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A Flying Kite guide to the Fringe Festival

Feeling a little overwhelmed by the Fringe Festival website or catalog? When you count FringeArts’ "curated" collection of shows, the theatrical free-for-all by neighborhood and this year’s brand-new free online experience Digital Fringe, there are 140 shows in all.

The festival is underway September 3 - 19. Here are some experiences Flying Kite readers shouldn't miss.

Outside Sound Concert and Art Gallery promises to be an interesting and accessible evening. Happening September 16 at the Central Branch of the Free Library, this free "live music and art event" features pieces by artists with disabilities and live original music inspired by artwork.

Looking for more music? Hit up Philadelphia Opera Collective’s Jump the Moon ($20). It’s about a true-life late 19th-century "harem" of women at Harvard who "discovered and catalogued more stars than anyone before or since." The piece is an "experimental opera" mashup of science, music and the cosmos that invites you to "leave your orbit." It’s coming to the Skybox at the Adrienne in Center City September 16-19.

For another interdisciplinary experience, consider Soldier Bear ($5) from Leila and Pantea Productions. Funded by the Jim Henson Foundation, the show is based on the true story of a Polish WWII soldier who adopts an orphaned bear cub. It promises "puppetry, dance, shadow theater and animation combined," and is coming to the Mainstage at Center City’s Plays & Players Theatre September 9-19.

Willing to step outside for another animal-themed show? At The Renegade Company’s Damned Dirty Apes ($20), the audience will take a "theatrical expedition" of FDR Park incorporating three classic films: Planet of the Apes, Tarzan the Ape Man and King Kong. The description warns: "Wear comfortable shoes, prepare to get dirty, and don’t stray from the path." It’s running September 9-19.

If you like the interactive element but want to stay indoors, Linda Dubin Garfield’s FAMILY: Portraits and Stories offers an "interactive mixed media Fringe Installation." The show is free, and art materials for telling your own story are supplied to everyone who comes; donations go to Family Support Services. It’s happening September 13, noon - 2 p.m. at the Book Trader in Old City.

If you’re interested in technology, past and present, check out Brian Shapiro's A Few Thousand Upgrades Later ($15). This show originally premiered in 1995, predicting how "computers would impact human interaction." After twenty years, what did it get right? Shapiro revisits the work to take a look. It’s coming to Fairmount’s London Grill through September 18.

Tangle Movement Arts is a company doing some really interesting work around town: This all-female circus/acrobat troupe devises performances built around the feminine and queer experience. They’re premiering The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct ($20) which uses a "kinetic cityscape" of ropes and silks to fathom "life’s unspoken rules and expectations." The show is part of the Fishtown/Kensington Fringe at Philadelphia Soundstages, September 10-12.

Finally, for a one-night fest-within-a-fest check out Alternative Theatre Festival 2015 ($5), an annual event hosted by University of Pennsylvania's iNtuitions Experimental Theatre. Each student-written, acted and directed piece "features some sort of experiment or new and different idea." It’s coming to West Philly’s Platt Performing Arts House on September 12.

For the full Fringe line-up, plus dates and times, visit FringeArts online.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: FringeArts

 

New dollars for WINS send Philly's science-loving girls across the world

Since 1982, The Academy of Natural Science's Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program has been making science exciting and accessible to Philly’s high-school girls. Now, Academy Vice President of Education Jacquie Genovesi is excited to announce that the program has finally been recognized with a national award.

Flying Kite recently took a look at WINS' exchange program, which welcomed youth from Mongolia to Philadelphia, and then organized a reciprocal trip for Philly WINS girls to Asia to study ecology and the impact of climate change on different sides of the world.

In August, the WINS E-STEM program (science, technology, engineering and math through "projects involving real environmental problems") received a $50,000 Innovative Education Award, given through a partnership with Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Genovesi, who traveled to the UL headquarters in Chicago in early August to receive the Academy’s second-place award and network with other honorees, says the contest drew almost 150 applications from 40 states and three Canadian provinces.

The new dollars will boost the WINS program by opening up paid internships and field experience for WINS girls.

"We actually just put out a call to all of our scientists, saying, 'Ok, what kind of fun projects do you have coming up in the next  year?'" says Genovesi. Internships could last a summer or -- depending on where they’re located and cooperation from the student’s school -- up to eight months, in the lab and in the field.

