Columbia, CPS team up to create tech schools

By Tyler Eagle

Chicago Public School students can look forward to more digital education in the classroom, thanks to a grant awarded to Columbia.

On Dec. 18, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Columbia’s Center for Community Arts Partnerships, an organization dedicated to bettering Chicago students through arts education programs, a $3 million grant to fund a digital media program called Convergence Academies, according to David Flatley, executive director of CCAP.

Convergence Academies will work with two low-performing Chicago public schools, integrating digital media and technology into the schools’ curricula to prepare high school and elementary students for college and future careers, said Flatley, who is also the project coordinator.

“As a college, we have something to say about what kind of skills a student should be matriculating to college with,” he said. “As far as when [students] graduate high school, what they should know is in regards to media literacy.”

The two schools that will become the Convergence Academies have yet to be selected, Flatley said, adding that the selection will be made within the next few months so the academies can open for the 2013–2014 school year.

Columbia was one of 20 grant recipients selected from more than 700 applications received by the Department of Education for its Investing in Innovation (i3) competition, which supports new programs that reduce high-school drop-out rates, according to the competition website.

Columbia students and faculty volunteers will serve as mentors in the program, Flatley said. They will be tasked with helping students and staff in the selected elementary and high schools understand new technology being brought in by

Convergence Academies.Some of these new technologies will include integrating photography into mathematics classes, creating 3-D models in social studies classes

Some of these new technologies will include integrating photography into mathematics classes, creating 3-D models in social studies classes and constructing a library equipped with media production tools,

according to a video presentation released by CCAP.

The grant will fund the program for three years, Flatley said. If Convergence Academies is successful, CCAP will look into expanding the program into more schools,he said.

The grant will create five jobs, according to Flatley, including a full-time program manager at CPS who will act as a liaison between both schools, a position at CPS, two media specialists, one at each of the selected schools and a

curriculum coordinator.

To receive the grant, Columbia had to prove it had 15 percent of the funds for which it applied, according to the competition website. Because the college applied for the maximum amount, it had four weeks to show that it had $450,000 in matching funds, according to the competition website.

Matching funds could be counted as either monetary or time funds. Flatley said he is donating 25 percent of his time to the management of the project so he can dedicate a portion of his salary to the match.

“[Funds] can’t come from federal sources, so it couldn’t come from CPS,” Flatley said. “CPS can invest some money in the program, but it couldn’t count for the match.”

When CCAP learned it received the grant, it reached out to other organizations to match the funds, Flatley said.

Several organizations were willing to donate in the future but couldn’t immediately

contribute, he said.

According to Flatley, CCAP received a $100,000 donation from the MacArthur Foundation, and a combined $105,000 from Pearson Education and the Pearson Foundation, which also contributed software and computers.

The Convergence Academies project is not the first project that CPS and Columbia have partner-

ed for. Meredith Bruozas, a CPS educational technology employee, said CPS has been working with CCAP for five years through CCAP’s Transferring Education through the Arts and Media initiative, a broader program that educates teachers on how to integrate art and media into their curriculum.