Making Spaces Spotlight: Two Incredible Organizations in Pittsburgh

This article is a part of series of interview with our partner organizations in the Making Spaces program. Read more Hub Highlights.

Meet New Castle Area School District and Matt’s Maker Space

New Castle Area School District (NCASD) is a public school district located in Southwestern Pennsylvania that services a diverse student population of approximately 3,150 students from Pre-K through 12th grade. NCASD has emerged as a leader of innovative practices centered around transforming teaching and learning to better prepare students for the future of work. Our partner, Matt’s Maker Space, is a 501(c)3 organization founded in May of 2018 and has since funded 36 maker spaces in the greater area of Pittsburgh, PA. It has emerged in the last two years as a go-to organization for connecting partners, helping schools find resources to establish spaces and as a leader in the design, building and staffing of maker spaces and training of teachers in the pre-K to 8th grade space. By joining forces, both the NCASD and Matt’s Maker Space will continue to lead efforts in building and sustaining an ecosystem of STEAM education and Maker Learning.

Matt’s Maker Space at Point Park University.

What challenges has your organization faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

This has been a very challenging year for organizations everywhere. However, schools and teachers have borne the brunt of the COVID pandemic. Schools in our area have had to be extremely flexible. Sometimes in session, then hybrid, then back to remote…learning has been all over the place. Because of Emily’s position as Assistant Superintendent, she has really been burdened with the task of helping her school district, students, administrators, teachers and parents through all of the uncertainty.

For Matt’s Maker Space, we were able to take this time to really work on getting in maker spaces. Kids are not present in them but through this time, we were able to install five separate spaces. We were lucky that we are a lean organization and through the pandemic did not face the problems that many non profits faced. We have no employees and a very lean board. Our Board is made up mostly of teachers, so we tried to be as nimble as possible, only involving them when absolutely necessary. It has been a great time of growth for us as we are currently working on our 33rd space in just four years.

Professional development at the Matt’s Maker Space Lab, designed to train pre-service teachers in maker methodology.

Why did you originally join the Making Spaces program? Does this support look different than you planned for?

We joined the program because we felt that we could, as a team, demonstrate that collaboration between a school district and a non-profit can really work. We each brought unique talents to this program. Emily is really integrated into the education world. She is a true leader and innovator. She brings tools, methods and pedagogy to the team and is always proactive and forward thinking. Noelle brings her contacts and networking throughout all the Matt’s Maker Space family. Matt’s Maker Space is unique in that the spaces are really everywhere – preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school, libraries, community centers and hospitals. Our hub works really well because each of our members brings their unique differences to the table. They share and collaborate and the discussions are very thoughtful and relevant.

Being a part of the actual program presented some unique challenges, especially for Emily. It is difficult to participate in all of the activities as a school superintendent. The demands on her time were heavy. In addition, the running of a non-profit sometimes interfered with participating in all of the calls. However, both of the organizations benefited from the support that we were able to utilize.

What is one way that participating in Making Spaces has helped you / your organization achieve its goals? What new things have you learned, either about yourself/your personal practice as an educator, or about your organization’s role in learning?

One way that being a part of this program helped us achieve our goals was in the partnerships and collaborative space that we had. We contacted some of the other members and reached out for help if we were unable to locate a resource or needed information. The beauty of this program is in the relationships that are formed and the network that is built.

New Castle Area grand opening. Featured from left to right, David Conover,(CoFounder, Matt’s Maker Space), Debra DeBlasio (Superintendent, New Castle Area School District), David Atuono, (Co-Principal, George Washington Intermediate School, New Castle Area School District), Noelle Conover, (Founder of Matt’s Maker Space), Emily Sanders (Director of Academics and Innovation, New Castle Area School District).

Tell us about a recent “win” or success you’ve had. This could be small or large. Don’t be shy – this is your time to brag!

Matt’s Maker Space is proud to announce one of newest spaces will be in a mental hospital with patients using the maker space from ages 3 – 93. This is a huge success for our organization because we see the value of making in the educational world and with our hospitals, we know that it is therapeutic. We are so excited to see how making can help patients achieve mental health objectives.

New Castle School District has emerged as a provider of Maker Education and Professional Development for educators. The workshops and sessions that were created as a part of this program have emerged as real winners for educators seeking PD. It is our goal to carry this forward into a successful collaborative arrangement between our two organizations and formalize the PD by applying for grants to establish a formal maker education program. There is a huge need for it in our region and we are looking forward to using the skills we honed in this program to create and maintain a program of excellence.





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