Yu-Ling Cheng on Remake Learning Days

Key Points

  • It’s important to create time and conversations to bring parents into the fold.


On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast Tom Vander Ark is joined by Yu-Ling Cheng,Co-Producer of Remake Learning Days and Director of Kidsburgh and Parents as Allies, (Kidsburgh operates as a project of Grantmakers of Western PA).

Remake Learning Days is one of the world’s largest festival of hands-on learning where parents and caregivers learn alongside their kids. The festival began in 2016 in southwestern PA and has since taken root in other regions. In 2024, there will be 2,000+ events across 16 regions, including 3 international regions, between the dates April 20-May 31. The festival events are an opportunity for families to learn together, to encourage kids to be curious and to learn about community resources.

To view events in each of the following regions please visit https://remakelearningdays.org/

  • Badgerland WI; Apr 20 – Apr 28 
  • East KY; Apr 20 – May 5 
  • Uruguay; Apr 25 – Apr 27 ; Christchurch, New Zealand; May 13-19, Doncaster, United Kingdom; May 22 – May 31  
  • Kansas City; May 1 – May 16
  • Knoxville, TN; May 10 – May 19
  • PA – SW; May 2 – May 22; NW; May 2 – May 22; Central; May 2 – May 22; North Central; May 2 – May 22; South Central; May 2 – May 22; NE; May 2 – May 22; SE; May 2 – May 22 
  • Suncoast Region, FL; Apr 20 – May 4; West Virginia; May 4 – May 19 
  • Pop-Up Events (events hosted outside of festival regions); Apr 20 – May 31

Yu-Ling Cheng

Yu-ling advocates for relevant and equitable learning opportunities, provides resources that support families, and creates compelling stories that celebrate the work happening across communities and inspire youth and families. She is a regular Kidsburgh guest contributor for KDKA-TV. Prior to Kidsburgh and Remake Learning Days, Yu-Ling produced Trying Together’s UnConference professional development series for early childhood educators, taught as an adjunct professor of arts marketing at Carnegie Mellon University, and spent nearly a decade leading marketing, earned revenue initiatives, and research for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Yu-Ling currently serves on the Avonworth School Board, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust marketing advisory committee, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School committee. 


Tom Vander Ark: The goal of our new Pathways campaign is that every learner, regardless of zip code, is on a pathway to productive citizenship, economic mobility, and a purpose driven life. The campaign embraces a set of design principles that themselves embrace the Pathways paradox. New pathways are intentional and equitable.

That means they’re linked to opportunity. They’re accelerated, articulated, and supported, so that more students have an opportunity to enter high wage employment and, contribution. But they’re also, personalized. They’re co-created, they’re unbundled. Some would call it permissionless.

They’re interest-based, they’re place-based, they embrace. Discovery and creativity and difference making and in this second way, they, help what Charles Fidel, calls the drivers. They help develop the motivation, identity, purpose, and agency and today we’re talking about that side of new pathways, the unbundled, the student-driven, the place-based authentic kinds of learning experiences.

And we’re talking, about that. With Yu Ling, the co-producer of Remake Learning. Welcome to the Getting Smart Podcast, Yu Ling.

Yu-Ling Cheng: Thanks, Tom. Happy to be here.

Tom Vander Ark: You have a couple of really interesting jobs and you’ve had a really interesting life. And, in addition to Remake Learning, you’re the director of Kidsburghand Parents as Allies. We’ll come back and talk about those related. entities, but, we’re really big fans of remake learning. it started in Southwestern Pennsylvania, how long ago now?

Yu-Ling Cheng: Well, remake learning, the network started in 2007 and it was, yeah, I, it was over informal pancake breakfast, literally where people who just cared about kids and learning came together. So whether you’re a roboticist, an artist, a teacher, an afterschool teacher, childcare educator, coming together and just talking about how to make learning relevant for kids. So that’s how it started.

Tom Vander Ark: it was originally sponsored by the Grable Foundation? Were there a number of grantmakers?

Yu-Ling Cheng: originally, the Grable Foundation, the community cabinet of the Grable Foundation said, let’s bring people together and get them talking to each other. So that’s how it started, and the funding, started with the Grable Foundation, but now Remake Learning and the festival Remake Learning Days are supported by a number of entities and foundations and corporations.

The Growth of Remake Learning Days

Tom Vander Ark: Remake Learning Days exploded through Pittsburgh and then across the region as this really beautiful, Invitation to learn in school, out of school. and it quickly attracted lots of interesting partners. Like what kinds of] community partners get involved in Remake Learning in Pittsburgh?

