The Apollo-Ridge School District is closer to its goal of revamping the middle school library thanks to an organization dedicated to enriching the district.
The Apollo-Ridge Education Foundation presented the school board this week with a check for $12,000, which will go toward converting the library into a fully functioning Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and design and Mathematics — or STEAM — center.
Christine Kostiuk, the foundation’s director, estimates that the group will need to raise a total of $70,000 to complete the transformation. The $12,000 the foundation delivered to the district this week marks the first major cash donation toward the goal.
The money comes from a silent auction and wine tasting event the foundation held earlier this month at RoseCourt Winery in Kiski Township. The event pulled in about 120 guests, Kostiuk said.
“It was a great success,” Kostiuk said. “We’ve had great feedback since. We had been working on it since January, but we’re going to make it an annual event to continue bringing money into the district for these types of projects.”
Some of the event’s proceeds have already been used to purchase robotic and creative construction kits for the future lab. Students could have access to those tools as early as January as the district looks to buy a handful of work tables for the center, according to Apollo-Ridge Middle School Principal Travis Barta.
In the meantime, the education foundation will be raising money for the district to purchase up to 30 iMac computers for the facility. Costs for the computers are estimated at $60,000.
“We were working pretty closely with others in the area,” Barta said, “trying to get ideas, to better prepare our students for post-secondary education or employment after graduation.
“What we’re finding is that working with equipment, like the robotics, not only helps teach the kids concepts like math and science, but how to problem solve, communicate and work in diverse groups. As they develop those attributes, they’ll be more attractive to employers.”
Apollo-Ridge officials began collaborating on STEAM initiatives with local experts, administrators and teachers this year through an educational partnership called the ABC Alle-Kiski Best Practices Collaborative.
The collaborative, which now includes all 15 Alle-Kiski Valley school districts, aims to identify teachers and schools that introduce STEAM topics in innovative ways and replicate those methods in other districts. It is funded by a $300,000 Grable Foundation grant and connects educators with experts from institutions like the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State Electro-Optics Center, Westmoreland County Community College and Penn State New Kensington in Upper Burrell.
Colleen Smith, an outreach coordinator with Penn State New Kensington, said Apollo-Ridge’s commitment to incorporating STEAM projects will not only benefit their students, but all Alle-Kiski Valley districts, as they share their methods and results.
“We’re trying to develop a model in which districts can share their strengths and knowledge,” Smith said. “As more districts in the Valley, but also throughout the entire region, work together to teach their students critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills through cross-curricular activities, it’s just going to make our region stronger.”
It’s unclear when Apollo-Ridge will complete its conversion of the library. According to Superintendent Matt Curci, however, it is the commitment to the STEAM initiatives, rather than the facility, that will boost the quality of education provided by the district.
“Even though we have this center, we want this mode of thought to take place in all of our classrooms,” he said. “This will be a resource for teachers to sign out when they need it, but the whole way of looking at things is something we want to carry over all across the board. At the end of the day, everything you learn in the classroom is meant to be applied to real-world situations.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.