to get our hands dirty together, I think it’s a beautiful thing.”

Andrea McDonough Varner (first row center, with glasses) and Tom Ask (first from left in back row) were among the faculty appearing in Telly Award-winning Working Class: Dream & Do, which featured a discussion of campus makerspaces.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development recently recognized another K-12 educator, Southern Tioga School District’s Sarah Murray, for transforming the libraries at Blossburg and Liberty Elementary Schools into makerspaces.

“I tell my students that a makerspace gives them the opportunity to use their hands and their minds together to accomplish a project,” Murray said. “Some who walk in my room may say that they are ‘just playing,’ but it is so much more than that! … I think that makerspaces give students the opportunity to make, create, design, and play without worrying about ‘failing’ or doing something exactly perfectly or for a grade. I encourage them to try new things and always be exploring.”

“There are no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.” — Thomas Edison

Working Class applauds educators who encourage discovery and help students gain comfort with the concept of failing and learning from their mistakes.

“The maker movement is validating in the sense that, you know what, you can make mistakes,” according to Professor Ask. “That’s how you make these great advances in technology and other areas, or invention … by pursuing a whole new concept. What if, what if, what if?”

Pursuing the “what ifs” has a potential long-term payoff for the students, as well as for the workforce and the community.

“I think that makerspaces help instill a sense of learning and creativity in students,” declared Southern Tioga’s librarian. “My students always ask for makerspace time when they come in to the library, and I think that carrying this sense of hard work and curiosity will only help in the future in whatever type of career path that they choose to take.”

While it will be interesting to see how the introduction of makerspaces on college campuses influences the workforce of the future, it is important to remember that academics are the foundation upon which the makerspaces evolve.

“Chemistry, math, physics, are all great precursors to the Maker movement,” Professor Ask concluded. “If makers are a spontaneous response to education, that’s a wonderful thing. They’re saying, ‘I learned all this stuff. I want to try it. I don’t want to try it with a teacher there, I don’t want to try it with somebody else. I just want to take some buddies and try it, see what happens, while nobody’s watching. Show somebody, “Look what I made,” and be proud of it.’ That’s the beauty of it, strictly as an adjunct to what I call traditional education.”

Three cheers for the Penn College makerspace and the students, faculty, administrators and donors whose innovative dreams led to its creation!

“When we collaborate, or we’re given the opportunity or the space to collaborate, to speak with one another, to get our hands dirty together, I think it’s a beautiful thing.” — Andrea McDonough Varner

#makerspaces #makerspace #MakerEd






Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too. — Yogi Berra

Smiles from 2017 Little League World Series players enjoying a picnic at Pennsylvania College of Technology last year.

Today is a day we love on the campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology. It is a day of sunshine, smiles and baseball.

Tomorrow, in our hometown of Williamsport, PA, the Little League Baseball World Series begins. Later today, a parade through the downtown welcomes competing teams from around the globe to compete. Before the parade begins, Little League players, managers, umpires and officials gather for a picnic on the Penn College campus.

I believe Penn College hit a homerun when the picnic tradition began in 2009. Our modern, beautiful campus provides a perfect space for the diverse and colorful gathering of athletes from around the world. Although they speak different languages, the young players connect through their common love for baseball.

The annual series is an event that inspires a great sense of pride in the people of Williamsport, who remember its humble beginnings in 1939. Penn College and its predecessors (Williamsport Technical Institute and Williamsport Area Community College) were part of the evolution of Little League. Students and faculty helped to excavate the site of the present day stadium.

Over the years, in addition to building and remodeling support at the stadium, students and faculty also became part of teams of health care workers providing medical assistance to players and fans of the series.

In 2012, the nation’s largest educational advertising awards competition presented a gold award – its highest honor – for a “total public relations campaign” to Penn College for its connection to the Little League World Series.

At that time, I was serving as the College’s director of college information and community relations, and was asked to give a statement about the award. I said:

“The entire campus community comes out in support of this initiative. The college has partnered with Little League in various ways for more than half a century. In recent years, we have used this ‘hometown advantage’ to share a message about the importance of quality technology education with visitors around the world during the championship series. It’s an honor to have this initiative, which is so close to our hearts, selected among the nation’s top public relations campaigns.”

