PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The nation’s top arts education leaders met in Pittsburgh on Friday.

And they have good reason for choosing our city, because western Pennsylvania has a strong tradition of supporting the arts and arts education, and we continue to lead the way in innovation in the classroom.

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Robotics, 3D printers, video game programming. No, this is not Carnegie Mellon University; it’s the middle school in the Elizabeth Forward School District.

“Kids can make and dream anything that they want,” says Assistant Superintendent Todd Keruskin.

The “dream factory” at Elizabeth Forward Middle School is the result of updating and coordinating the art, computer and woodshop classrooms.

Caitlin Kolesar, a seventh grader, designed and fabricated an iPad holder to fit on the wheelchair of her fellow student.

“There’s this app called ‘1, 2, 3 Design,’ which is this, that’s what I made it off of,” said Kolesar. “All you have to do is use math. This does the math for you, all you have to do is have the design, hook it up to the computer and it logs right in.”

In computer class, sixth graders program video games, seventh graders design robots and eighth graders create video commercials.

“I kinda like how you get to make stuff you wanted to make since you were a little kid,” said Josh Balogh, an eighth grader.

Here, traditional art, math and English meld with media art, graphics and computer science.

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Sarah Tambucci, director of the Arts Education Collaborative in Pittsburgh, says most western Pennsylvania parents demand arts in school.

“Very ethnic still in its origins and a lot of immigrants who came to western Pennsylvanian had a lot of their arts and traditions and customs that they brought with them,” said Tambucci. “I think that is part of reason why many of the art forms that we still have here in Pittsburgh are so entrenched in what we do.”

She says, unlike many other communities, schools, foundations and professional artists collaborate.

“If we’re doing something in music, we’re working with the Pittsburgh Symphony, if we’re doing something with the visual arts, we’re working with the Warhol or the Carnegie Museum of Art or the Mattress Factory,” Tambucci says.

Educators are finding that math and English only teach so much. The arts help teach problem solving, creative thinking and working with others.

“We need to get children to be able to build and create, fabrication and design are really critical in thinking process,” said Elizabeth Forward Superintendent Dr. Bart Rocco. “A lot of schools don’t teach that. We’re teaching design; we’re teaching creativity. We’re teaching those aspects that we know are going to help children in future.”

Elizabeth Forward accomplished this, despite being a district with a lower tax base. They did it with the collaboration of local foundations and universities and businesses.

It’s been so successful; it’s now spread to other school districts, including Pittsburgh Public Schools, McKeesport, Seneca Valley and West Allegheny.

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Kristine Sorensen