Yu-Ling Cheng: Yes, so with the remake learning starting in 2007, we started to realize that we were missing parents and caregivers with the festival. And so we started the festival in 2016, and the idea behind it was to go to all the places that families and kids are learning. So we were hoping for all these different backyard places, making it easy for families to find learning resources.

So the different places could be a library, a park, community center, a tech center, a maker space. you could go to a museum, a place of faith. and of course, schools and libraries. All those, different organizations where kids are learning. And we also recognize that home and mentors and online resources are a part of a child’s learning ecosystem.

Tom Vander Ark: When did it start to spread to other regions?

Yu-Ling Cheng: Yeah. So in 2016, Remake Learning Days launched in Southwestern PA. And then starting in 2019, it started to take root in other regions across the United States. and so fast forward to today in 2024, we have 16 regions. Seven of them are across Pennsylvania, so the entire state of Pennsylvania is covered with, gosh, more than 830 events as of today.

And then we also have regions in Suncoast, Florida, Eastern Kentucky, Knoxville, Kansas City, Badgerland, also hosting festivals. And then. We also have three international festivals in Doncaster, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Tom Vander Ark: Most of those Pennsylvania, festivals are in May. Is that right?

Yu-Ling Cheng: Yeah. specifically for Pennsylvania is May 2nd through 22nd, but as far as all the festivals across the world, it’s between April and May, and we intentionally host it in the springtime because, we know that families are starting to look for learning resources for the summer, and we want to introduce them to learning resources that might be happening in their backyard.

So hopefully then they’ll continue that learning through the summer and together as a community, we start to combat that summer learning loss.

Tom Vander Ark: Since the last time we looked at Remake Learning, it’s exciting to hear that it’s spreading internationally. You said you were just talking to folks in Uruguay this morning?

Yu-Ling Cheng: I was, yes. So they do a festival, over three days and. And they really have a different take on the festival where they ask their community members, whether you’re an organization or individual, to take 60 minutes and share your passion. And so sharing your passion of whether it’s something artistic you may do, it may be something related to robotics, it may be something, a nature hike that you’re taking, but whatever it is, taking that time to share that passion with families in your neighborhood.

The Impact of Remake Learning Days

Tom Vander Ark: Yu-Ling, do you, you get the sense now that this has been so active in Pennsylvania, that it’s more than just that long weekend of activities? Has it started to change the ecosystem? are schools more open to and aware of out of school learning? what kind of spillover effects have you seen?

Yu-Ling Cheng: So in Pennsylvania, over the three weeks that we host the festivals, We’ve definitely seen more partnerships and collaboration between schools and after-school organizations, and this year we’re working very closely with the Department of Education in Pennsylvania and they’re supporting the festival, and they’re using our festival events as career readiness events.

For example, in Pennsylvania, all public schools have to keep a career readiness portfolio for their students. Well, now you can go to Remake Learning Days and search across the events. We will tell you which ones are approved by the Department of Education as career readiness events. Your child can go to that event, you can go with them, fill out a short survey afterward, and you earn a digital badge towards your career readiness portfolio.

And in addition to that, your school gets credit for it through PDE. It’s really a great partnership, but it also brings relevant learning experiences to kids, right? So you might be learning about, let’s say salamanders in school, but then during remake learning days in Southeastern PA, you can actually go on a nature walk with a naturalist and go find salamanders during their salamander safari, right? Another thought is we have an event where a school is opening their doors for all the parents to come in and learn with them. This is in Southwestern PA and one of the activities they’re having is called Wonders of Holograms. So they learn about the holographic light display and how it can make 3D images and you can turn yourself into a hologram.And then these are all career readiness events and they can earn a badge as well.

Tom Vander Ark: That’s really exciting. And, this is called remake learning days. You can find it at remakelearningdays. org. Check it out. you, if people wanted to learn more and maybe wanted to start one in their own region next April or May, what should they do?

Yu-Ling Cheng: first I would check out remakelearningdays. org and you can search through events through different areas and themes and ages and it’ll give you a sense as to what kind of events we have. but you can be a regional festival where there’s more than 50 events in that region or. Or you can also host a pop up event.

We have more than 70 pop up events in our festival this year. and these are just individual organizations that just want to be part of the Remake Learning Days movement. What’s exciting this year is we actually have an event from Antarctica where you can learn about what life is like in Antarctica.