"They could be almost anywhere," she adds. The Academy has scientists working in the Greater Philadelphia area, but there are also researchers stationed in Brazil, Vietnam, Jamaica and Mongolia.

"Not only is it about STEM and about young women, but it’s about supporting the entire person," muses Genovesi. The WINS program stands out among other STEM programs, which often recruit kids who are acing their classes, love science and are already college-bound. WINS instead focuses on "in-between" students who may be interested in science, but don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives and aren’t at the top of the class. Many come from low-income households. "We give them that extra boost to say, you know what, anybody can do science…And not only can you do science, but you can stay in school, you can go to college, and you can really succeed in life."

“We can’t afford to throw away any creative youth," she adds, especially the girls, who are "so underrepresented" in these fields.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jacquie Genovesi, The Academy of Natural Sciences

Community funding propels G-Town Radio from the internet to the airwaves

G-Town Radio station manager Jim Bear says that though it might not yet be visible to the public, big changes are underway for Germantown’s Internet radio station, which at its highest listenership has over 15,000 people tuning in worldwide.

The major news broke in January, when the station got its permit from the FCC to become a Low Power FM radio station -- new federal legislation gave non-commercial neighborhood groups access to low-power airwaves previously denied them in favor of major broadcasting frequencies.

"To serve the community as best we can, being on the radio allows us to do that much better than we can online,” explains Bear who is still "a big believer" in Internet radio. "I love the medium. I love what you can do with it, but at the same time, there are real limitations to who you can expect to reach. I think that would be true anywhere, but I think it’s even more evident in a community like Germantown."

In many neighborhoods, the digital divide is still very real. Unlike Internet access, which can be costly and require certain skills to tune in, radio is still a ubiquitous and easily accessible medium, free for everyone with a car or a radio in the home. (The station will continue to broadcast online as well.)

With an existing studio and programming, G-town Radio (which will share airtime with Germantown United CDC and Germantown Life Enrichment Center) is ahead of some nascent LPFM stations who must build their presence from the ground up.

Right now, Bear is looking into locations and lease agreements with local property owners who might be able to host a radio antenna on the roof. The studio space itself won’t require much additional equipment: the primary expense of shifting to LPFM will be that new transmission equipment, including the gear that beams the audio from the studio to the tower.

To that end, G-Town Radio has launched a "Drive for the Sky" crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo, hoping to raise $5,000 by October 3. That will cover the initial costs of equipment and installation, and possibly the first few months of rent for the antenna location.

"We want to make sure we get to the air… [and] demonstrate our worth, and hopefully when we’re doing that, people will recognize the value of community radio, and give us access to a larger pool of donors and supporters and listeners," enthuses Bear.

He hopes the new G-town Radio signal -- available at 92.9 FM -- will hit the airwaves as soon as possible: They’re on an FCC-administered deadline requiring completion of LPFM construction within 18 months of receiving the permit, which means launching by next summer at the latest. The signal is expected to reach what Bear calls "greater Northwest Philadelphia," including Germantown, East Falls, Nicetown, Mt. Airy and West Oak Lane. (Depending on location and the density of area buildings, LPFM signals typically have a three to five mile radius.)

"A lot of it’s behind the scenes so there’s not much to see," says Bear of the LPFM progress so far, "but we’re actively working on it and we’re still moving forward."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jim Bear, G-Town Radio

Scientist of the Year nominee grapples with rehab robots at GRASP

Dr. Michelle Johnson isn’t a Philadelphia native – she’s been heading up the new Rehabilitation Robotics Lab out of University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP (general robotics, automation, sensing & perception) laboratory for only about two years – so when she heard she’d been nominated for Scientist of the Year in the Philadelphia Geek Awards, she didn’t know what to think.

"Since I’m new to Philadelphia, I didn’t know what it meant," she explains. "I’m like, 'What? Is that a good thing?'"

In Philadelphia, also known as the "eds and meds" capital of the U.S., it definitely is. But in the truest geek fashion, Johnson wasn’t even able to make it to the August 15 ceremony at the Academy of Natural Sciences. She spoke to Flying Kite about her recent work from Singapore, where she and her Penn team were presenting at the International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics, before jaunting to Botswana for some more research.

The Jamaican-born Johnson grew up in New York and received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford with an emphasis in robotics, design and mechatronics. (Don’t know what mechatronics is? It’s a combination of mechanical engineering, computing and electronics to help us discover and develop new manufacturing techniques.)

