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Time to BLAST Off into the New School Year!

Sharpen your pencils and zip up your backpacks, it’s time to head back to school! While the Library’s School Age BLAST Outreach team had a wonderful summer visiting Pittsburgh Public School’s (PPS) Summer Dreamers Academy camps, we are very excited to begin the new school year. For nearly 20 years, BLAST has been providing outreach programs to Pittsburgh Public Schools to help develop and maintain connections to the Library among school age children. We think the start of the new school year is the perfect time to provide a little insight into our programs.

So, what is BLAST?

BLAST stands for Bringing Libraries and Schools Together. We are the Library’s school age outreach team. (We have an early learning team, too!) The School Age BLAST Outreach team of three visits participating Pittsburgh Public Schools to deliver fun and engaging read alouds, hands on activities, and an introduction to library resources for students and educators.

What sorts of programs does BLAST deliver?

BLAST has three primary programs. The BLAST Third Grade Program, the BLAST Thematic Program, and a partnership with PPS Summer Dreamers Academy.

In the BLAST Third Grade Program, each school is paired with a BLAST Outreach Specialist. The Outreach Specialist visits third grade classrooms in participating schools monthly to deliver a read aloud of a specially chosen book from a collection of books that is culturally responsive, age appropriate, and connected to academic standards. After the read aloud, we facilitate an activity in which students make stronger connections to the chosen text. Students are encouraged to write and draw in journals to expresses their feelings about and understanding of the book they read. BLAST Outreach Specialists read and respond positively to all journal entries through written feedback. Third grade teachers are provided with a copy of each read aloud book to enhance their classroom library. BLAST also provides library card registration for third graders. All the students have to do to receive a card is have a grown up at home help them fill out an application and they are provided with a library card from their BLAST Outreach Specialists. At the end of the school year, students take a field trip to their local CLP neighborhood library to meet their Children’s Librarians and explore library spaces. The Buhl Foundation funds a modified version of the Third Grade Program for PPS Northside schools; see our post on that program here.

Students work with Ms. Sarah on a coding and mapping activity.
Third grade students working with Ms. Sarah on a mapping activity using a Code and Go Mouse.


In BLAST Thematic Program, unique lessons are created for kindergarten through fifth grade, centered on a chosen theme. Participating schools receive six programs three times a year. Each program begins with a read aloud or book talk and then moves into interactive student-led activities. Program themes span a wide-variety of topics anywhere from insects and pollination to extraterrestrial life and computer science skills. One BLAST program even featured PA born artist Keith Haring and chalk art! BLAST programs often focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) concepts such as coding and precoding, life sciences, and art. The BLAST Summer Dreamers Academy program is done in partnership with PPS for four weeks in the summer and focuses on the Library’s summer reading theme.

Students work on Keith Haring inspired chalk art.
Second grade students working on Keith Haring inspired chalk art after listening to Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay Haring.


How do I find out if BLAST visits my school?

We will be making a list of this year’s participating schools available very soon. Last year 26 of the 34 PPS elementary schools received BLAST programming, so there’s a good chance that if you’re in a Pittsburgh Public School, you’ll be seeing us. You can always reach out to your school’s principal or school librarian to find out if you will be participating in BLAST this year.

Students work on a coding and mapping activity.
Third grade students working on a mapping activity with a Code and Go Mouse after listening to Hermelin the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey.


What can I do if I’d like to have BLAST in my school?

Students, teachers, and parents are often our biggest advocates! If you’d like to have BLAST programming in your school, we encourage you to reach out to your school principal. An Assistant Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools will be reaching out to elementary school principals to determine interest in early Fall.

More info? Contact BLAST.



Kelly is part of the School Age BLAST Outreach team. She enjoys amateur drumming, exploring the various neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and snuggling with her kitties, La Lune and Spot.  

Sarah is part of the School Age BLAST Outreach team.  She enjoys reading (mostly children’s stories), singing and playing piano.  A New Jersey native, Sarah loves exploring the beautiful city of Pittsburgh in her free time. 

Zia is part of the School Age BLAST Outreach team. She is an avid reader, gardener and bee (yes, the insect) enthusiast. She loves giving book recommendations and taking pictures of her three pets.  

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