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Students Pen a Historical Look at Homestead – Book Features Poems, Photos, Essays

Thursday, June 10, 2010
By Dana Vogel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Student authors from Propel Andrew Street High School sign copies of the book they authored about Homestead’s Eighth Avenue at the Tin Front Cafe. From left: Crystal Short, MalikQua Salter, Chaqua Johnson, Janiece Hall and Tikisha Johnson.

Thanks to the Young Preservationists Association — a nonprofit organization that encourages the participation of young people in historic preservation — the history of Homestead has come alive for a group of Propel Andrew Street High School students.

The association’s Youth Main Street Advisers Program and seven students from Propel Andrew Street held a book signing last Thursday in Homestead to launch their new book, “Take a Walk From the Past to the Future of Eighth Avenue,” published by Red Engine Press.

The book was the result of a year-long project to better understand Homestead’s historic commercial district and to envision a new future.

“Take a Walk From the Past to the Future of Eighth Avenue,” which is divided into three parts representing the past, present and future of Eighth Avenue, features essays, poems and interviews by the students. The book also includes photographs of the neighborhood from the past and present.

Dan Holland, CEO of the youth group, explained the idea for a book came from a desire to do something more enduring than a video. “We wanted something you can see, feel, touch,” he said.

The rest of the story came down to a combination of luck and preparedness, Mr. Holland said. He explained that he ran into his longtime friend Jeremy Resnick, executive director and founder of Propel, at a barber shop and mentioned his idea. With a grant from the Grable Foundation and approval from Propel superintendent Carol Wooten, students from Propel Andrew Street in Munhall turned Mr. Holland’s dream into a reality.

The most significant result of the project seems to be its effect on the students.

Stephanie Nachemja-Bunton, a teacher at Propel Andrew Street and the group’s adviser, said, despite a few initial setbacks, “the seven students who completed the books were dedicated and did a wonderful job.”

She said that in addition to researching Homestead in books and on the Internet, the students took a number of tours of the borough.

Dr. Wooten said not only did the project give the students a stronger sense of community, but it also helped them to meet Pennsylvania academic standards, particularly in communications. She also emphasized that the group aspect of the project will help to prepare the students for the workplace.

The students also agreed that, in the end, the project was about learning.

“The experience was good. I gained knowledge and learned about the community,” said MalikQua Salter, a 17-year-old junior from Rankin, who contributed an essay, interview and photo essay to the book.

MalikQua, whose father grew up in Homestead, wrote in the book, “Eighth Avenue is no longer what it used to be, but many people are coming together to make it what it once was.”

Freshman Janiece Hall, 15, of Penn Hills, said, “I learned about interviewing and communication skills.”

Janiece, who has a poem, photo essay, interview and essay feature in the book, also said that while the project seemed difficult at first, “as it was coming together, it got easier.”

In her poem, she describes earlier excitement on the avenue which is “now as empty as a dried up river bed.”

The result of all the hard work seems well worth it to MalikQua. “The book turned out great. We worked hard and put in a lot of effort, and it’s pretty good,” she said.

Echoing her sentiments, Mr. Holland said: “I’m thrilled with the book. It’s a very compelling product.

“Our hope is that the community will embrace this book as well,” he added.

For a copy of “Take a Walk From the Past to the Future of Eighth Avenue,” call the Young Preservationists Association at 412-363-5964.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633