In 2013, Johnson moved her lab from its original location in the medical college of Wisconsin’s Marquette University to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, taking up a faculty position at Penn.

Johnson acknowledges that her focus -- robots that assist in rehabilitation and treatment for people dealing with things such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and other problems -- is a very narrow slice of a rapidly expanding field, one that has been around only for the last 25 years or so.

Engineers like Johnson and her team at Penn work closely with neuroscientists. Neuroplasticity is the name of the game: the brain’s ability to re-wire and reroute itself after an injury. It's crucial in fields such as prosthetics -- where patients’ brains learn to interact with robotic devices that restore the body’s function -- or to bolster limbs weakened from conditions like MS.

With cutting-edge technologies like EEGs and functional MRIs revealing our neurons’ "structural connectivity," they're working not just to understand the normal brain, but also to piece together what happens when the brain becomes damaged, and develop technology to pair with our bodies in ways that were unimaginable a few decades ago.

Things like Ekso Bionics, which help people with spinal cord injuries to walk again, get a lot of press, but Johnson also points to work like functional electrical stimulation and implanted electrodes as recent major advances in rehab, along with rehabilitative robotic devices that enable injured patients to continue crucial exercise regimens at home for a much longer time than is feasible in hospital settings. Wearable sensors, especially those invisibly embedded in textiles (with myriad applications for remote monitoring of patients), are also part of the next big wave of medical robotics, even if it’s not widely commercialized yet.

Though proud of her recent nomination, Johnson stresses that science is a team sport.

"Oftentimes when you get the accolade, you forget all the students and the support staff that really are critical to this process," she insists. "I want to really make clear that nothing can happen without that team…I want to congratulate my team for working hard and doing good research."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michelle Johnson, Ph.D., Rehabilitation Robotics Lab at Penn

Meet A Poet Art Gallery, On the Ground’s host in Parkside

On August 11, Flying Kite announced the official relaunch of On the Ground, and we’re already enjoying the hospitality of our home for the next three months, Girard Avenue's A Poet Art Gallery.

The gallery, founded in late 2010, was originally located at 4510 Walnut Street before moving to 40th and Girard in Parkside. The three founders, Rachelle Pierre-Louis, Shar Coles and New York-based Tina Albright recently chatted with Flying Kite about their history and mission.

"We just wanted to create a space for artists to basically have a home," explains Pierre-Louis.

Events at the Girard Avenue space include weekly (every Tuesday night) and monthly ("Sounds in the Gallery" every first Saturday) open mic events for poetry and music, plus art exhibitions, African dance classes and, coming soon, painting classes. The gallery is also available to rent for a variety of events, including weddings.

The three women's artistic backgrounds are about as diverse as they come. The Haitian-born Pierre-Louis came to the U.S. when she was 11, first settling with family in Los Angeles for a year, then relocating to Philly where she completed the rest of her education, including a graphic design degree.

"I’ve been drawing since I was six years old," she says; Pierre-Louis now works in acrylics and oils, as well as tattoo art.

Coles, an alum of University City High School, is a Philadelphia native who grew up in South and West Philly. She loves all kinds of art and describes herself as "an inside poet" because she enjoys putting words together, but doesn’t always share them in public.

Albright is an interior designer and art-decal maker, but she also shares carpentry skills with Coles. Her artistic expertise extends into the culinary realm: She creates custom cakes in a variety of shapes including handbags and shoes.

"We pretty much all had a hand in building the gallery," recalls Albright.

The three put even more work into their Girard Avenue space than the Walnut Street one -- they raised the ceiling, laid down new floors, and designed and created the bathrooms. The location even boasts a backyard.

The women admire the better-known gallery corridors of Old City, but saw no reason not to bring the same caliber of art and community-building to West Philly. According to Pierre-Louis, they have a broad client base across the city, but want to connect more closely with their nearest neighbors. When she got wind of On the Ground, it sounded like the perfect "missing piece" of their mission for the gallery.

"We’ve been trying to get in touch and pool a little bit more of the community and we haven’t had that chance," she continues; the Flying Kite connection was the right thing at the right time. "We want people to come out and appreciate art and see something different…and decide to pick up some paint and write some poetry, and we want to inspire people and be in our home base, which is West Philly."

The address is 4032 Girard Avenue, and Flying Kite will be in residence there every Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. through October.

