AllentownSchool District

Allentown School District and Da Vinci Science Center Establish Innovative Educational Partnership

Allentown School District and Da Vinci Science Center Establish Innovative Educational Partnership
Posted on 06/09/2023

The Da Vinci Science Center and the Allentown School District (ASD) have joined forces in an innovative partnership that provides ASD students with state-of-the-art immersive learning experiences in Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics, or STREAM, at the Science Center’s new facility in downtown Allentown and expands ASD capacity for next generation science, teaching, and learning.

On Thursday evening, the Allentown School District Board of Education approved a 6-year contract with Da Vinci Science Center that establishes the new Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion as an official secondary campus for Allentown’s Central Elementary School students.

“We are at once thrilled and proud to enter into this agreement with ASD. This is the natural next step in furthering the established partnership between the district and Da Vinci Science Center. This unprecedented approach underscores what we set out to do when we decided to build a new science center in the heart of Allentown,” said Lin Erickson. “Together with our ASD partners, we are truly reimagining the role science centers can play in formal education,” said Erickson.

Located two blocks from the current school, the expanded campus will be home to the Allentown School District STREAM Academy, an innovative school design concept developed by District leadership in partnership with Da Vinci Science Center.   When students are taught in a real-world context, content knowledge, skills and concepts are combined and not experienced in isolation. 

While Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art and Math (STREAM) are essential subject areas, the concept STREAM is transdisciplinary. STREAM Education promotes the coordination of topics around central themes and encourages the exploration of concepts. Through authentic project-based learning, students explore topics in relationship to one another. This design concept promotes rigor, thought, enduring understanding and the transference of knowledge outside specific disciplines.

“Central Elementary students will have ongoing access to immersive exhibit experiences, state-of-the-art classrooms, and STEAM professionals,” said Dr. Carol D. Birks, Allentown School District Superintendent. “The design of the ASD STREAM Academy is based on an asset-driven positive youth development model that fosters not only their cognitive development and will also equip students with the building blocks needed to become healthy, caring and responsible adults.

“Most importantly, the ASD STREAM Academy is an incredible opportunity for our students and teachers to have access to the latest educational resources to support next generation science learning and new technology developments and experts in their fields in a stimulating learning environment.”

“The design of the ASD STREAM School is informed by a growing body of research underscoring the need to develop student’s science capital, defined as an individual's scientific knowledge combined with how they think about science, who they know with an interest or career in science, and what sort of everyday engagement they have with science,” Dr. Birks explained. “But science capital goes beyond the students. It also applies to their families and support networks.”

The ASD STREAM Academy will expand opportunities for families to participate in their children’s learning and students and teachers to connect with industry and community resources in STEAM.   STREAM learning experiences during and outside-of-school-time will help build student’s science capital, expose them to STEAM role models working in local firms, and develop 21st century skills leading to future career opportunities.

“In order to better serve our talented students and nurture their unique gifts, it is important that we come together as a community to create conditions where creativity and a continued love of learning can flourish,” continued Dr. Birks. “This is the first of many steps towards transforming the way we approach education and partnerships in Allentown. On behalf of the students and families of the Allentown School District, we are extremely grateful to have the support of our School Board of Directors, local officials, and state delegation who are committed to this theory of change to create thematically designed schools across the District.   

The partnership reaches far beyond Central Elementary, impacting students and educators preK-12. The model prioritizes professional learning for teachers and administrators across the district to expand ASD’s capacity for next-generation science teaching and learning, customized field trips annually for two grade levels, family science celebrations annually at all the elementary and middle schools, a STEAM Career Pathways Certificate Program for middle and high school students culminating in a paid internship experience at the Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion or with local employers. 

The new science center will be located within one mile’s walking distance for 52,000 Allentown residents, 43% of whom are ASD students. In addition, all ASD families will receive a free annual ASD membership to visit the Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion at their leisure. “Being able to offer ASD families access to the Science Center allows students to explore and continue learning with their family members, reinforcing that this a space where everyone in the community should feel welcome to come explore and learn,” added Erickson.

Helping to create a vibrant community where Allentown’s residents are encouraged to take advantage of all that the city has to offer now and in the future is an important goal for Da Vinci Science Center supporters and soon-to-be downtown neighbors, including City Center Investment Corporation.

“City Center is committed to the revitalization of downtown Allentown and this partnership between ASD and Da Vinci Science Center highlights what can be achieved when we work together to build a stronger community,” said J.B. Reilly, President of City Center Investment Corporation.

City Center Investment Corporation, long-time supporter of Central Elementary School, is the Presenting Sponsor of the traveling exhibits gallery. Over 9000 square feet (about twice the area of a basketball court) in size, the City Center Gallery will host major blockbuster exhibitions such as The Science Behind Pixar or Terracotta Warriors.  All Allentown School District families will have unlimited access to these exhibitions.

The new Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion will offer 30,000 square feet of exhibit experiences including a digital gallery where visitors can create 3D animations on a 54-foot high screen while exploring topics that fascinated Leonardo da Vinci; an immersive walk-through, climb through human body experience sponsored by LVHN; the recreation of a Pocono Ravine featuring North American river otters; and City Center Gallery featuring award-winning, international traveling exhibitions.  Live demonstrations in the Science Theater and workshops, clubs, and camps during school, after school, on weekends, and during the summer months will provide rich learning experiences for the entire Lehigh Valley community and beyond.

“Allentown School District programs will happen in parallel with no interruption to field trips, and other programs for schools and families throughout the region, both on site at the science center and through our outreach programs in the community,” noted Karen Knecht, Senior Director of Education for Da Vinci Science Center. “The new larger facility was designed to ensure that we could maximize opportunities to bring science to life for students, teachers, and families every day.”

“We are thrilled that Central Elementary students will be able to develop a sense of pride and ownership of the new Science Center that will be in their neighborhood. This is an ideal way to build on the strong partnership that we have had with Central throughout the years with programs for students, families, and teachers, as well as STEM Summer Literacy programming. This new model is an opportunity to reimagine what public education looks like and create tangible community impact." said Knecht.

This integrated model also allows for the design of assessment strategies and outcome measures that can be tracked by the district and Da Vinci Science Center to inform future educational components and be used as a blueprint for similar partnerships in communities across the country.

The new Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion, scheduled to open in the spring of 2024, will be a Regional Center of Excellence for STEAM Education, serving as a hub for community science and career connector, while inspiring curiosity in visitors of all ages through immersive experiences and captivating exhibits.