The Whitefish community will get a first look at the school district’s new Innovation Lab this weekend.
The lab, which functions as a digital learning and creation space for community members and district students, will host an open house this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours, free technology workshops and refreshments will be available. The workshops include “Exploring Graphic Design,” “Intro to Video Editing,” “Intro to Graphic Art,” and “Intro to Video Editing,” and will take place from 10 a.m. to noon.
The lab is split into two spaces, with a multi-purpose computer lab and the newest audio and video workspace, which offers hands-on learning with digital music production, audio recording, video production and more.
The space features multiple digital piano keyboards, acoustic panels, a theatrical lighting system similar to the one at the Performing Arts Center and a 40-foot green screen. Likewise, the Innovation Lab also allows users of the space to try out different kinds of equipment, from dedicated video cameras to DSLRs and digital production software.
The audio and video lab has come a long way in recent months, Adult Education Director David Donaldson said.
“A year ago there was a bunch of football equipment stored in here, blocking pads and things like that,” he said. “We really spared no expense on the equipment that’s going in here.”
The lab is also the home base for the district’s adult education program, which was revived in 2018 after several years of dormancy.
Funding for the program comes from an adult education levy, which does not require voter approval. The district has budgeted roughly $225,000 for the program in each of the last several years in order to save for startup costs, and in 2018 year cut back on the adult education budget by about $20,000, leaving enough for maintenance and upgrade costs moving forward. Funding has also come from private donations to the district.
The program so far has been going well, Curriculum Director Ryder Delaloye said, with the district offering between five and 12 classes in its first three semesters.
With the Innovation Lab coming together, Delaloye said there’s going to be a big push in adding classes that best use what the lab offers.
“Part of it is we’ll have to create the demand, so in the next fall offering there’s three or four classes that are focused specifically on the utilization of this space and the technology within it,” Delaloye said. “It also removes the barriers to access. There’s so many barriers just in terms of how expensive this stuff is.”
In regard to the school application of the space, Delaloye pointed to the growing music technology program that’s emerged within the district since Skyberg Thoreson joined the middle school as a choir and music technology teacher.
Last year the district received a grant through the Whitefish Community Foundation for a set of iPads so students in Muldown Elementary can experiment with music production in a digital space. That program is growing from an idea to a class that both teachers and students have been showing excitement over.
“Because of our music tech class, we now have music tech at the elementary, middle and high school. It’s a functioning program, and we’re really proud of that. Grants and support have allowed for the iPads to come in, and at the elementary level, kids are learning how to use these digital technologies to create music,” Delaloye said. “All of the editing, the work that’s being done, the synthesizing, all of that is happening in a digital world. It’s no longer just, ‘Record it and sing it and set up a mic,’ it’s really this [technological] part of it.”
Along with the in-school learning, the lab can also precede vocational opportunities as well. One example Donaldson shared is with the lighting system, which is a digital version of what’s used in the PAC and also used for the stage at Casey’s. The Black Box theater in the high school uses an analog version of the same system, so students who may go down that path could develop proficiency in different aspects of the system.
On the community side, the Innovation Lab toes the line between being a valuable resource for community members while not stepping on the toes of similar programs like Flathead Valley Community College’s continuing education programs or private small businesses in the area.
However, the purpose of the Whitefish adult education program is to give a taste, and not create sudden experts that usurp established community members, Delaloye said.
“We have been hyper-cognizant of not competing with any element in the community,” he said. “If you are able to teach these classes and you’re working with these community members, you’re building a relationship with someone. Because even if they come and they learn a little bit, they’re not going to be at the [proficiency level] of both the experience and education that these [teachers] have. They’re not going to go out and create their brand guide, but it’s going to give them a sense of, ‘Oh, that’s even possible?’”
The Innovation Lab is located at Whitefish High School and can be accessed across the from the track. For more information, visit https://tinyurl.com/y32zlrxu