U.S. Education secretary tours Baltimore nonprofit to urge funding for 'maker spaces'

'It's reinventing education." Schools CEO supports federal efforts to reauthorize money for "maker spaces"

In an old city recreation center in Federal Hill, Samuel Mitchell was constructing the cosmos and a purple-caped star man to conquer it.

Beware the crafty Illosions, the 13-year-old said.

While Samuel was designing his computer game, 12-year-old Aeirss Prince was designing model houses with a 3D printer.

Acting U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr. said they were the sort of projects that inspire children to learn and imagine.

King toured the nonprofit Digital Harbor Foundation workshop Wednesday to highlight "maker spaces," as he calls on Congress to reauthorize a $1.1 billion program for technical-education programs in schools.

"What an amazing place this is — it's incredible to think that this was once an abandoned rec center," he said. "It's time for Congress to reauthorize the Perkins Act so that every student, in every community, has access to rigorous, relevant and results-driven CTE [career and technical education] programs."

Congress approved the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act in 2006, making available $1.1 billion a year to schools to teach skills such as coding and computer science and manufacturing.

At the Digital Harbor workshop, city schools CEO Gregory Thornton applauded the children's projects: a crafted mandolin, a candleholder and a robot spider.

"It's reinventing education as we've known it," he said. "This is going to be the future."

The Digital Harbor Foundation offers after-school and summer classes to more than 100 area children in grades 3 through 12. Staff teach children computer coding and 3D printing. Parents are asked to pay what they can.

Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford said Maryland is "in lockstep" with President Barack Obama in encouraging the growth of such instruction.

"It's wonderful and the kinds of things we really need to do to teach kids the new ways," he said.

Officials have announced a federal competition in which schools can create maker spaces for a share of $200,000.

The Digital Harbor workshop was crowded with children showing their craftsmanship: a quirky computer game of the ice sport curling, a buoyant model boat, a computer chip that sings into headphones.

At the table, Samuel bent over his computer, tinkering to construct the cosmos, then conquer it.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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