"We’re always looking for artists," adds Pierre-Louis. "The door is always open."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Rachelle Pierre-Louis, Shar Coles, and Tina Albright, APoetArtGallery 

 

Germantown's 'Racism is a Sickness' project seeks subjects and supporters

On August 2, Germantown photographer, blogger and activist Tieshka Smith formally launched a project she calls "the most important work that I have done to date.”

The kick-off discussion for that effort, "Racism is a Sickness," took place at Maplewood Mall’s G-Town Radio space. It drew so many interested locals over the course of an hour that the place was packed.

A combination of portraits and interviews conducted by the artist on how racism has affected her subjects, "Racism is a Sickness" is an extension of work Smith did over the last year through a residency at the Painted Bride Art Center. There, her portrait series titled "Private Pain, Silent Struggle," documented people of color with the objects and activities that help to insulate them against the pain of prejudice in everyday life. Smith wanted her subjects to have a say in how they were portrayed because "people of color are not given the agency to find their own imaging."

The current photo project has similar themes, but the portrait style will be more uniform: They’ll all be taken in the lobby at G-Town Radio in front of an upside-down American flag. That flag represents "a country in distress," she explains -- it’s like "shooting up a flare" for racial injustice in modern America.

Each subject (five of whom had already been photographed as of early August) will wear a medical mask with a word written on it representing something they hope to protect themselves against such as "shame," "fear," "stereotyping" and "suspicion." Ultimately, Smith hopes to include 25 subjects in the project. She aims to raise $5,000 to support the work through an Indiegogo campaign.

Beyond finding and photographing her subjects, the artist’s next step will be broad community engagement, an exhibition of the portraits and lots of associated programming developed out of the themes of the interviews. Smith is on the lookout for a final exhibition space and plenty of "co-investors" -- she is hoping to connect with a wide range of community groups who want to combat the social, economic and sometimes life-threatening dangers of racism.

For more information or to find out how you can participate in this project (open to people of all colors), e-mail racismisasickness@gmail.com or follow along on Twitter @RMUS2015.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tieshka Smith, “Racism is a Sickness” 

A cafe start-up helps foster-care youth get on their feet

Lisa Miccolis worked for a long time in coffee shops. She found a lot of pride and enjoyment in the communities she found there, both among her co-workers and the customers. But she didn’t feel that she was really fulfilling her life’s goal until she had a “lightbulb moment" -- the idea for a nonprofit café specifically designed to employ and mentor young people aging out of the foster-care system.

Miccolis first became aware of this problem on a trip to South Africa several years ago. She met residents of an orphanage who were facing the sudden loss of their support system when they were no longer legally children -- they didn’t have the network or skills to forge an independent life. She realized that the same problem exists in Philadelphia as youngsters lose access to a host of resources at age 18 (or, if they meet some criteria in Pennsylvania, age 21). Without family support or education and job prospects, they don’t know what to do.

"Generally, as soon as one thing goes, everything goes with it," she explains. "If your housing is unstable, chances are you’re not going to be able to hold a job. And if you don’t have a job, good luck getting a job."

Her answer is The Monkey & the Elephant, a non-profit café/mentoring program that hires youth who have aged out of foster care. It launched in late 2012, with pop-up locations in three spots over subsequent years: the Italian Market, Manayunk’s Transfer Station and Impact Hub (from March to December of last year).

In February 2015, The Monkey & the Elephant opened its first permanent location at 2831 W. Girard Avenue in Brewerytown. It’s open seven days a week, 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Eight youngsters have been employed in the program so far, ranging in age from 19 to 25. And it’s not just about food service -- the M&E team helps employees think through career and educational decisions, offers support in the housing process, and even helps out with schoolwork.

"What I’ve noticed is changes in how they think about things," explains Miccolis. "When they’re talking about what they want to do, we’ve been able to reframe the direction they’re taking to get there." It’s not about a rush to the "perfect job," but a practical, encouraging and achievable long-term path. Typically, the program takes on its participants for eight months, but the mentorship is ongoing. "When they finish with us and they are ready to work towards that job or get back into school or whatever it is, they have more of a foundation for it and they’re better able to support themselves.”

Monkey & the Elephant recently received an unexpected honor: a Startup of the Year nomination from the annual Philadelphia Geek Awards. "Geek" has a broad definition these days, and in Philly it’s a coveted label.

