Principal Ken Lockette wants the walls of Avonworth High School to be alive and vibrant -- not drab and institutional.
He also wants his students to know what it's like to work in the professional world and to prepare them for an increasingly competitive environment.
Thanks to a $10,000 grant from The Sprout Fund's Hive Fund for Connected Learning, the high school in Ohio Township is hoping to fulfill Mr. Lockette's visions through the Avonworth Pittsburgh Galleries Project.
The plan is to connect 30 to 50 high school students with five arts institutions in the Pittsburgh region: The Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh Glass Center and Toonseum of Pittsburgh.
Students will be divided into five teams, with each team assigned to an institution. Throughout the academic year, professionals in the art world will offer the students an inside look at the intricacies and challenges of working with professional artists, curating shows and running an arts establishment. The students will blog about their experiences, and the project will culminate in five end-of-year exhibits, each curated by one of the teams.
These shows will be inspired by what the students have seen and learned and will be displayed inside the school.
"It's about applying things in the real world, not just doing classroom presentations," Mr. Lockette said, adding, "It's a competitive world and you have to have certain skills."
This project and others are part of what Mr. Lockette describes as the school's bigger vision in trying to change how it approaches education.
He said Avonworth hopes to move toward project-based learning, putting students in professional-world situations.
Avonworth's approach is a large part of what made it attractive to the Hive Fund's Learning Advisory Committee, which awards funds -- sometimes as much as $15,000 -- based on the use of the principle of "connected learning."
It is the result of research coming out of The Digital Media & Learning Research Hub at University of California Irvine, which is supported, like The Sprout Fund, by the MacArthur Foundation.
"Connected learning is one way of looking at how teens learn best," said Mac Howison, program officer for Catalytic Funding at The Sprout Fund.
For example, he said, teens learn more when the content is related to what they are interested in, when they are learning in an environment with their peers, when they have the opportunity to take ownership over what they are learning, and when what they are learning is relevant to their academics.
He said social media also is important because of its "centrality and ubiquity in the lives of youths and teens."
Like project-based learning, connected learning prioritizes exposure to the professional world.
The Sprout Fund wants projects to help create networks among local organizations.
One motivation behind this particular project is an apparent knowledge gap that some believe exists in artistically minded students about their professional opportunities.
"Often, kids who are interested in the arts might not know what their career options are," said Avonworth studio art teacher Kerri Villani.
"I want the students to learn how to be the curator, not just the artist. I want them to see what else they can do inside the museum."
To participate, students must complete a short application.
Administrators want to get a sense of the applicant's interests to pair the student with the most compatible art institution.
"I admire schools like Avonworth that are getting kids out of the classroom and into established Pittsburgh art institutions," said Heather McElwee, executive director at the Pittsburgh Glass Factory, the only institution on the list that is not a museum.
She said it is especially important "at a time when the arts are getting cut and are not necessarily part of the everyday school curriculum at all."
Another positive aspect of the project is that the school's interior will get a makeover as the students apply what they have learned to the rooms and halls of their school in their final exhibits.
"Installation isn't just about putting a painting on a wall, it's about transforming a whole room," said Felice Cleveland, director of education at the Mattress Factory.
As students learn about installation within rooms of a museum, Ms. Cleveland believes they become more aware of the environment that surrounds them.
They will become more sensitive to what environments make them happy or sad, peaceful or anxious, more or less productive, and can take ownership and action over them.
As Ms. Cleveland put it, "Through this process, I hope they look at the places in their life ... [and realize] that they can change the world ... because if you notice how the space around you makes you feel, you can change it."
Maggie Neil, freelance writer: email@example.com