The Whitefish School District is looking to expand its adult education programming with a revamped “Innovation Lab” and a dedicated education coordinator position.
Director of Curriculum Ryder Delaloye presented ideas for the adult education during the Aug. 8 school board meeting.
Delaloye said the idea of a continual desire to learn fits in well with the community of Whitefish.
“When there are opportunities for adult education or opportunities for personal enrichment, there’s a high demand here,” he said. “We have a community that’s interested in growing and learning and developing. So I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to create a really vibrant program that is responsive to the needs of the community.”
The program would open up a classroom, the Innovation Lab, to middle and high school students as well as members of the community to pursue various technological and digital fields, such as programming, game design, robotics, 3D printing and more.
Previously a small group of classes have been offered informally, and no specific plans are in place yet for classes this fall.
Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said the scope for class topics is much larger than just technology classes that would be part of the Innovation Lab.
Davis Schmidt offered up possible non-technology classes like a canning class taught by Home and Consumer Sciences teacher Amanda Matdies.
Students and community members would pursue their interests in a mostly self-directed learning style, using resources like online tutorial website lynda.com, Davis Schmidt said.
The role of the adult education coordinator will be to facilitate that learning and offer direction to students, Delaloye explained.
“The purpose of the adult education coordinator is to provide a platform for adult education to the Whitefish community. There have been components of adult education throughout the past in the Whitefish School District, and this is an attempt to coordinate that in a more explicit way by bringing on an individual that really takes ownership of what adult education is and the programming that can be provided,” he said.
The Innovation Lab will be available for use by students during the day and open for community members in the afternoon and evenings, with Saturday hours also planned.
A benefit of the Innovation Lab is allowing access of technology and software that students and community members might otherwise not be able to use, Davis Schmidt said.
“It really is the idea of creating a space for people to innovate and be creative, to bring something new and exciting to the community. This is a community I think that thrives on that. And it creates a space for our young and newer entrepreneurs to access technology that they may not be able to access at their home,” she said.
Trustee Marguerite Kaminski worried about unnecessary curricular overlaps between the Innovation Lab and continuing education courses offered by Flathead Valley Community College, but Davis Schmidt said the issue is one they’re mindful of and trying to avoid.
The Innovation Lab, she said, is meant to offer a taste of a new hobby or interest before a community member can purse it further at the college. Classes at FVCC are considered the next level up from working in the Innovation Lab, which would give someone the chance to try out an interest in computer coding for gaming by taking a two-hour seminar before taking a full semester class on the subject at the college.
“We don’t want to duplicate, what we want to do is fill that gap,” she said.
Trustee Shannon Hanson, who has taught continuing education classes at FVCC, said he hasn’t seen much overlap between what the Innovation Lab intends to offer and what FVCC currently teaches.
During public comment, Tom Tornow noted the importance of adult education programs for the effect they can have on bringing community members into the school. He noted that he takes adult education classes at Flathead High School.
“People like me, who don’t have any kids, don’t have any connection to the school systems,” he said. “It is a good way to integrate and get some support from those members of the community that don’t have children and aren’t otherwise engaged in the work you guys do,” he added.
Davis Schmidt said the district currently has donor funds from the Whitefish Community Foundation to use for adult education. In addition, the district’s 2017-18 budget designates $226,000 in adult education spending.