"I was pretty shocked and honored to have that nomination," says Miccolis; the ceremony that will take place on August 15 at the Academy of Natural Sciences. "I wouldn’t have thought of a coffee shop or a non-profit as a geek-centered organization... It’s pretty cool that it’s not just for the sciences or technology."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lisa Miccolis, The Monkey & the Elephant

An urban farm sprouts in Chinatown thanks to Grow Where You Live

Meei Ling Ng, a Singapore-born, Philly-based artist, designer and urban farmer, has taken on a multifaceted project in Chinatown North. The initiative features a vertical urban farm, a job-skills program for people in recovery from addiction or homelessness, and a new fount of fresh food for the partnering Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.

The impetus for Ng's new project grew out of Grow Where You Live, her year-long Social Practice Lab residency at the Asian Arts Initiative. It was supposed to wrap up in June, but the current urban garden project has proven so successful that Ng's Asian Arts residency has been extended at least until the end of this year.

"Ideally I was looking for a vacant lot around the neighborhood," says Ng of a long search for an appropriate urban farm space and partner organization. Such a space -- open to the work of an artist and farmer -- was hard to find, partly because of recent gentrification in the area.

A tour of the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission late last year proved extremely propitious: Ng learned that the organization, which provides a range of vital services to the city’s homeless, was in the process of a parking lot space swap with their neighbors to the west, Roman Catholic High School.

The switch would leave a large space along Sunday Breakfast’s kitchen wall -- about 20 feet wide and 100 feet long -- empty of cars by law.

"This is amazing. This is exactly what we want," Ng recalls thinking on seeing the space; she envisioned a specially designed and built vertical urban farm. "We can use a whole big empty wall with asphalt under…this could be an awesome, awesome project."

The artist spent a month on a meticulous rendering of her idea, then pitched it to Sunday Breakfast. The project became reality through support and donations from Asian Arts, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Orchard Project, City Harvest and South Philly’s Urban Jungle, a landscape design firm.

Since then, the little farm has provided pounds of produce that go directly into meals served at Sunday Breakfast.

The partnership also has a human component: The farm runs with help from workers at Overcomers, an intensive 16-month program for men in recovery from addiction and homelessness. They reap a wealth of skills -- not only the ability to grow their own healthy food in an urban setting, but practical job training in a rapidly growing industry. The formal part of the Overcomers project is finished, but a few participants have stayed on as official apprentices and volunteers.

"This is very exciting that we have a team now to work on the farm," says Ng, adding that she has high hopes the project will continue in future summers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Meei Ling Ng, Asian Arts Initiative

BFTP/SEP invests $2.8M in 14 early-stage tech firms

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) closed fiscal year 2015 with $2.8 million in investments in 14 early-stage companies in sectors ranging from information technology to digital health to advanced manufacturing.

American Aerospace in Montgomery County provides endurance, beyond-line-of-sight, unmanned aircraft system products and services to oil and gas, electric transmission and emergency management customers.

BioBots in Philadelphia builds 3D bioprinters and bioinks, producing 3D living tissues out of human cells.

Montgomery County's Core Solutions is a progressive leader in transforming the behavioral, medical and social services experience for behavioral health providers, consumers and state agencies.
 
Philadelphia’s DECNUT provides healthcare organizations with dynamic point-of-care solutions designed to improve clinical decision-making. 

Defend Your Head in Chester County has developed an innovative protective helmet cover that reduces head trauma for all contact sports.

Philadelphia's Gencore offers a revolutionary cloud application analytics solution that provides high-fidelity performance analytics and monitoring. 

Grand Round Table in Philadelphia provides innovative clinical decision support solutions integrated into electronic health records.

Montgomery County’s KickUp aims to end the intellectual, physical and geographic isolation that educators face by providing access to quality coaching, collaboration and mentorship opportunities. 

MeetBall in Bucks County offers a location-sharing platform that helps fans navigate the crowd and improve their experience at large events such as NASCAR races, football games, concerts and festivals. 

Philadelphia's Optofluidics is enhancing particle analysis with state-of-the art, nanotechnology-enabled instrumentation. 

ROAR in Philadelphia is developing fashionable jewelry that doubles as an alarm and alert system to protect women from attack. 

Rocker Tools in Bucks County is an innovative designer, manufacturer and distributor of specialty construction tools. 

Philadelphia's Yorn is a real-time data platform that links patient-generated feedback with associated health data. 

Philadelphia’s ZSX Medical is a medical device company whose Zip-Stitch offers a rapid surgical closure platform. 

