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Obama Academy Opens Maker Space With $75K Grant, Helping To Bridge Digital Divide

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Silas Switzer and Sarene Goetz are both sophomores at Pittsburgh Obama in East Liberty. They took a technology class this semester and were among the firsts to use the new maker space.

With the help of a grant from Google, Obama Academy in East Liberty opened a maker space for students Thursday. It’s an amenity more commonly found in schools in wealthier districts.

Parents who were concerned that their children didn’t have access to the same equipment and technology as wealthier students secured the $75,000 grant, which was used to retrofit a room in the school to become MPowerStudio. 

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Members of the Parent Teacher Student Association wrote the proposal and were able to purchase 3D printers, laser cutters and an embroidery machine.  

Obama is a magnet school serving 900 6th through 12th graders across the city. Students enter a lottery to attend the school with an emphasis on foreign language and college readiness. It’s population, though, reflects the Pittsburgh Public Schools district. While 65 percent of all PPS students are economically disadvantaged, 57 percent of Obama’s students are.

Parents like Ashish Badjatia say they want their children to have access to technology used in science, technology, engineering and math fields, as those job opportunities are steadily increasing in the region.

At Obama, technology teacher Patrick Williams said the space will be where students put into practice the problem solving and critical thinking skills they’re developing in his class. He said he doesn’t want to tell them what to make.

“Whatever they want to use or make to express themselves, I’m going to support,” he said.

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Sophomore Sarene Goetz was one of the first students to work in the lab. This semester she created a prototype of flippers that would help people without legs to swim. It was created as part of a program the school has started with the idea to design items to improve the lives of others.

Principal Yalonda Colbert says it’s one way her students are looking at global issues with local solutions.

“We recognize that this is a huge financial lift and Google gave us a great start,” she said. “But we know this is a need in order to make sure that our students are locally and globally competitive in this space.”