In that same year (2012), Penn College’s President Davie Jane Gilmour became the first woman to chair the Little League International Board of Directors. Today she remains an active member of the board and a spirited fan of the series.

When she was honored by the state Senate for her historic appointment as the first female chair in the organization’s history, Dr. Gilmour said, “Whether it’s Little League youth or college students earning a ‘degree that works,’ I spend most of my time being inspired by young people, as they are, in fact, our future.”

President Davie Jane Gilmour and Penn College administrators welcome 2017 players to campus for a picnic prior to last year’s Grand Slam parade.

Watching youngsters, from around the world, who play baseball at a championship level enjoy an afternoon on the Penn College campus is a highlight of the summer.

Each year, the Little League picnic kicks off a new academic year at Penn College by reminding us of the importance of connecting classrooms and communities. Through this partnership with Little League Baseball, we embrace a worldwide community.

The award-winning Working Class public television documentary series is another form of community outreach at Penn College. We are pleased to have you as a part of that audience, sharing our common commitment to inspiring future generations.

Little League teaches players to play fair, strive to win and always do their best. It is a great foundation upon which to build a future.

Let’s play ball!

World Series “man in the crowd” Tom Speicher interviews Penn College president and former Little League International Board of Directors chair Davie Jane Gilmour.

To experience a behind-the-scenes look at the 2018 Little League World Series, stay connected with Penn College’s own veteran broadcaster Tom Speicher. Access Tom’s “man in the crowd” interviews and experiences at:

You also will find photos from today’s picnic and parade later this week online at PCToday.


Celebrating the 2018 Telly Award win for Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters are (left to right): Jacob R. Miller, Elaine J. Lambert, Edwin G. Owens, Lauren A. Rhodes, Christopher J. Leigh, Edward J. Almasy, and Spyke M. Krepshaw

Game on, teachers!

It is time to return to the classroom. Ready or not, soon you will be making your mark … leaving your first impressions … on another group of young minds ready (if not always willing) to be impressed.

In preparing for a new academic year at Pennsylvania College of Technology, the Working Class crew – Chris Leigh and I – hosted a gathering of Penn College faculty featured in the Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters documentary.

We celebrated the film’s recognition among the 2018 Telly Award winning documentaries. Working Class was in good company, as another documentary earning the bronze statue was The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

We are not Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. However, Chris and I have the good fortune to make films starring real, active teachers – men and women who deserve gold stars, trophies and tons of respect for their commitment to students.

Teachers we interviewed Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters for are DOERS. They are active in their fields of expertise – mathematics, computers and electronics. Some are industry consultants, often working on a professional basis with former students who have graduated into the workforce. They also are creative individuals who spend time outside of the classroom making art, furniture, gardens, landscapes and more. (Their recounting of summer projects, travel and accomplishments left me feeling very lazy!)

When they came together to celebrate the Telly Award win, our faculty friends spent a good bit of time talking about students and how we all (parents, teachers, counselors, school administrators) can better prepare them for success in college and careers. I was not surprised that during an event intended to honor them, these teachers wanted to talk about what really matters to them – students.

Back-to-school season provides an opportunity to show our appreciation for teachers who go boldly into classrooms where they engage with students from all walks of life, at various levels of understanding. An educator who has a sense of passion and purpose is a powerful influence on the future. Let’s give them our full support and offer encouragement whenever we can.

I hope the Working Class films and the educator resources offered on the series website help K-12 teachers connect academic requirements to practical career and life experiences in a way that will help students see the relevance of what they are learning in math, science and other classes.

A teacher excited about her/his career passes that enthusiasm onto a student who gets excited about learning. A student excited about learning sees education as more than a requirement; it is an opportunity to become the best possible version of himself/herself. A world full of the best possible versions of ourselves … well, what a world that can be!

Thank you to all the teachers in our Working Class audience who share our films, take part in our K-12 student art challenges, and link with our recommended online resources that support K-12 lesson planning. We dedicate our beautiful, bronze trophy – the 2018 Telly Award – to you.


