An Academy For Technology

An Academy for Technology
Posted on 12/31/2017
Image of Students in Library at North
On a recent Wednesday in the library at North High School, about 20 students focused intently on what was in front of them — not books, but technology.
 
One sat in the corner programming a video game, while several others experimented with a 3-D printer to see what they could make. Another student sat tinkering with mini robots, and others huddled to build something out of electronic blocks.
 
In the middle of it all was Cassandra Rondinella, a library media specialist who has been acquiring technology for students to use in their free time for the past four years that she’s worked at North.
 
“It’s all about letting kids have those hands-on experiences,” Rondinella said. “You name it, it’s back here.”
 
As the high schools in Akron Public Schools transition to the new College and Career Academy model, Rondinella is doubling down on her efforts to grow the inventory in the digital learning lab and maker space that she’s established in the library.
 
The Millennium Fund for Children, a community-funded effort led by the Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com and the Akron Community Foundation, recently awarded North High School about $1,500 to help support its digital learning lab.
 
North has become the first school in the district to become a College and Career Academy, which gives students a variety of career fields they can choose from and focus on in high school. The rest of the high schools in the district will follow suit in 2019.
 
As the Akron Children’s Hospital Academy of Health and Human Services and the Academy of Global Technology and Business, North has several tech-related pathways students can choose from, including HVAC technology and programming and software development. But the benefits of having modern technology available to experiment with extends beyond those who choose tech-driven pathways.
 
Akron schools are involved in another initiative to provide Chromebooks to every student in the district to get them ready for college with digital devices.
 
Rondinella said the learning lab takes this initiative a step further by exposing students to not just Chromebooks but also to a gamut of technology they might deal with in the future.
 
Rondinella said that about half of the school’s population comes from refugee camps and have little to no prior exposure to technology.
 
That doesn’t mean they can’t learn, though. Rondinella said she gives students minimal instruction. Instead, she lays out the equipment and lets the kids learn it on their own.
 
“I don’t work with them a lot intentionally because I want them to figure it out. It’s about teaching and building a comfort level with these guys,” Rondinella said. “The whole point is having equal opportunities and making sure these guys have every opportunity that they can.”
 
Johnny Davidson, a 15-year-old freshman at North, is a frequent visitor at the lab. He’s taught himself how to use many of the gadgets, from the small Ozobots to more complicated Lego robots.
 
“I ask if there’s an app for it, and I go from there,” Johnny said about learning to use the technology.
 
Johnny said when he first saw the offerings in the library, “I was thinking, ‘I want to move into this school.’”
 
So far, Rondinella has been able to purchase a large variety of equipment thanks to other smaller grants, from sewing machines and button makers to Lego kits and virtual reality headsets.
 
With the latest grant, Rondinella picked up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) kits, different varieties of robots, coding programs and Snap Circuit kits.
 
The equipment doesn’t leave the library, but kids can visit in their free time and check out items to use in the space. Teachers can also bring their classes to the library to use the equipment for lessons — an idea that inspired Rondinella to create the space in the first place, she said.
 
She eventually hopes to engage students in the space even more through programs like Girls Who Code, along with a robotics team.
 
For many of the kids, the space already presents opportunities for learning and fun. Unique Richardson, a junior at North, estimates she’s made 1,000 buttons on the button maker in the library since the start of this year.
 
“Even though I’m 18, I’m kind of like a child at heart,” Richardson said. “It’s nice North has something that not a lot of other schools have.”
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