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$900K Multimedia Lab Is 'Excitement Builder' for Upper West Side Students

By Emily Frost | January 16, 2015 5:28pm | Updated on January 19, 2015 8:57am
 The multimedia lab features editing bays, an open seating plan and multiple screens for displaying work. 
Multimedia Lab Launches at P.S. 191
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UPPER WEST SIDE — An underfunded library at a local school has transformed into a state-of-the-art multimedia lab inspired by the city's top technology hubs, including the Sony Wonder Lab and Google's Chelsea offices

The $900,000 lab at P.S. 191, a pre-K-8 school on West 61st Street, features areas for pre-K students to work with iPads and for older students to collaborate on a vast array of programs, including iMovie, Comic Life, Photoshop, After Effects, Illustrator and iStop Motion.

Twelve 32-inch screens line the walls with clusters of tables and chairs stationed around them, leaving the center of the room open. On one end, a wall is painted green so it can function as a green screen; at the other end, a 10-foot-high projection screen can broadcast students' projects for the whole class to see. There's also an editing bay and an additional projection screen as you enter.

The "Dream.Think.Do!" lab — a 1,200-square-foot space with 45 chairs and room for a larger group to sit on the floor — was previously the school's library. But the school couldn't afford a librarian and the space was already functioning as a makeshift tech lab, regularly crowded with kids using laptops, said Shawn Mitchell, the school's technology specialist.  

The school asked then-City Councilwoman Gale Brewer to fund the lab because it was a natural extension of P.S. 191's technology-driven curriculum and to "foster creativity and imagination," said school Principal Lauren Keville. 

"The [DOE] is going to come up with your standard computer lab [design]," she said, adding that the school wanted something that went beyond the ordinary.

Graduate students from Parsons worked with Mitchell and school staff to create a multimedia lab designed to optimize collaboration by drawing inspiration from the headquarters of the city's tech companies. The architecture firm Aecom then took the grad students' initial plans and finalized them.

The result is "an excitement builder" for the students, who step inside the lab and get a sense of the "real world" beyond the typical classroom, where each student works alone at a desk, Mitchell explained. 

In today's college and work environments, "everything is collaborative," he added. "You're always working with someone and this space reflects that."

The lab "plays to our students' strengths and interests so everyone is really engaged," Principal Keville said. 

Brewer and Keville also hope the multimedia lab serves as a draw for parents eager for their kids to excel in the increasingly tech-heavy job landscape. 

"Everybody will want to go to P.S. 191," said Brewer, now the Manhattan borough president. 

As compared to its over-enrolled neighbor P.S. 199, P.S. 191 is working to move beyond its reputation as a less popular choice in the area. 

Keville and Mitchell emphasized that the students aren't using technology just for the sake of saying they use it, and that every decision to use hardware or software has to correspond with curriculum goals.

Fifth-grader Gavin Rodriguez, 11, explained how his class used the green screen and iMovie to create their own films relating to the book "Esperanza Rising."   

"The point was to help us read better," he said. 

Plus, Mitchell added, "it's so much more graceful than doing a PowerPoint."