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Grant is music to ears of Shaler Area students

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Shaler Area Elementary School music teacher Cynthia Dougherty sits with a class of fourth-graders in the future movement center of the general music room, which will be constructed through a $20,000 grant from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Center for Creativity and funded through the Claude Worthington Benedum and the Grable Foundations.

Shaler Area Elementary School's general music classes next school year will become more high-tech with the installation of a new multimedia room made possible through a $20,000 STEAM grant.

Shaler Area was one of 25 school districts to receive a grant through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Center for Creativity, made possible through the Claude Worthington Benedum and Grable foundations, to engage students in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, STEAM, subjects and projects.

“I hit the refresh button, and I jumped out of my seat,” said elementary music teacher Cynthia Dougherty, who applied for the grant.

“This is my first grant ever. It's overwhelming. The idea had been there, but it was ‘what a huge idea.' Now, I get to execute this huge idea.”

Dougherty plans to use the grant money to turn the music room into an interactive learning center. The large room will be divided into four sections: a large-group instruction area, an iPad tablet center, a movement center and a visual-arts library and creative-arts center. Dougherty also is giving up her adjoining office space to transform it into a recording studio.

Dougherty said she wants to use the new multimedia room to introduce students to creating and recording their own music, discovering musical concepts through movement and dance, and applying musical ideas to other subjects, such as science.

“The climate of what we're trying to teach, there is a shift … (to) delve deeply into subject matter,” Dougherty said. “Instead of ‘let's learn a song,' it's ‘let's see how music affects our lives.'”

Dougherty's project proposal was chosen from more than 80 grant applications submitted. Each proposal was rated on its sustainability, implementation, relevance and STEAM integration.

Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said the Center for Creativity grants are helping the region's schools become the models for school districts across the country.

“STEAM grants will give districts the opportunity to provide innovative programs that will engage students in activities that enhance learning and promote the 21st-century skills that employers want and need,” Hippert said.

Dougherty said the multimedia center is a new concept in teaching music, but she is excited about the opportunity to introduce students to music education in a new way.

“I think we really have a great idea,” Dougherty said. “Fifteen years of teaching, I'm throwing it out the window and starting from scratch and developing a new way of learning.”

Dougherty said she hopes to have the multimedia room complete by the start of next school year.

“I see a lot that can happen in this space,” she said.

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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