The Shop at Carlynton a hit with students
Lydia Coggin heads to the back of The Shop at Carlynton — a bright, open new space, full of opportunities for students to create. She grabs her old vest, along with a needle and thread and begins to sew.
She likes it there. It's a space where she can work on adding patches to her vest, or spruce up the blue puffy dress she had planned to wear to Pride prom — but ultimately wore to McDonald's with friends — without getting any weird looks from classmates. And, she can still delve into anime, just like she did in the old library.
“It makes me happy,” said Coggin, 18, a junior.
The Shop, filled with creative learning spaces for seventh- through 12th-graders at Carlynton Junior/Senior High School, opened in late April.
Inside the shop is everything from a recording studio to a model train set, where students plan to recreate Main Street in Carnegie and Steuben Street in Crafton to the miniature scale. There's a nail painting station, a sewing area, a video game space and a printing section. There are even bean bags on the floor where students can lounge and hang out.
“It's all about creating,” said Wendy Steiner, high school English teacher.
About two years ago, the district eliminated the librarian position at Carlynton. The space — a dark, dingy area with old wooden furniture — was left empty for most of the 2016-17 school year.
Teachers, per their contract, couldn't check out books to students or put them back on the shelves.
Also during the 2016-17 school year, Steiner and fellow English teacher Kristen Fischer participated in Carnegie Mellon University's Fluency Project, which explores how technology and data can help enhance the voices of teachers and students, according to its website. Through the project, the two teachers visited the Chicago Public Library and YOUMedia, an interactive, fun space designed just for youth.
“It was such a busy, vibrant creative space,” Steiner said. “It was very inviting. The books, you just wanted to pick them up.”
Steiner returned to Carlynton knowing exactly what needed to be done to transform the old library space.
“I said, ‘We have to do this,'” she said.
District leaders rallied behind her.
The district received funding from the Ready to Learn grant that funded most of the project. About $20,000 in district funds was used to transform the room.
For the past year, a transformation of the old library has been under way.
The room fosters creativity and also challenges students to figure out problems for themselves.
“If something doesn't work the first time, they often get really frustrated,” Steiner said. “We're trying to teach them, it's OK. You're not failing. You're getting information.”
The Shop is open from 7 a.m. to one hour after school ends. Students can stop by during a free period or after they eat their lunch and hang out, mess around and geek out — and, of course, create, Steiner said.
With only 20 days of operation before closing for the end of the school year, students visited The Shop 3,280 times, some stopping by multiple times in a day to hang out and create.
“About 25 percent of our student population is coming through here on a daily basis,” Steiner said. “This space has become the anchor for the kids who were lost in the school before. They were good kids.”
Some students take advantage of the sewing area, the jewelry-making space or the design studio. The recording studio is one of the most popular areas.
Spanish students recorded themselves speaking Spanish in the studio to send to their penpals in Spain. Chorus students have used the space to record music.
Some students come by The Shop just to play Pokemon with their friends in a safe space.
“This is an inclusive space,” Steiner said.
The Shop also allows for outside collaboration and community involvement.
With an array of technology — including 3-D printers, vinyl machines and poster-making equipment — the students were hired to create posters for a program at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carnegie.
“It's a space that really celebrates the philosophy of the school, which is bringing people in and bringing people together,” Principal Michael Loughren said. “You have a great community of people that want to provide for the kids.”
The Shop already has brought people into the school to teach students important skills — like Google's augmented reality or a silk screen printing workshop held for the students.
Books will be a part of the space.
Steiner, who worked with teachers Lisa Rowley and Laura Begg on creating The Shop, said she plans to place books that relate to each subject near the creative learning space so they're handy for students.
Looking ahead to next year, the possibilities are endless.
Someday, she even hopes to have the elementary students visit the space on a field trip.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.