Associate Professor of Chemistry Kelly B. Butzler made the proclamation from a lab on the Pennsylvania College of Technology campus: “I tell my kids all the time, nerds rule the world. If you want to be successful, be a nerd, be smart.”

Summer is a great time to remind kids that being smart is fun and learning opens up a lifetime of opportunities.

Why be a nerd? Because nerds figure out how things work and how to make things work better. They follow their curiosity, experiment with new ideas and come up with innovations that really can change the world.

If your kids are begging for another trip to the craft store so they can buy more glue to make slime, invite them to join you for tomorrow’s broadcast premiere of the fourth episode in the Working Class public television series. (Slime is involved!)

In Working Class: Competition Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters science, experimentation and competition come together to help students develop the problem-solving skills needed for high-demand, high-tech careers.

Produced by Penn College and WVIA Public Media, the documentary — premiering on WVIA TV Thursday, July 12, at 8 p.m. — highlights hands-on activities that connect students with science and other academic subjects that can prepare them for success in modern manufacturing careers.

Kellyl Butzler

“I think the most important part of science, whether it’s physics or geology or chemistry or biology, is really understanding the thought process … to work through a certain problem and get a result and know what that means,” says Dr. Butzler, who appears with other faculty and industry experts in the episode.

Viewers will catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse as students work through the challenges (scientific and otherwise) involved in designing and building combative robots and cars featured in international engineering/racing competitions. These competitive learning experiences prepare students for their futures, according to one faculty member.

“It makes them more marketable,” says Richard K. Hendricks, automated manufacturing and machining instructor at Penn College. “Companies see that they’re learning … designing, building, manufacturing, re-engineering, welding … It ups their value exponentially.”

Richard Hendricks

I hope you will tune in to learn more about the value of combining hands-on experience with academic learning in order to prepare students for future success.

Working Class: Discovery Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters features students and faculty from Penn College; Firetree Place in Williamsport; Warrior Run, Bloomsburg and Jersey Shore school districts; Rage in the Cage combative robot competition, and Society of Automotive Engineers’ Baja international racing competition.

Penn College faculty appearing in the episode are Eric K. Albert, associate professor, automated manufacturing and machining; Adam Barilla, instructor, plastics and polymer technology; Kelly B. Butzler, associate professor, chemistry; Kirk M. Cantor, professor, plastics and polymer technology; Richard K. Hendricks, Jr., instructor, automated manufacturing and machining; Joshua J. Rice, instructor, plastics and polymer technology; David S. Richards, professor, physics; Tom Van Pernis, former instructor, plastics and polymer technology, and Timothy E. Weston, associate professor, plastics and polymer technology.

Also featured are Jennifer McNelly, former president of The Manufacturing Institute; Jon Doctorick, Carnegie Science Center mobile fab lab coordinator; Kurt Wertman, teacher at Warrior Run Middle School, and Kirk Marshall, technology education teacher at Bloomsburg Area High School and organizer of regional Rage in the Cage events.

It’s never too soon to start talking careers with kids. Tim Weston, Penn College professor, talks plastics with young campers.

Working Class: Discovery Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters is the fourth in a series of Telly Award-winning documentaries that connect career awareness and academic subjects. In addition to public television broadcast, series videos appear on YouTube and the website.

SMARTgirls (Science and Math Applications in Real World Technologies at Penn College) apply their skills with Professor Eric Albert.


It is hard to face the end of a school year without getting emotional.

There are, of course, the graduations and the goodbyes. There also is the uplifting energy of anticipation. What comes next? It may be a just fun-filled summer vacation or, perhaps, a step forward into a new career or other unknowns.

Teachers, administrators, parents and students all find themselves affected by memories of the past and hopes for the future.

Just before my summer vacation, I visited two schools to honor students who participated in art challenges sponsored by Working Class. On behalf of Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media, I presented gifts to recognize the talents of these student artists.

At Canton Area Elementary School, I met art teacher Courtney Grieve and 15 students from Grades K-3 who entered the Recycled Art Challenge inspired by Working Class: Build & Grow Green.