Source: BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider

Worked Up: Philly’s biggest-ever Early Childhood Education jobs convention is coming

In response to a proposed $120 million bump in the Pennsylvania budget for Early Childhood Education (ECE) from Governor Tom Wolf, Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) and partners are hosting the largest career fair of its kind ever to hit the Philly region.

If the new funding becomes law, that means 1,400 new jobs could open up in the industry statewide, and up to 400 in Philadelphia. Local childcare centers are already gearing up to hire more teachers, assistant teachers, administrators and directors; the jobs could start as early as September. To that end, the non-profit PHMC is bringing its Early Childhood Education Workforce Transformation (ECEWTI) Career Convention to Centre Square East (on the Lower Mezzanine of 1500 Market Street) on Friday, July 31 from 12 - 4 p.m.

"This is a completely free event," enthuses PHMC program officer Lizette Egea-Hinton -- there will even be childcare on hand for job-seeking parents who need someone to watch the kids. The event will feature a mix of the region’s premier ECE service-providers -- some will even interview qualified candidates on the spot -- and activities from partnering organizations that allow the Convention to cast a broader net.

PHMC is teaming with the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children and the Montgomery Early Learning Centers for the convention; training organizations such as 1199c and some local universities will also be on hand. They’ll offer interview workshops, resume tips and what the ECE industry calls "career lattice therapy."

Not familiar with the term "career lattice"? Egea-Hinton explains that it’s a multi-layered metric for childcare workers that encompasses factors including your degree level, your training and how many years of experience you have. Those who want to enter or advance in the industry should start by understanding where they are in the ECE lattice, and what they need to do to obtain the jobs they want.

Egea-Hinton notes that filling jobs in the sector can be challenging because of a consistent gap in pay between what ECE professionals earn and what their counterparts in schooling for older kids make. Addressing that is one reason PHMC partners with the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) -- the organization is a Win-Win Challenge grantee.

"A part of our work through JOIN is to see how we can remedy this issue," she says. "We do need the staff, but our biggest barrier is pay. So what can we do to bridge that gap?"

Despite the challenges, this remains a growing field in the education sector, and Philly has to be ready to meet the needs of its youngest citizens (and their parents).

"We’ve never had [an event] like this before," enthuses Egea-Hinton. "We’re offering a lot of things and we plan on it being really large. We hope that it’s very successful, so we can have more in the future…it shows it’s a need."

The Convention will also boast refreshments, raffles and "swag bags." Any questions? E-mail ecetraining@phmc.org
 
The Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) has partnered with Flying Kite to explore how good jobs are created and filled in Greater Philadelphia. For more on the Win-Win Challenge, click here.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lizette Egea-Hinton, Public Health Management Corporation

The School District puts $30 million to work boosting early childhood literacy

Big news for books in the School District of Philadelphia: $30 million in combined investments from the District and major foundations, announced this month, will spur a major literacy initiative for the city’s elementary schoolers. Plans are also afoot to put about 2,000 individual classroom libraries into Philly schools (about a million books in total).
 
It’s a three-year, three-pronged effort, funded in part by $4.5 million from The Lenfest Foundation and $6 million from the William Penn Foundation. The programs will focus on kids in kindergarten through third grade; it's part of District Superintendent Dr. William Hite’s longterm plan to boost early childhood literacy, a particular challenge for our city.
 
According to a statement from the District and the partnering foundations, Philly has 48,000 kids in kindergarten through third grade. Eight-five percent of them are members of low-income families, 14 percent have special education needs and 10 percent don’t speak English as their first language. A little over half of Philly's students can read at grade level by the end of third grade, an issue the District has already been tackling with its READ by 4th! Campaign (the new efforts will be an extension of this work).
 
According to William Penn Program Director Elliot Weinbaum, this investment has been in the pipeline for a while. The District had been working with the foundations for almost a year prior to the announcement; the foundations were impressed by the scope and specificity of the District's plans.
 
For the first part of the new initiative, 2,000 of Philly’s K-3 teachers (about 65 percent of them overall) will receive a week-long intensive summer training program on research-backed literacy instruction, institutionalizing new evidence-based approaches. Dedicated literacy coaches will support teachers throughout the school year.
 
Finally, the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia will spearhead a campaign for $3.4 million in matching funds from public donors over the next three years. The money will go towards customized in-classroom libraries.
 
