Art and Science Intersect at the Environmental Charter School's Thinking Lab

Nov 26, 2014

On a recent Thursday morning at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park, eighth graders Tori Hogue and Riley Wolynn are hacking web pages.

It's not "hacking" in the sense that often dominates headlines. The students are using a web program to inspect and manipulate websites, and in the process, learn HTML. 

"The thing is it's only for our eyes to see, so it's not illegal or anything," explains Wolynn, as she shows off her new coding and programming skills.

The girls are finishing up one of one of their daily classes in the Thinking Lab, a space where students spend a few hours every week learning and working on the intersections of the arts and sciences. 

Reading. Math. Science. Then art class. Maybe geography. In most schools, class time is broken up by subject. But at the Environmental Charter School, for a few hours a week, science and art are taught as one. 

The Environmental Charter School at Frick Park.
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Shannon Merenstein (left), the arts and design teacher at the school, with Thinking Lab teacher Stephanie DeLuca.
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

This year, the eighth grade classes are led by guest educators from Assemble, a nonprofit that brings together arts and sciences for youth.

All of the students at the Environmental Charter School attend the Thinking Lab, and each grade has a different curriculum. 

"It gives kids context and it gives kids a different lens, a different perspective," said Thinking Lab teacher Stephanie DeLuca. "In your life, you don’t just do science during science class. You need concepts of science all the time, you need concepts of art all the time, and this is a way to show kids how we use these things interchangeably throughout our lives."

The students also attend traditional science classes, but with this they get additional tools.

Shannon Merenstein, the arts and design teacher at the school, said the integration of subjects helps the students understand that no discipline exists in a silo.

"As an artist I feel like its really important to help kids build the identity of an artist, but I also think its really critical to help them see that the processes of an artist can be similar to the processes of an engineer or a designer or a scientist," she said. 

While she does use Facebook and Instagram, 13-year-old Kennedey Gilbert said she doesn’t really spend a lot of time online. She's too busy with homework and sports.

But in one class, she learned some pretty complicated principles — and managed to apply them.

"If you ask questions it's not really hard, if you ask questions, it gets to be easy," she said. 

That she quickly understood everything didn’t surprise her, but that she enjoyed it so much did.

"I like it because it's like something I’ve never really thought would be this easy," she said. "Now I see why people are so serious about protection and stuff."