- Mount Nittany Elementary
- Mount Nittany Elementary School
Dropping Tracks in the New Audio Lab
It was the end of the day at Park Forest Middle School, and English teacher John Cimino and his students were getting loopy.
But that was the plan all along. A drum loop here, a bass loop there, and two girls suddenly had a funky track pouring out of their laptop computer in Park Forest’s new audio lab. Cimino helped the novice virtual virtuosos assemble a propulsive rhythm on their screen.
“See this little loop icon here? Click that,” he said. “These are basically recordings. A loop is just like a clip of an audio recording. All you do is drag in the clip.”
In a few minutes, a tune started taking shape, sounding like a lost techno nugget. “I want you guys to get in there and play around with it,” Cimino said. “See if you can make something that sounds cool.”
All of the slinky beats out of the lab these days stem from Cimino’s desire to open doors for creative students.
Cimino, a longtime musician and songwriter, approached Park Forest music teacher Molly McAninch with a proposal last year. What if they could offer students the means to create professional-sounding demos and learn the ins and outs of audio production?
“We have so many talented artists and musicians here, but there aren’t a whole lot of ways to get the music recorded,” Cimino said.
With McAninch’s support, Cimino applied for a grant from the State College Area School District Education Foundation’s Student Opportunities Fund, receiving $978. That helped fund three audio production workstations, each with a MacBook Air, keyboard, headphones and microphone. Funding for a similarly-equipped fourth station came from a separate music grant.
The lab occupies a table along a wall in Park Forest’s video production studio. Students sign up to use the stations during their final period, a time reserved for activities. Two months into the lab’s debut, its pioneers are busy exploring the GarageBand program and following where their creativity leads them.
Eighth-grader Johnny Rothrock, an aspiring audio engineer, has employed the lab to add music to the student announcements. But what he really loves is collecting sound samples, such as the wind and his phone camera shutter. With his sample library, he plans on making a “dubstep” electronic dance music piece in the lab.
“Just put them all on one song and see what happens,” he said.
Some day, Cimino hopes, the lab can move to a more spacious location with room for monitor speakers and external storage drives. Mobile labs on carts is another dream, so that students could record live music in the auditorium or experiment with different acoustics around the school.
“The lab opens production up for everybody,” Cimino said. “Everybody can create and enjoy it.”
Providing those opportunities for students living in a digital age matters to him. In line with the district’s emphasis on educational equity, all Park Forest students, regardless of income or experience, now have an outlet for expressing themselves, enhancing school projects, creating podcasts or preparing for future careers.
“It’s really limitless what you can do with it,” Cimino said. “Once they get the basics and they play around with it, kids will figure it out and they’ll do more than you think.”
Photos by Nabil K. Mark