"The classroom-based library is very much meant for the child to take agency over his or her learning," says Weinbaum. Students will be able to take volumes home with them for reading outside the classroom, and school staffers will help select the books, customizing the individual collections.

"It won’t be a one-size-fits-all library," adds Weinbaum. "We have a very diverse student body, both in terms of cultural and ethnic background," at a range of reading levels. Because of that diversity, the span of classroom interests and needs is "much broader than you would find in other schools and districts around the country. There’s plenty of research out there that shows when kids are interested in a topic, they are more likely to engage with the books."
 
Members of the public interested in supporting the libraries effort can call The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia at (215) 979-1199.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elliot Weinbaum, The William Penn Foundation

A new indoor wayfinding app works to grow an industry

Once upon a time, we humans were content to sail ships across oceans with nothing but the sun and stars to figure out where we were, but things are a little different today. Chet Dagit, founder and managing director of the Radnor-based RTP Holdings, says that nowadays, satellite GPS can help us locate ourselves on this round earth within three meters of a given spot, but for a lot of industries, even that’s not enough.

"Micro-location solutions" is what RTP has been working on since its genesis three years ago; the company now has one year of operations under its belt. The technology is also called "augmented GPS"  -- it works with the help of a radio tower on the ground. On a large outdoor site such as a golf-course, plugged-in users can locate themselves to within a single meter with the help of a map in the cloud.

This technology is crucial for the modern aviation and maritime industries, says Dagit, but RTP is also helping to develop the next wave of micro-location: GPS that works through a specialized app indoors, helping users navigate their way through large buildings and attractions such as college campuses or museums.

The apps use WiFi and now Bluetooth Beacon for ground references, and RTP’s services to their clients come in two main parts: the positioning of these devices and the actual indoor mapping. They survey buildings to ensure the right number and location of WiFi access points, input those spots to a three-dimensional grid of the space, and then get the building’s floor-plan mapped into the app-accessed cloud.

To imagine an immediate and urgent application, picture calling 911 on your cell phone from inside a huge building and letting the app guide EMTs right to you. Or you can simply figure out what museum exhibit is a two-minute step from where you’re currently standing.

RTP recently held its first public demonstration of its trademarked Lokita Solution system for indoor micro-location mobile apps. It was a big success: Their new beta app, The @UPenn Xperience (now available in the Apple iTunes App store) took first place at the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies (PACT) Wayfinding App Challenge in late June, hosted by PACT and co-sponsored by Penn and Independence Blue Cross.

"The new app helps students and visitors to Penn’s campus navigate and discover the art-filled campus and surrounding city," said RTP in a statement about the win, which came with a $30,000 prize.

"It really makes our solution tangible, so [people] can see it in action," says Dagit of the presentation and the prize. The company put their competition team and demo together in less than a month.

"That really shows our prospective customers how quickly we can get things done, and the quality of our work on a certain timeline," he adds.

"Philly is one of the leading cities in the country for indoor mapping," he continues, expaining that we're second only to Las Vegas in the number of buildings using this type of technology. "I just think we’re progressive with technology, maybe a little bit more early adopters, and we’re all about these great public venues that we have."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chet Dagit: RTP Holdings

The Cultural Alliance hits the ground running with a new arts and tech residency

Fresh from its victory helping the Philadelphia Cultural Fund secure stable funding for 2016, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance is on the trail of innovations that spark deeper collaborations between the local arts and technology sectors.
 
2014 saw the launch of the organization’s TechniCulture Initiative, and president Maud Lyon says this year’s TechniCulture Innovation Residency Awards, announced in June, further that work.
 
Local cultural groups invited to apply for the residencies must have an annual operating budget of $1 million or less. The hard part isn’t necessarily finding the solution to a problem, but trying to frame what you need in the first place.

"One of the things that’s both fascinating and intimidating for technology is that you don’t even know what questions to ask," explains Lyon. 
 
That’s what these unique art/tech residencies, each seeded with $2,000, are going to help three local organizations accomplish. Winners will be paired with a technologist or a digital agency who will work in-depth with them for months to help them achieve something they don’t have the resources to develop on their own.
 
"What really is an issue for a lot of organizations is that they sort of have an idea that technology could help them with something, but they don’t know what that is," says Lyon. On the other hand, "the technology people can create an app for anything, but they need to understand what the organization’s really trying to accomplish."
  