Real-World Learning in Pennsylvania

Tom Vander Ark: That’s really exciting. I’ve been visiting, Southwestern Pennsylvania for 40 years. I started my career there actually 40 years ago. and what I think what I’ve noticed in the last 15 is that there’s a cluster of districts that have really embraced this idea of relevant, real-world community connected learning that, that have grown with and alongside the Remake Learning movement Districts like Avonsworth, where you’re a school board member, South Fayette and Montour and Fort Cherry. These are just great school districts that are really connected to their community and value, community-connected learning. In fact, we’re bringing a group of from Kansas City to visit, schools there to see another region that’s really lighting up real world learning.

Uh, so we, we appreciate that. group of districts and thanks for leading in the Avonsworth school district.

Yu-Ling Cheng: Thank you. I joined the school board in 2019 and was just reelected and it’s a call for service, but I just also genuinely care about what’s happening in our districts and want to be a part of this. I think what makes Southwestern PA and Pittsburgh so special is the collaboration.

This just, attitude of, hey, I still can learn and I can learn from all my colleagues and I’m willing to learn and try new things. And so that’s what I think brings all these great school districts together.

Tom Vander Ark: I want to follow up on this thread of collaboration. so one strand is higher education, I’m a big fan of Carnegie Mellon and the way they’ve partnered with Southwestern Pennsylvania school districts. They have a great relationship with South Fayette and support their computational thinking strand. Are there other other university partnerships that support the remake learning festivals at all? 

Yu-Ling Cheng: So we work very closely with University of Pittsburgh, in addition to Carnegie Mellon University, and they host different events on campus, as well as with community partners. for example, you could go to an event about architecture and walk through the streets and learn about the building and the building blocks of architecture through Pitt, during Remake Learning Days.

Yeah, and then I would say there are also different community college partners as well that open their doors and do hands-on activities, whether it’s in robotics or automobile or nursing. those are important partners to us as well.

Kidsburgh, Parents as Allies and Other Collaborations

Tom Vander Ark: Speaking of community partnerships, you’re also the director of Kidsburgh. That’s another collaborative. is that a project of the Grantmakers of Western PA?

Yu-Ling Cheng: Yes. So Grantmakers of Western PA is our fiscal sponsor and Kidsburghis a nonprofit media site. We write stories that are relevant to families in this region. So it could be about events. It could be about people. It could be about ideas. It could be about resources for families. Anything that we think families might find interesting and helpful to them.

Tom Vander Ark: A related project is Parents as Allies. Is that a project of Kidsburgh?

Yu-Ling Cheng: It is. So Parents as Allies, we were tapped to lead this project and we’re probably not you’re a typical leader of this type of project, since we’re more of a media site, but we are connecting people together. So Parents as Allies is about family-school engagement. We work with 31 teams across 28 school districts in Western Pennsylvania and these teams are led by parents and educators, and they dive into just what does family school engagement look like? How do we build trust? What kind of new ideas should we test? And so we give funding to all these teams to try new ideas in family school engagement. So I’ll give you a couple examples.

One would be in rural area, they use their funding to buy 10 fire pits and they hosted fire pit conversations and they had s’mores, of course, but they had parents, teachers and youth sitting around a fire pit and they talked to each other about what they thought was the purpose of education, right?

If you’re in agreement on what the purpose of education is over K through 12 years, then you can figure out the little things that come from that. and so that basically became their working plan for the future. Yeah. Another event that I’ll highlight or another project that came out of Parents as Allies is from Northgate School District. They created a program called Maker Coaches. And so parents signed up for a three-course session on maker learning. And so session one, parents learned about what does it mean to become a maker teacher and what are the design principles behind making. Session two, they were given tools and they started to actually do it. Session three, the parents then created their own maker project and tested the teachers. And if they graduated, they got their apron that said maker coaches. But what’s really cool about this program is now those parents that have been trained as maker coaches are in the classroom helping teachers. And you can imagine then how strong that relationship is between families and schools through that program.

Tom Vander Ark: That’s a really exciting program. and that’s just in Pittsburgh or is it around Southwestern PA? 

Yu-Ling Cheng: It’s around Southwestern PA. It’s literally, we go all the way up to Crawford central and gosh, I don’t know who is the furthest Southern point of it, but we’re in rural areas, suburbs in the city of Pittsburgh.

Yu-Ling’s Unique Background in Economics and the Arts

Tom Vander Ark: Were talking to Yu-Ling Cheng. She’s the co-producer of Remake Learning Days, and she also directs Kidsburgh. And we were just talking about. Parents as Allies. Yu-Ling, you have a really interesting background as a concert, violin player. what’s the,

Yu-Ling Cheng: Violinist.