A beautiful, sunny day in Canton – a rural community in Bradford County, PA – provided the perfect setting for an outdoor group photo. We paraded the students and their recycled art projects outside and posed them for a photo (with their smiling teacher) in front of the elementary school.

Students who participated in the challenge were Rosco Barnes, Evelyn Bellows, Kialynne Brown, Adelyn Cardona, Mackenzie Chaapel, Eloise Grace, Manual Halbfoerster, Carter Inman, Jaxson Karpinski, Michael Kinner, Hayley Larson, Taylor Lee, Emilia Pepper, Johnny Roberts, and Gavin Sharp.

Back inside the school, Ms. Grieve, who had just returned from a teacher conference, was excited about exploring new ways to enhance her classes next year. Even before one school year was over, she was getting ready for the next.

Before my visit to Canton, I had asked the teacher what art supplies she would like to have but did not have a budget to purchase. Her wish list included papermaking and felting kits for classroom use, which I was happy to deliver.

Inside the colorful elementary school art room, we talked about how important it is for students to have the opportunity to use their hands and their brains in combination. Art classes provide a perfect setting for students to explore the ideas they learn in academic subjects including science and math.

Ms. Grieve said she felt it was important for art teachers to consider how their lessons can highlight and enhance other areas of academic study. Working together, teachers can provide an enhanced learning experience that allows students to actively use math and scientific information to create original designs. It is hands-on learning at its best!

A week later, I visited BLaST Intermediate Unit 17’s Alternative Education program in Lycoming County. It was my second visit to the program this year. Earlier, I had presented an award from the Recycled Art Challenge to student DeMario Baer. This time, I returned with a second award for DeMario – who designed a math problem solving game – as well as a special honor for two of his classmates, Zack Enway and Dale Hoyles.

Zack and Dale worked together to create a board game they called “The Quest of the Four.” In a great display of teamwork, the two students drew an entire game board, character cards and game pieces by hand.

The game creators explained that players in “The Quest of the Four” would enhance their strategic abilities in battle scenarios and test their decision-making skills as they weighed the value of items they collected throughout the game. Impressive!

Zack, Dale and DeMario all were students of George Ness, a special education teacher with an emphasis on the word “special.” George, who retired at the end of this school year, choked up with emotion when talking his students’ achievements. Facing their own learning challenges, the students took on the art challenges and came out as winners. Their teacher could not have been more proud.

I am proud to know that projects such as the Working Class art challenge competitions truly inspire students to reach a bit higher, try a bit harder. However, I know the real inspiration comes from within the individuals – students and teachers – who light up the classrooms with their energy and enthusiasm.

Congratulations Zack, Dale, DeMario, and Canton’s elementary art students who took on the Working Class art challenges and did such a great job in completing their art projects.

Thank you Courtney Grieve, George Ness and all the other teachers out there who give their best day after day in classrooms everywhere.

Ending this school year with these students and teachers reminded me once again of why we started the Working Class project in the first place: to support teaching and learning and to inspire individuals to pursue their career dreams.

It is a great way to end the year … thinking about the future!


View from Yokahu Tower Recreation Area in 2014

“We never get around to it. It’s not that we lack the will. We have the will. We lack the money and the follow-through. Real life is always in the way. But somewhere an island is dancing in the sun, waiting for us to get our act together.”

Puerto Rico did not inspire these words from the memoir What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas; but, when I read the book a few weeks ago, Puerto Rico immediately came into my mind.

Yokahu Tower

Puerto Rico is an island “dancing in the sun, waiting for us to get our act together.” Eight months after Hurricane Maria, the tropical U.S. territory is still struggling. Nature itself remains unsettled and the future is uncertain.

Mireya Navarro, a reporter for The New York Times who was born in San Juan, wrote after her return to the island earlier this year: “The ebullient tropical flora that forever feeds the nostalgia of those of us who leave for good — a paradise of flower beds in backyards and brilliant green forests on mountainsides, the skyline of towering fruit and palm trees — was in a state of distress, almost a kind of paralyzed melancholy, not unlike some of the people.”

Her description of Puerto Rico in a state of “paralyzed melancholy” shook me. I know from personal experience that melancholy and paralysis can stand in the way of proper healing.

