(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
It was the last day of school at Liberty Elementary on Monday, but it’s not closing for the summer. Thanks to its adjacent “Rec and Tech Center” and a fundraising effort that yielded $58,000, the public school will remain a hive of activity.
The pre-K through 5th-grade school’s place as a center of the community is just one of the reasons that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith paid a visit to the West Baltimore school on Monday morning.
The D.C. officials visited as part of the National Week of Making, which highlights maker and STEM education efforts around the country.
Smith, the U.S. CTO, was impressed with Liberty’s makerspace and tech center, which is run with community partners including Code in the Schools. After-school programs include robotics and video game design, as well as sewing and ceramics. Technology and innovation is also a big part of the curriculum. The school is set to have 460 iPads next school year, and projects displayed on the walls showed QR codes that played back math projects, and Instagrams of famous historical figures.
With a data-driven approach to learning and a “lean administration” model that has Principal Joe Manko wearing many different hats, the school even takes a tech approach to operations.
“It’s really helping kids not just be consumers of these super cool cellphones that we have, but really break it open,” Smith, who is a former Google VP, said of the way the school uses technology.
Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, also praised the school’s approach to addressing the rioting after Freddie Gray’s funeral, which started just a couple of miles away at Mondawmin Mall.
Instead of pretending it didn’t happen, Duncan said the school’s staff acted as a sounding board, letting them talk and write about what they saw.
“They listened to kids,” Duncan said. “They let them speak. They let them express themselves.”
Paired with the opportunity to explore technology, giving the students that space could also help them see a path that doesn’t involve violence or other temptations, Duncan said.
“The kids today who were coding upstairs,” he said. “They were thinking about coding and making money doing that. That’s a real opportunity.”
Duncan also thinks Liberty Elementary’s work is a learning opportunity for U.S. officials. Manko is serving as an advisor on a Department of Education ambassador program.