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York Country Day School extends open invitation to 'Extraordinary by Design' STEAM center ribbon cutting
Posted 08/18/2016 04:08PM

After the recent completion of the Ann B. Barshinger Center for the Arts and Brougher Center for Innovation and Technology, what's possible is limited only by the abilities and imagination of students at York Country Day School.

"What can you find?" asked Christine Heine, Head of School at York Country Day, an independent, college preparatory school nestled in Spring Garden Township. "What can you design?"

It's an open invitation for young minds from a school where design drives everything; where young "intellectual entrepreneurs" are set to test the limits of both education and inquiry; where a lesson on George Washington might now lead to a podcast, or a new play, or a full-sized replica of the boat in which the first president crossed the Delaware.

"We're talking about a new way of thinking," Heine said. "A climate of wonder, of 'Why not?'"

The "Extraordinary by Design" STEAM center is a two-story, 44,000-square-foot commitment at YCDS to the NAIS, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). It's also a commitment to a way of learning that allows each student a unique voice to help shape the future.

Success in a changing world

The $15-million project includes as its centerpiece a 400-seat performing arts space. It also boasts two stories of labs, including several with garage door-size openings, for the day when a brave student wants to wheel out an 8-foot-tall robot. There's a new Robotics Lab, a Digital Arts Workshop, welding, wood and metal labs, a fine arts and ceramics studio and a VidCast Studio to create music.

In short, it's where our past meets the future; where the throwback innocence and curiosity of childhood meets the joy of finding state-of-the-art design tools at your fingertips. A place to discover what's next, before anyone ever saw it coming.

"Technology, to us, is an environment, not an event. It's all around like air," Heine said. "We're giving students leverage to have success in a changing world that no one can possibly predict but should be open to expect."

Robotics, for example, is taken by students of all ages at YCDS, from kindergarten through high school. Specially tailored software and programmable robots in the new facility will expose children to an engineer's critical thinking process, Harmon Krtanjek, the Program Director for Engineering and Robotics, explained, training their brains to better recognize spatial relations.

"The ability to critically break down complex systems to create something new is an integral part of the learning process," she said. "You learn letters and then write your own sentences, and this is the same sort of process."

Connecting science and arts

Dean of Students Molly Wertz, who teaches English in middle and upper school, is excited at the growing connection between STEAM subjects like robotics and traditional liberal arts disciplines at YCDS.

Wertz feels the technology at the new facility will offer her English students an array of opportunities – anything from creating podcasts about their favorite books to producing a play with the help of others or perhaps working on design projects with 3-D printers.

Even the building itself, with its two-story great room and smooth, modern lines, will likely inspire a young writer to stop and search for new words, Wertz said.

"It's going to allow my students to be as creative as they possibly can be," she said.

'Be the best for our students'

For Wertz, who's taught at YCDS for 12 years, the new building means another wonderful tool for educators who come to school each day looking for fresh ways to expand both the minds and possibilities of their students.

"I love it because we're always, always pushing ourselves," she said, "always asking what we can do to be the best for our students today."

In Harmon Krtanjek's classroom, that might mean asking elementary students who just read a book about an alligator to now design a motor to make the animal's jaws open and close – an engineering puzzle to sink their teeth into.

"They're learning how the world works here and getting exposed to possible career paths that they might never see anywhere else," Harmon Krtanjek said. "It's amazing when I think about how we're giving these students such a broad depth of understanding of what's possible."

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