I visited Puerto Rico only once, in 2014. It was my first vacation as a widow. Traveling with family and friends, I went in search of more than leisure and recreation. I needed a healing experience. I found it at El Yunque.

Brothers Quintin and Colin Helm in the El Yunque rain forest

When I entered the only tropical rain forest in the United States, I was weak and worried that I could not keep up with my active companions. I decided to sit down in a pleasant spot and wait while the rest of my group climbed higher, treked deeper into their own adventures.

After a short time, my nephews, Quintin and Colin, returned to urge me out of my comfort zone. They would not allow me to miss the opportunity to experience the beauty they had already found in the mountains above us.

“We’ll get you there, Aunt LayLay,” they promised. One took my hand and led the way. The other followed close behind me. With their help, I scaled the high, mud-covered path and reached a breathtaking waterfall. The joy of that journey still brings me to tears.

Action brings joy!

I shed tears again reading Navarro’s description of the lingering effects of Maria on rain forest: “The hurricane uprooted so many trees that visitors to El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s famous rain forest, were now treated to newly opened vistas of the ocean. We visited on a Sunday morning and found most of the national park closed, still ailing from landslides and wobbly trees that park workers told us were still falling and shutting down trails and roads.”

Trees still falling. Landslides continuing. The devastation did not stop when the television news cameras went away. We may have gone on to worry about other world events, but Puerto Rico is still in crisis.

If, as Mireya Navarro writes, Puerto Rico is suffering from paralyzing melancholy brought on by the tremendous distress of Hurricane Maria, then our nation must reach out and offer helping hands in this recovery. Recovering the island’s beauty is good for our world and important for each of us.

Paradise for everyone may be just a few steps away, if we are willing to act. I know that if my nephews had not put their concerns for me into action, I would have remained alone at the base of the mountain while the restorative beauty of El Yunque was just a short climb away.

Colin Helm, Elaine Lambert, Quintin Helm (left to right) in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico – the island that is waiting – reminds me that every disaster we face offers us an opportunity to stand up, climb higher, and be part of the recovery that will bring healing to others and to ourselves.

It comes as no surprise that among the primary healers on the ground in Puerto Rico today are its teachers. PBS recently recognized Glenda Lozado, a fourth grade teacher in Puerto Rico, for her actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Glenda worked around the clock to bring a sense of normalcy and safety to her students. With help from PBS, she purchased generators and school supplies to keep her students learning and connected while her community worked to rebuild. Even though her students and their families have faced many hardships this year, she has remained a constant light, keeping her students engaged, learning, and encouraged throughout the most difficult of circumstances.”

As educators and individuals who support public education, we understand the important role Glenda plays in bringing hope to her students and their families. Even in the most challenging circumstances, we can make a difference when we are willing to reach out and encourage others.

Mountain view in El Yunque in 2014.

The Working Class documentary series seeks to inspire active classrooms and promote hands-on activities. Episodes including Working Class: Build & Grow Green feature career opportunities that support a healthy planet and a prosperous future for the next generation.



Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by Lauren Odgen

We experienced an awakening in recent days. The winter gray world suddenly turned to spring green.

We opened our doors and windows to beauty and remembered that we love the outdoors. Our bodies and minds felt restored by the simple greening of grass and the fresh budding of trees.

We must experience nature to feel most alive and most enthusiastic about our lives. Our natural environment matters.

Often in spring, we focus on rebirth and new beginnings. For educators and students, however, spring also marks the winding down of the school year. We celebrate learners’ achievements and aspirations, and then recess into summer.

I have shed my fair share of tears at year-end school ceremonies over the years. There is really nothing quite as inspiring as watching students find their passions, choose their paths, and go forth to make their own unique marks upon our world.

Over the last two weeks, I was inspired by visits to area schools where I had the opportunity to meet three student artists whose works were selected as the judges’ favorites in a recent Working Class recycled art challenge.

Based on themes explored in the Telly Award-winning documentary Working Class: Build and Grow Green, the challenge sought to inspire innovation while reducing waste. Elementary, middle and high school students turned trash into treasure by using ordinary art materials to transform discarded items into works of art.

