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Kids Get Heard With Billboards
July 07, 2011

Billboards typically help motorists find a place to eat, a car to buy or a politician to support. But a new billboard campaign in the Pittsburgh area, part of Carnegie Mellon University’s “Hear Me” project, is giving young people a new way to communicate about bullies, school and other topics important to them.

Many of the 50 new billboards in the six-county Pittsburgh metropolitan area simply feature the beginning of a quote, such as “I still get called names… — Chrystal, 16” or “I was scared when I heard the gunshot… — Sherdina, 12.” The billboards also include Internet links where people can go to listen to these Pittsburgh-area young people tell their stories and speak their minds.

Other billboards direct people to the Hear Me project’s website, or to text message “hearme” via mobile phone to 25252 to hear kids from the region. Thousands of stories from area children, gathered by project staff members and partners over the past year, are available on the website and can be searched based on story title, author age, topic and location. Many are audio recordings, but some include written text and/or artwork.

“We assume that children today have plenty of opportunities to make their dreams, fears and hopes known, whether it’s by mobile phone, computer, or just talking,” said Heide Waldbaum, director of the Hear Me project in the CREATE Lab of CMU’s Robotics Institute. “But learning how to express themselves about things that they really care about — and getting adults and people in authority to really listen to them — is difficult for many young people.

“Hear Me is using new technologies to help give them a voice,” she continued. “Now that we’ve heard from thousands of local kids, we’re hoping that this billboard campaign will get more people to visit our website and listen to what they have to say.”

The billboard campaign was arranged with the help and support of Lamar Advertising.

Many of the audio recordings were created with the help of The Saturday Light Brigade and the Consortium for Public Education. The project is supported by the Grable Foundation, the Benedum Foundation, the Held Fund, the H. John Heinz III Fund, the Melinda Morrow Hicks Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation and an anonymous donor.


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