Tom Vander Ark: Thank you. but you’re also an economist. So you went across the country to the University of Washington and did this double major. What, was the double major for your mom? Why violin and economics? That’s,

Yu-Ling Cheng: Yeah, so i will give the truthful version. I went to University of Washington as a chemistry major. I thought I wanted to be a doctor and I advise everyone that I meet when they ask me like how do I figure out what I want to do and what I say go try it. So I did an internship at a hospital and I realized I did not want to be a doctor.

Tom Vander Ark: that happened to me too. There was an internship in a hospital. I was like, I don’t want to spend my life doing this.

Yu-Ling Cheng: I realized it wasn’t the right lifestyle for me. so then, this is the end of my sophomore year and I needed to switch majors. so I, all along I kept playing the violin. So I switched to music and…

Tom Vander Ark: When did you pick up the violin? 

Yu-Ling Cheng: I was three years old and yes, I started with the Suzuki method. Yes. I think it was meant to be a hobby for my, and my parents thought it would be a good hobby for me and good way to pass the time.

And I became very serious about it and passionate about it. yeah, so I switched my major to music, but my parents said that I needed to also have another major. So economics was my backup plan. And, I’ve always been fascinated by how. the world works and economics is one lens to look at that.

Tom Vander Ark: Now, after UW, you went to the New England Conservatory, and that was before you went to Wharton, so you were really serious about the violin.

Yu-Ling Cheng: I was. I was teaching violin. I was performing. I wanted to study it further. I felt like I got a later start with it, with my junior year in college. So I wanted to study it more. and I wanted to be with other artists and musicians. And so at New England Conservatory, I was given that environment to really deeply dive into music, not just the playing of the violin, but, the history behind music, the artistic format, the studying of it, I know a lot of times people think art is something that you just create out of passion, but there’s so much diligence and studying that goes behind that to be able to get to that point of where you’re artistically free.

Tom Vander Ark: Was it a difficult decision when you stepped out of the path of being a professional musician into the business side of music?

Yu-Ling Cheng: It was a little bit hard. I mean, I I love performing. I love being on stage. I love doing chamber music. but while I was at New England Conservatory, I did an internship at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And that’s where I started to see how important the backstage work was as to What makes what happens on stage happen every night.

So I, I did an internship in development and then I started to learn more about marketing and the business side. And I realized having that musical background as a musician, as a, performing artist, as a violin teacher, that I also spoke that language and I felt like I could translate it to potential audience members who I was trying to pull into the classical music world.

Tom Vander Ark: Yu-Ling, I really believe that every student should have the chance to have a performing arts success, maybe one a year, at least one every other year in their secondary career. It could be front of the house or back of the house, but there’s something about a performing arts experience where you’re going individually and collectively from novice to early mastery, both individually and collectively.

To go from that really scared, getting a score or a script for the first time going, there’s no way that I’m going to learn this in six weeks to being on a stage performing with colleagues and having what can often be a transcendent experience. This compressed, accelerated, individual and collective learning journey is just so unique and special. I don’t know. Is there any reflections on that As a valuable experience for young people.

Yu-Ling Cheng: It’s a journey that you just can’t replicate like through learning or through reading you have to do it. And I do think it’s important that not just kids but adults to have some sort of performance in their life. Part of the reason why is one, you work towards a goal, right? And you stretch yourself, right?

You get a little bit out of your comfort zone. You try something new, and if it’s part of a larger performance, maybe it’s a play, or maybe you’re, singing in part of a choir, right? There’s this, communal moment too where you’re like, I am contributing to something bigger than me, and I’m creating something that’s only going to exist at this moment, and it’s going to be unique and beautiful and special, and I want everyone to have that experience because then I think you start to find your voice as to what’s important to you, what you’re passionate about and what you want to share with the world.

Performing Arts at Remake Learning Festivals

Tom Vander Ark: I’m curious if any of the Remake Learning festivals have any performance aspects. They must have a lot of creative, activities and. Probably some include performing arts.

Yu-Ling Cheng: Absolutely. The performing arts are a big part of the Remake Learning Days Festival, so I’ll give you a couple examples. You could go to a musical theater, and in three hours, they will put together a short performance, very short, but you can try a backstage role or a front of house role, an on stage role, and you put it together, and then your parents come and watch it at the end. 