Let me introduce you to the students whose work most impressed the judges.


Brooke Dorman

Brooke Dorman

Brooke Dorman is a fifth grader at Carl G. Renn Elementary School in Lairdsville.

Her “Victory Garden” bouquet was chosen as the favorite entry from students in grades K-6.

Brooke’s bouquet told a very interesting story about family and frugality.

She made a floral bouquet from recycled bank checks found in her great-grandparents’ attic. Using a technique known as quilling, she rolled, shaped and glued paper strips made from the checks to form the flowers.

She titled her bouquet “Victory Garden” in honor of the Victory Gardens that were popular among families – like her great-grandparents — during The Great Depression and World War II.

Victory Garden by Brooke Dorman

Lauren Ogden

Lauren Ogden, a 10th grade student at South Williamsport Area High School, will take her talents into the world in just a few short years.

While she considers her future career options, Lauren enjoys opportunities for self-expression provided by her art classes with teacher Betsy Jones.

Lauren Ogden

Lauren artfully titled her creation – a sneaker formed from recycled materials – “Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” Selected as the judges’ favorite entry from students in grades 7-12, the sneaker was made from old cassette tapes, plastic CD cases, a gift bag, metal springs and a cardboard cracker box.

As I delivered a prize basket to Lauren in her art room at South Williamsport, I reflected on my own high school art room experiences four decades ago. I was reminded how important it is for teenagers to have creative spaces and mentors that encourage them.

High school art rooms, music rooms, libraries and auditorium stages allow students to take their education to a higher level.

Students who create and perform build their self-confidence through practice. They also learn how to communicate and use their talents to connect with others. These skills matter in every career field.

DeMario Baer

DeMario Baer, an eighth grader who attends the Intermediate Unit 17, Alternative Education program, wants to be many different things when he grows up. He especially enjoys imagining things in his mind and building them with his hands.

DeMario Baer

The judges recognized DeMario’s innovation in meeting the recycled art challenge. He took his creation – a snowman formed from plastic bottle caps, soda can tabs and modeling clay – to the next level by adding a simple circuit board rescued from a broken stress ball. His work glowed thanks to red and blue LED lights, powered by the battery-operated circuit.

DeMario’s face glowed with pride as he accepted his prize basket in front of his classmates and teacher George Ness.

Both George and I were more than a little “choked up” by the experience of sharing DeMario’s accomplishment with his peers.

Mr. Keebs by DeMario Baer


Thanks to these three talented students and their mentors, I enjoyed a rebirth of enthusiasm for creativity in the classroom this spring.

I truly believe encouraging K-12 students to apply their curiosity and creativity to practical, hands-on learning helps prepare them for future challenges in life, including college and careers.

Working Class is sponsoring one more art challenge before the end of this school year.

The deadline is May 18 for the Game On! Art Challenge that invites K-12 students, teachers and parents to create original board games or video games. The challenge is inspired by Working Class: Game On! Math Matters, which can be viewed on WVIA On-Demand, YouTube and the series website.

Those who wish to enter may submit entries for the Game On! challenge via email, with an attached digital photo (JPEG file) of the original game board or a screen image of the video game in play. A separate email is required for each entry and must include the following information: a title and brief description of the game; entry category (student K-6, student 7-12 or teacher/parent); artist name; grade, school (or homeschool), city and state, teacher/parent name and email address.

Please email entries and questions to me prior by May 18.


Has anyone ever told you that your unique skills, talents and interests are key to a successful career?

Chances are no one ever has. Instead, you may have been led to believe there is only one very specific path to success and it requires good grades in everything and a college degree in anything.

Good grades in everything and a college degree in anything guarantee absolutely nothing. Just ask the many unemployed or underemployed college graduates in today’s job market.

Good grades in everything and a college degree in anything guarantee absolutely nothing.

A degree is not a guaranteed pathway to success. So how do you position yourself (and encourage students to prepare themselves) for high-wage, in-demand jobs?

The author of Redefining the Goal: The Truth Path to Career Readiness in the 21st Century suggests we ask ourselves ‘What can you do well?’ because that is what employers want to know. To be successful upon graduation, students must understand what jobs are available and have the knowledge and skills required to earn those jobs.

