Grant to fund learning center at Avonworth

By the time Avonworth middle and high school students return to classes next fall, the school library will have been transformed into what the district is calling a “21st Century Collaboration Center.”

A $170,000 grant from the Grable Foundation will allow the district to reconfigure the library space, taking advantage of adjacent office and classroom space to add new opportunities for education.

“We have really evolved in the way we think about teaching and learning,” said superintendent Tom Ralston, noting that students today have never lived at a time when they did not have access to a computer.

“They’re coming to school with a whole different mindset,” he said.

The challenge -- and the opportunity -- facing today’s educators is how to incorporate technology to produce better educated -- and better thinking -- graduates who will face a very different future than did past generations.

The new collaboration center will take advantage of a couple key partnerships to add learning opportunities to the district’s existing curriculum. For instance, the technology department of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit will create a “distance learning” space in which students can work with their peers in other area schools, or anywhere around the world. Ralston said that distance learning has been used at Avonworth in several classes -- in language classes, for example, where Spanish students can connect with students in Spanish-speaking countries -- but the grant will allow for the construction of a permanent distance learning center.

Another partnership will be with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to develop a feature similar to the museum’s “Makeshop,” where students can explore and investigate any number of subjects through hands-on experimentation.

Another feature will be based on the Native American kiva, originally a structure used by a village for ceremonial practices. Evolving into education, the kiva will provide an area at Avonworth for large group instruction or brainstorming, allowing students to collaborate via technology to share ideas and solve problems as a group.

The goal, Ralston said, is to engage students in making inquiries, using their natural curiosity to teach them how to think and solve problems. It’s all part of a new philosophy in education in which a “teacher is facilitating learning rather than depositing knowledge in someone’s head,” Ralston said.

And although there may come a day when paper books are a thing of the past, Ralston said that the books in Avonworth’s library will remain, although the space will be reconfigured and the circulation evaluated to determine what books are being used.

Construction on the collaboration center is expected to take place over the summer.

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