Thursday, June 25, 2015

Millvale Community Library as a Model for Pittsburgh Public Schools

Kidsburgh: Destination Millvale from Sprout on Vimeo.

Do you know about the Millville Library? I think of it as the Little Library That Could. The first library in Millville, it was created by members of its own community. It offers a donated collection, computers, a really beautiful space complete with coffee and tea for purchase, a professional librarian, a community garden with a water garden in the back, and a Maker Space, staffed by professionals by the Pittsburgh Children's Museum.

The MakerSpace, when I saw it, was housed in the coolest wooden cabinet on wheels. It had drawers that pulled out to reveal wiring, soldering irons, switches, cogs, wheels, bobbins, scissors and thread for the sewing machine, LED lights, fabric, clay, and enough who-zits and what-zits to warm a mad scientist's heart. There were complimentary parts to the MakerSpace: a floor to ceiling whirling set of bins that held other stuff for building, creating, imagining and reimagining, for iterations of STUFF that kids could make.

The best part of all of this, of course, was the wry and funny professional guy from the Children's Museum who came out once or twice a week to teach kids how to use iPads and arduinos and LED lights and wiring and switches to make robots that drove, turned, lit up. On other days, kids learned other skills so that their imaginations were linked to real skills, so they could build things that really did drive, light up, turn, speak, obey commands, do work, be useful, or just become the thing the kid wanted it to be.

Here's my dream: Let's have a MakerSpace in each Library in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Let's have our Pittsburgh Public Schools decide that we are ALL going to embrace STEAM, and:

1. Become a District of First Choice by:
A. Partnering with Pittsburgh assets to empower teachers with best practices. That begins with Pittsburgh teachers as assets. Therefore:
B. Libraries are the places in schools best suited and most easily prepared to be transformed into Learning Commons. Learning Commons contain the most up to date information and technology. They also lend themselves to collaboration, which is the best model for STEAM education.  Since the Library is the natural place to center STEAM education as a school-wide model, start by placing a high-quality, licensed and qualified professional Librarian in each Pittsburgh Public School.
C. Work with funders of all kinds to create school libraries as Learning Commons, complete with all resources needed, including updated book collections.
D. Here's the MEAT:

HAVE THE BEST TEACHERS IN BUILDINGS DO THE PD they need to do for each other. Have the best teachers in buildings go to other buildings and do PD for other buildings. Have the Children's Museum embed teaching artists in each Learning Commons to teach kids and Librarians STEAM skills. Keep PD dollars local, for God's sake. Why aren't there teaching artists from the Warhol, the Museums of Art, Natural History, all of the Universities and Libraries in every Pittsburgh Public School? Let's skip the blah blah blah about red tape, its complicated, etc. These things, like all things, are personality driven. Take two people-oriented ego-less, kid-first professionals and put them together and amazing things happen.

I know amazing things happen because I've been blessed to be part of amazing things. The Manchester Miracle was created by Yinzercation Nation and Manchester residents and Neil Gaiman and Laurie Halse Anderson and Pittsburghers. Pittsburgh City Paper writer Allan Smith featured our book drive in a really wonderful piece in this week's Edition of the City Paper. People make beauty happen because they believe in equity. We can create the conditions we want to see for Pittsburgh's school children if we want to. Reality is just our own creation. Local PD. All that's beautiful, strong and good channeled into Pittsburgh Public Schools. Less canned curricula, purchased at great expense from money grubbing multinational businesses with little interest in our kids. Like Millville's  Little Library That Could, PPS can rise from where it is, to be for the whole community, on a 'mission of positive change."

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