“The key is to align your interests and abilities with your first career choice and with the education and training you’ll need to receive,” says Dr. Kevin Fleming, who shares the data behind his assumptions in a viral animation video “Success in the New Economy.”

I heard Dr. Fleming speak recently on the campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology, during the Future Ready Series presented by BLaST Intermediate Unit 17. BLaST is a regional organization that supports education in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties.

Described as “a passionate advocate for ensuring all students enter the labor market with a competitive advantage,” Dr. Fleming states that his mission is to “close the skills gap one audience at a time.”

Closing the skills gap has been a top priority on the Penn College campus for more than 100 years. The Telly Award-winning documentary, “Working Class: 100 Years of Hands-on Education” and a book of the same name – both available for free online viewing – describe that history.

While conducting research for the book and documentary, I learned the campus was the center of a nationally-recognized effort to align education and job requirements following The Great Depression.

In 1938, Occupations – The Vocational Guidance Magazine reported at the Williamsport institution: “Every effort is directed toward maintenance of a constant balance between the jobs open at any one time – or likely to be open in the near future – and the number of persons in training for those jobs.”

Many job openings go unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. At the same time, many college graduates are underemployed because they lack specific skills required in a technology-driven economy. Something’s gotta give.

Dr. Fleming asks his audiences to consider the same ideas that inspired Williamsport educators, politicians and business leaders a century ago. His Penn College presentation earned plenty of snaps, as he encouraged those in attendance to snap their fingers whenever they heard facts, figures and ideas that resonated with them.

I found what Dr. Fleming called the “true ratio of jobs in our economy” (1:2:7) to be among the most compelling data he shared.

“For every occupation that requires a master’s degree or more, two professional jobs require a university degree and there are over half a dozen jobs requiring a one-year certificate or two-year degree; and each of these technicians are in very high-skilled areas that are in great demand,” he said.

True ratio of jobs in our economy 1:2:7

Let’s think of it in these terms. We tell high school students that success is defined by a university degree. Yet, in the workplace, there are only half as many job openings requiring those degrees. Twice as many opportunities exist for people who have specific technical skills. There are (in the words of Drs. Kenneth C. Gray and Edwin L. Herr who were featured in a previous Working Class blog) “other ways to win.”

Dr. Fleming, who holds several bachelor and master’s degrees and a Ph.D., said earning an industry credential launched his career, after years of underemployment. It’s not only what you know, it’s what you can prove you know how to do that makes you stand out in a crowd of job applicants today.

In the video “4 Skills and 4 Steps to a Successful Career,” Dr. Fleming speaks simply about the importance of combining academic skills and knowledge, life skills, employability skills and technical skills in order to become workplace ready. This video is worth sharing with high school students, teachers and parents who want to know what it really takes to succeed.

Old ideas that separate “technical” skills and academics simply do not serve students seeking 21st century careers. The use of technology, in the form of computers and equipment, is a job requirement across the board. Advancement in every field demands problem-solving skills acquired in the study of math, science and the humanities.

Employers expect newly hired workers to follow directions, meet deadlines, organize projects, communicate and work well with others. Lessons learned (or not learned) from Kindergarten through high school graduation may determine all students’ chances for success later in life.

“Take your classes seriously and become the strongest reader, writer and thinker that you can be,” Dr. Fleming advises. We need all students (college-bound or not) to be as well prepared as they can be for life after high school.

The challenge for teachers is to make academics relevant for all students by applying real world experiences in the classroom. Every student needs to learn how to overcome challenges, manage household finances and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Incorporating such common experiences into academic subjects will benefit students for a lifetime.

We need all students (college-bound or not) to be as well prepared as they can be for life after high school.

If you are interested in learning more about classes that combine academics, hands-on activities and career awareness, I invite you to check out the Working Class documentary series, produced by Penn College and WVIA Public Media.

Thank you Dr. Fleming, BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 and Penn College for helping educators and students in our region become “future ready.”

NOTE: Photos presented here feature caps decorated and worn by Penn College graduates during their commencement ceremonies in recent years.