Students in Connellsville Area School District are being promised tools and resources needed to succeed academically in today’s digital world.

“Libraries aren’t a place to be silent anymore,” district Director of Technology Kevin Ghost said in remarks prepared during the recent unveiling of the new iMedia Center in the district’s high school library. “They’re a place to get together and share ideas.”

With inspiration from Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia and the Media Center at Elizabeth Forward High School, Connellsville’s center is the first of its type in Fayette County, offering access to digital media skills through books, computers, cameras, musical instruments, visual and audio editing equipment, and media creation software.

It is one of several innovations being introduced this year in Connellsville Area schools.

“It took the collaboration of so many of our employees, and of our staff, and our students,” high school principal Nick Bosnic said.

A key part of that collaboration is Ghost, described as “a proud (CAHS) graduate who has come back to the district” by Connellsville Area’s second-year superintendent.

“We are collaborating across a lot of different fronts,” said Philip Martell, the district’s superintendent. “This district has great things coming.”

Eleven Connellsville Area students including members of the high school National Honor Society volunteered to show visitors the various elements of the new iMedia Center, including audio and video production studios.

“It is user-friendly and simple, with only three steps,” high school senior Luke Bruner said as he showed the control panel to the video studio.

“We have a green screen and a blue screen,” high school senior Ally Wilson said. “And you can insert any kind of background.”

The Connellsville Area iMedia Center offers other features, too, including a café where students can grab a snack during study breaks and chat with the staff from the district’s Life Skills Program.

“It is about engaging students in learning,” Elizabeth Forward Superintendent Dr. Bart Rocco said. “Learning can happen anywhere, all the time.”

Martell worked with Rocco in Elizabeth Forward as a school board member and president, as that district took high technology steps that included providing iPads to every student and establishing one of the first SMALLabs (or Situated Multimedia Art Learning Labs) in the country.

SMALLabs are described as embodied learning environments. SMALLab Learning CEO David Birchfield and two of his staff spent several days recently at Connellsville, introducing SMALLabs being installed at West Crawford, Dunbar Township and Springfield Township elementary schools.

A video of some of the training given to Connellsville teachers “speaks to the power of what can happen in Connellsville,” Birchfield said. It showed one woman stepping out during a demonstration of how to do fractions.

“The video was shot in my (SMALLab),” West Crawford Elementary School Principal Traci Kuhns said, identifying guidance counselor Torrie Winseck as the educator stepping out during the demonstration.

Birchfield described embodied learning as a combination of physical interfaces and neuro-cognitive research. He said research conducted before SMALLab Learning was spun off from Arizona State University in 2010 found that SMALLab technology led to an 86 percent increase in student learning and multiplied by 6.7 the amount of student collaboration.

The SMALLabs are among innovations that also include flexible classrooms at Springfield and a FABlab, or fabrication lab, at Connellsville Area Middle School where students can learn how to create things in two- and three-dimensions.

“We built a national network of partners,” Birchfield said, referring to such sponsors as the National Science Foundation, Intel and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur and Bill and Melinda Gates foundations. “At the same time we built a national network of schools and museum partners.”

The new additions to the district could allow it to join an elite group that pioneers innovative learning and leadership practices.

The League of Innovative Schools, a key initiative of educational nonprofit organization Digital Promise, consists of about 70 school districts in 33 states.

Martell said Connellsville Area will apply to join the league when it can “meet their expectations” — which he expected to happen in a year.

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