As an eighth grader at Reizenstein Middle School, I had an art teacher who gave me the coolest assignment ever. She handed out drafting paper, a nice, sharp charcoal pencil, an artist's eraser, enormous pieces of thin cardboard, the kind of rubber cement with the brush on the lid, and actual Exacto blades-- with extra blades when yours got lost, or dull. Can you imagine that kind of trust now?? Anyway! Our assignment was to imagine, then plan out and draw our dream home. The next step was to BUILD it, based on our plans. Mine had a conservatory, a library, a Scarlett O'Hara staircase, and three floors. It looked like a bad wedding cake, listing heavily to one side, and it won no beauty contests. Who CARED? The fun, the process- the swoosh of the glue from that awesome, fat brush, struggling through the cardboard with the blades, trying for a clean edge-- the process, it was the process that was so. much. fun.
I'll never forget that project, although what the clear details of the class, the teacher, the grade I got on the project are? Long forgotten. It only occurs to me now, as an educator, that the art teacher had collapsed boundaries between art, math, technology, and engineering in that assignment, and all I knew as a kid was that I wasn't going to miss that class-- ever. And my best friend from the time, Jami Rosen, can tell you that she and I missed classes on occasion to do crazy things-- like.... well, never mind.
Anyway--- again! Hands on learning-- that's the kind of stuff that brings kids to school. I had a kid in my Film class this past year who only showed up on Tuesdays and Thursdays because those were the days the teaching artists from Steeltown came to class. On those days, she was going on field trips to interview people on the North Side, eating food she hadn't tried before, learning about RandyLand, the Mattress Factory, the Warhol, City of Asylum, Manchester Craftsmans Guild-- and filming it all herself with professional equipment. Her other teachers were so angry at the situation that they talked to me about it, and asked for help, which I tried to give. But I understood. Because when kids are excited about doing things with their minds/hands/hearts all at once, it is hard not to identify with them.
My film class was featured in The Reel Teens Pittsburgh, which stars one of the former students of the Film class, Hazell Azzer. The third episode of the show focuses on ReMake Learning, which is the brainchild of Gregg Behr, the Chairman of the Grable Foundation.
ReMake seeks to put an emphasis on hands on, student-driven learning like I did at Reizenstein, like the kids of Reel Teens do, like the Film class does. Some of the other hands-on learning that happens at Perry High School is also featured in this wonderful television show, created by kids from across the city and produced by my partner for Perry's Film class, Steeltown Entertainment Project.
As you saw if you watched the episode (and you should) ReMake is a big deal in Pittsburgh. A representative from the White House came to congratulate the effort, Gregg Behr was honored by the President for his leadership, and millions of dollars have been pledged to help bring STEAM and project-based learning to schools and out-of-school providers across the region. And all of that is a huge boon to our area, and I am so glad, and grateful. But there is one elephant in the room, and I need to talk about it, with the hope that all of us ReMakers can work together now in this time of real educational crisis.
Reizenstein had a great woodshop, possibly a metal shop (I did't go in there, so I don't know for sure), an enormous swimming pool, a gigantic library, a drama department (I was in Babes in Arms with THEE BILLY PORTER!!) What's my point? Bear with me for a minute more.
Connelly trained high school kids in machinery, welding, HVAC, carpentry. South Vo-Tech fought closure to add a vocational-technical training program to their school in the 80's. Home Economics. Computer Class. Keyboarding. Art. Musical Instruments. Music. Ceramics. How many of these classes are STEAM skills, and cut to the bone, or non-existent in Pittsburgh Public Schools, because we don't have any money to fund them? Perry used to offer jewelry class in a fully equipped metal shop, with the ability to weld. We have a greenhouse in disrepair that is not functional (but could be.) We used to have a woodshop, but it is not used any more.
How many other Pittsburgh Public schools have un- and under-utilized spaces for the kinds of learning that are now offered by Tech Shop, the Children's Museum, the Carnegie Libraries, the Science Center, et al? This is not to say that the immaculate Maker Spaces in those facilities shouldn't exist-- they should, and they are doing beautiful work. But here's the elephant in the room: not everybody has transportation, admission fees, and/or an adult to accompany them to out-of-school facilities.
I understand that one of the purposes of ReMake Learning is to provide some of the enrichment that suburban and private school kids get outside of school inside of school. That won't happen until the brick-and-mortar investments in our public schools are made (and remade.) It is lovely that the Manchester Academic Charter School has been given residence in the Children's Museum, but to my knowledge, no traditional public school was offered this opportunity. Until public schools are actually given the chance to co-locate inside world-class (and partially publicly funded) museums with Maker Spaces inside of them, we'll have to go begging to make or remake our own facilities, inside our own walls. Or, preferably, our constitutionally guaranteed right to a "thorough and efficient" education will be safeguarded by Pennsylvanians who care about kids.
As a group of educators, innovators, philanthropists, community leaders, and stakeholders, we have to work together not only to restore funding for pubic schools, but to ensure there is a fair funding formula. According to the Education Law Center, "Pennsylvania is one of only three states that creates a budget without using a statewide education funding formula. As a result, the quality of a child's education often depends on their zip code. High-poverty public schools in Pennsylvania spend an annual average of $3000 less per student compared to wealthy schools, adding up to a funding gap of $75,000 in a classroom of 25 students."
Governor Wolf and the House have proposed a state budget that would almost restore education funding to the pre-2011 level, before Governor Corbett made $1Billion in cuts that decimated our schools. We have to call our state legislators, have lunch with them if we have that kind of access, lean on them, and say that school funding in our state is not a political football, but a first priority. While state Republicans have unmade Pennsylvania education budgets, it is incumbent upon us all to REMAKE it, and remake it in the way it should look for all children. Please ask the Senate to pass the budget our Governor and House have proposed. Because we stand united in the belief that they all deserve it, equally.
How Gov. Wolf's Proposed Budget Affects Your School
How Governor Wolf's Fair Funding Formula Will Work
Pittsburghers protest school closings
Although Corbett has been voted out, his disastrous educational policies have not. Read this excellent blog post by my friend Jessie Ramey to learn more about why we're in the place we are in in our state, and how to talk to your state legislator about change: /top-10-education-reasons-to-vote-corbett-out/