Another example is you could go to a museum and you could create this rubber stamp that you carve yourself of an image that’s important to you, right? Identifies who you are, and then you stamp it onto fabric and you’re creating your own personal fabric. The last example I’ll give you is, we have an organization here in Southwestern PA called Saturday Light Brigade, and they’re hosting family podcasting. So you as a family can go into a real podcast booth, what we’re doing right now, and record a special family memory and talk about it and interact with each other. And what I love about that is I think a lot of times parents and caregivers think they know what their child is going to say and in that moment with their own microphone they have their own voice and they will share something that I guarantee you will surprise you.

Tom Vander Ark: let’s dive into that a little further. I don’t know how much time you’ve spent thinking about the impacts of artificial intelligence and what’s happening in the world of work, but things feel like they’re moving really quickly. It seems like a time when educators are being invited to rethink the skills that matter most, maybe even rethink youth development and the kinds of experiences that matter most in this new age of AI. My sense is that the kind of experiences that you’re trying to create through Remake Learning are more important than ever. But the kinds that are focused on creativity, on play, on discovery, on, on problem solving, both individually and collectively.

Do you have a sense that, that you were ahead of the curve and the world is heading your direction now in terms of new priority learning experiences?

Yu-Ling Cheng: So what we hope Remake Learning Days does for kids and families is that it grows their confidence, it creates a lifelong passion for learning, and that it gives you the tools to do things that are problem solving, critical thinking, Using creativity to create new things, collaborating with others, right?

So that no matter what comes, whether it’s AI or back in 2007, it was the smartphone, right? That you’re able to use those tools and enter it into who you are and how you want to use it. I think of those as just tools. they are changing the world. I agree. My own daughter said to me the other day, I looked at her PowerPoint presentation for school and I was like, wow, that’s a really beautiful image, where’d you find that? And she’s oh, I created it using AI. And I thought, oh my goodness. And she’s 12 years old. But what was more important to me was she’s I was looking for something. I was very specific. I knew the point I wanted to make.

I knew what I wanted to communicate and what was relevant for this moment in my presentation. And those are the skills that we hope, that families will take the time to instill in their kids and learn and experience with them through events like Remake Learning Days or just even through your schools and engaging with them.

Family Development Experiences

Tom Vander Ark: We’re talking about Remake Learning Days. Check it out at RemakeLearningDays. org. You know, it strikes me that you’re not only helping to expand access to really powerful learning experiences for young people, but this is also a really cool family development experience and community development experience.

You just think about all the ties, the loose ties that you’ve helped stitch together in Pittsburgh and now around the country. It’s really an interesting community development activity, isn’t it?

Yu-Ling Cheng: It is, and what’s neat is like now we have friends in Kansas City working with friends in Doncaster, working with people in Eastern Kentucky, right? And so we’re experiencing that, and we’re all learning from each other and there’s similarities and there’s differences but we’re all doing work that we hope will provide better experiences for kids and put them on a path to success however that child defines that.

Tom Vander Ark: any parting advice for any of the edleaders that are listening? People that are school leaders or system leaders, community leaders? What? What would you, love to see them do next?

Yu-Ling Cheng: Many schools do this and education leaders, but what I will highlight is it’s important to bring the parents and caregivers into the conversation. They want to be a part of the conversation. I’ve seen it over and over and parents as allies. But it’s hard to have that intentional time and space where parents and caregivers can interface with educators, right?

If you think about how schools are built today, you have to ring a doorbell, you have to sign in, you have to give your ID, you have to be there for a very specific purpose, and then you’re escorted out when you’re done. So creating that time to have those conversations, I think will bring even more relevant learning experiences for kids, parents want to learn from educators want to learn more from parents as to how they can better support learning at home.

And I just think I want educators to also know that you’re not in this alone. There’s a whole ecosystem of afterschool organizations and parents and families that want to be a part of this and want to help shoulder the responsibility. And oftentimes I feel educators, for all the amazing work they do, I just want to hug them and say I’m right here and I’m ready to support you, and I don’t want you to think you’re alone in this.

Tom Vander Ark: We’ve been talking to Yu-Ling Cheng. She’s the co-producer of Remake Learning Days. We really appreciate the work that you’re doing at Remake Learning in Kidsburgh, parents as allies. you’re lighting up that region and now the country with powerful learning experiences. We, thanks for joining us and thanks for the work that you’re doing.Yu-Ling Cheng: Thank you. I turn to Getting Smart all the time for resources. So thank you.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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