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Elizabeth Forward School District fosters high-tech culture

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 7:22 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Elizabeth Forward High School will have a new FABLAB (fabrication lab) this year. They are partnering with MIT's International FABLAB Association. The lab is funded by the Grable and Benedum Foundation through a STEAM Grant. The room will have laser cutters, 3D printers, desktop computers, laptops, vinyl cutters and a CNC Router for students to make and fabricate just about anything. Don Turek, maintenance (seated) and Matt Toth network manager, (on ladder) and summer employees Garrett Martell, Justin Bakewell, Mark Simon and George Prota put some finishing touches on this new room.

When classes begin on Thursday in Elizabeth Forward School District, students will have eBackpack apps to go along with their Apple iPads.

As developed by eBackpack Inc. of Rockwall, Texas, this Internet application is described as a way to assign, share, collect, collaborate and review assignments using the iPads.

It is the second year of what the district calls a learning initiative, in which every student from grade 3 through senior high gets an Apple iPad while those in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 get iPad minis.

“They are doing some amazing, amazing things,” said David Diokno, an Apple educational development executive who came to Elizabeth Forward earlier this year to recognize the district as an Apple Distinguished Program, an honor it will hold at least through 2015.

The district continues to be a part of Digital Promise's League of Innovative Schools.

The district projected an enrollment of 2,305 when it released its back-to-school plans, but at last week's school board meeting Superintendent Bart Rocco said the district may have 2,377 students when it sends a required census to state officials in October.

The curriculum those students are learning is being reviewed and revised by district staff in preparation for a full implementation of Pennsylvania Core Standards in 2015-16.

As described by the state Department of Education, Pennsylvania Core Standards combine the state's original educational standards with the Common Core concept started by the nation's governors and top school administrators.

To help elementary school students learn those standards, they will experience a new eSpark software program beginning this fall.

The aim of Chicago-based eSpark is to provide personalized learning pathways for students according to individual skill deficiencies and needs.

This is the second year for what the district calls a “school-wide positive behavior support program” and the fourth year of district involvement in the Olweus anti-bullying program aimed at elementary students.

The district's emphasis on high technology continues to go far beyond iPads. In January a “maker lab” called Dream Factory, where students learn about robotics, engineering, design and programming, became a reality at the middle school.

“It is changing culture and the way we do business here, engaging kids especially with creativity,” middle school principal Trisha Maddas said.

That concept is being carried over to a new fabrication lab at the high school. In a space partially funded by a grant from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and the Grable Foundation, students will be able to build or manufacture items using 3-D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters and computer-controlled cutting machines known as CNC routers.

The Grable and Benedum foundations and the Sprout Fund were among those who helped the district build its middle school Dream Factory.

Elsewhere in the new year, at the cafeteria breakfast is $1.25, and lunch is $2 for elementary school students and $2.25 for those in the middle and high schools.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or