What those projects will be is still an open question, but Lyon points to challenges such as better management of existing data, better audience and consumer services, new organizational capacities, new forms of art, or more efficient, effective business models.
 
A specific timeline is in place. On July 16, the Cultural Alliance is hosting a free orientation session for interested organizations (register online); August 21 is the deadline for applications. Three winning organizations will receive their new tech residency partner on September 30.
 
The first phase will include 80 hours of work from the participating tech professional or firm between October and December, developing an actionable concept. In early 2016, a "design challenge" will follow in which volunteering technologists, marketers, and communications and development experts create grant-ready road maps for implementation of the three residencies’ concepts, pinpointing the platform or medium and estimating costs. (The Alliance has an open call for TechniCulture design challenge partners; interested professionals or firms should contact grants and program manager Tracy Buchanan at tracyb@philaculture.org.)
 
The TechniCulture Innovation Residency Awards will culminate in a public presentation on April 29 as part of Philly Tech Week 2016. An audience vote will award one of the concepts further dollars for implementation, but all three organizations will walk away with a concept ready for funding.
  
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Maud Lyon, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

A new partnership promotes healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship

Independence Blue Cross (IBX) and Thomas Jefferson University have embarked on a new collaboration "designed to boost innovation in healthcare across the region and help both organizations improve the quality and value of healthcare," said the partners in a statement.

The new Independence Blue Cross – Jefferson Health Innovation Collaboration will be jointly and equally funded up to $2 million by IBX and Jefferson. The program will be run through the Independence Blue Cross Center for Health Care Innovation and Jefferson's Innovation Pillar

According to Jefferson's Donna Gentile O’Donnell, details are still being worked out, but the effort will include an entrepreneur-in-residence program for clinicians and researcher who have promising discoveries that need more dedicated time and proof-of-concept support, including prototyping. 

The entrepreneurs-in-residence will also participate in education curriculum in entrepreneurship and an innovation engagement speaker series.The collaboration also plans to host health hackathons with participants working intensely to "hack" usable solutions to important healthcare issues such as reducing hospital readmissions, designing wearable devices that improve healthcare delivery and other cutting-edge technology applications.

"We anticipate that the entrepreneur-in-residence program will be a pivot point for moving new ideas forward and changing what we do and how we do it in multiple aspects of healthcare," enthused Stephen K. Klasko, president and CEO of Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.

Gentile O’Donnell says that specifics of the selection process are being worked out, but that for year one "we are looking for areas of practice research and clinical applications that may need proof of concept, but [whose hypotheses] point in the direction of improving care, decreasing care risk and decreasing hospital readmission."

Established in February 2014, IBX's Center for Health Care Innovation houses a wide range of initiatives and champions healthcare entrepreneurism in the region. Jefferson's Innovation Pillar is an initiative designed to elevate and encourage innovation as a mission for the university and the health system.

Source: Donna Gentile O’Donnell, TJU and Independence Blue Cross
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Designer Amy Devan is making fashion waves from Philly

Most fashion designers dream of living and working in New York, London, Paris or Milan, where the big fashion weeks happen. But Amy Devan made a different choice.

The creative director of Naveda, a two-year-old luxury womenswear brand, spent most of her childhood in Philadelphia and earned her MBA at Drexel University. She founded her brand in 2013 while living in New York City. Six months ago, she made the move back to Philadelphia because she recognized it was a great place to be. Now she has a studio near Rittenhouse Square where she meets with clients for custom couture and works on her ready-to-wear line, which is sold online and in boutiques across the country.

"I thought it was really good timing to move to Philadelphia," she explains. "There's so much creativity here. I really wanted to be part of that."

Devan designs for the woman she is and wants to be: a free spirit who loves the best in materials and details. Her brand has two divisions: ready-to-wear and custom couture/bridal. Her customer tends to be a Free People customer, later in her life, and with more money to spend.

"Even though there are two segments, it's the same aesthetic, the same customer," says the designer.

Her clothes look like one-of-a-kind vintage pieces -- flowing silhouettes, beaded accents and intriguing colors. Devan has captured the attention of American and international media, and has shown her collections at New York and London Fashion Weeks in the last two seasons. Her brand is growing and she currently has a team of ten, some of whom work remotely.

Up next for Naveda is launching a ready-made couture collection, and merchandising the Fall 2015/Winter 2016 ready-to-wear collection. 

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Amy Devan, Naveda

 
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