Community School District 29 unveiled a high-tech learning laboratory at Middle School 192 in St. Albans last week that educators hope will get students thinking about their futures.
“We think the labs are very exciting,” said Michael Johnson, the district’s administrator. “We are hoping that they will generate interest and allow students to prepare for the careers of tomorrow.”
Located in two adjacent rooms, the lab at MS 192 has learning stations that represent just about every occupational field that has a technology component: robotics, aerodynamics, video technology, multimedia production and hydrology.
The lab’s 15 work stations, which were created by education company ScanTEK, represent the first such lab in the New York City public school system.
“The labs are really geared for high school students but we are bringing them into the middle schools to start the process early,” Johnson noted.
Similar labs are under construction at District 29’s four other middle and junior high schools; those labs are slated to open by the fall.
Johnson said that the high-tech labs are a sign that middle schools are transforming their curriculum into what educators term “academies.”
Under this approach, students are pooled by their natural aptitudes into certain occupational and educational fields, like performing arts, journalism and law. Students must still enroll in core learning courses like social studies and mathematics, but the academies give the children some flexibility to specialize in fields they might pursue in adulthood.
“If a student has a natural interest in a particular subject, we want to encourage him or her to explore it further,” Johnson explained.
A side benefit to the academy structure, he added, is that students would spend much of their time with educators who have specialized credentials and with students who share the same interests.
Linda Smith, who became MS 192’s principal in March, said that the ScanTEK lab would form an integral part of the school’s newly developed technology wing.
MS 192, which teaches grades five through eight, also has a visual and performing arts wing on the opposite side of its building.
As a reflection of the academic and structural changes that are planned at the school, MS 192’s Parent Teacher Association recently agreed to rename the school as the Renaissance Middle School.
During a brief tour of the lab last week, Smith pointed out the various features of the workstations. Students are given assignments and listen to instructions over headphones. Tasks are as diverse as building something at the hydrology and drafting stations to monitoring and predicting weather through meteorology experiments.
A special monitoring station allows teachers to observe the students’ progress through a link that creates a mirror image of their computer screens.
“If the students are not doing their assignments, the teacher can send a message to their computer screen that tells them to stop fooling around and get back to work,” she said.
Smith added that if students would be as curious during regular classes as they were at the ribbon cutting ceremony, the labs would be a great success.
“I have never seen people engaged like that,” she said. “Even the parents were fascinated.”