Millions more pledged to promoting education innovation |
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Natasha Lindstrom
Finley Wardrip, 8, of Edgewood works with circuits as his dad, Peter looks on on Monday, May 9, 2016, at a table for the Children's Museum's makers space at Google in Bakery Square.

A foundation-backed education network of Western Pennsylvania schools, companies and nonprofits said Monday it is pumping $25 million into innovative learning projects across the region.

The hefty cash infusion — hailed by White House officials during the announcement inside Google’s offices in East Liberty — signals the rapidly growing momentum of the Remake Learning network, a local blueprint for cross-sector collaboration that is drawing national recognition.

“You really are a model for the country,” Thomas Kalil, deputy director of policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told a private audience of local dignitaries, philanthropists and educators kicking off the start of Remake Learning Days, a week-long celebration showcasing projects throughout the region.

Mayor Bill Peduto credited the regional coalition with fueling Pittsburgh’s transition from “the City of Steel to the City of Learning.” He cited the need to plug an 80,000-job shortage anticipated here by 2025.

The combined pledge of $25 million comes from more than 100 organizations among the network’s 250 members.

The Remake Learning network includes Pittsburgh area schools, libraries, museums, businesses, foundations, preschools, after-school providers and nonprofit groups. They seek to develop and share innovative methods for digital-age teaching and project-based learning in the fields of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math — the so-called STEAM approach to rethinking education.

“This can happen in any city in America, big or small,” said Gregg Behr, executive director of The Grable Foundation, among the network’s largest funders, and co-founder of the Remake Learning network. He cited similar efforts cropping up in San Diego and Redding, Calif.; Huntsville, Ala.; Charlottesville, Va.; Orlando, Fla.; and Seattle.

Kalil said Pittsburgh’s network stands out for its breadth and strength of membership and sheer number of participants and projects and the amount of funding mobilized over a decade.

“They trust each other and they’re willing to work together,” Kalil said, “and it shows in the results.”

About 86 percent of members report making “new and productive collaborations” because of their participation, the network says. They expect to reach more than 400,000 children and 20,000 educators in Western Pennsylvania in the next year.

Projects range from teaching high-demand skills such as computer coding starting as early as first grade, to crowdfunding partnerships between Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and schools that need money for programs and technology they can’t afford.

“I like it because I don’t get to do just one subject; I get to do two in one,” said Jacey Tschannen, 10, a third-grader at Woolslair Elementary School in Bloomfield, where her teacher blends math with art projects and plans cross-subject lessons around trips to Arsenal Park. “You’re not just doing one thing where you’re sitting at your desk the whole time. You get to do more, like hands-on things. It’s fun and you can get creative with it sometimes.”

In this latest Remake Learning funding round, The Grable Foundation committed $10 million; The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, $3.14 million; EQT Corp., $2.9 million; an anonymous donor, $2.5 million; Chevron Appalachia LLC, $2 million; The Heinz Endowments, $1.2 million; the Buhl Foundation, $500,000; Allegheny Intermediate Unit, $500,000; and The Sprout Fund, $300,000. The remainder came from other charitable donors and The Pittsburgh and Hillman Family foundations.

It follows $30 million in Remake Learning investment since the network’s inception.

Last fall, the network unveiled its latest “playbook” for those seeking to replicate or learn about its members’ efforts and results.

“Remake Learning network provides me with colleagues from around the region, and really around the country, to lean on and to learn from,” said Shaun Tomaszewski, STEAM coordinator for Pittsburgh Public Schools. “It allows me to ensure that students at Pittsburgh Public are receiving the same quality innovation learning as the kids in some of the more affluent communities are.”

The network provides an added layer of accountability, Tomaszewksi said, “because if you put yourself out there as somebody who’s participating in this professional network, you better deliver.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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