As the first tour group entered through the doors of the Porterville Unified School District’s new Garner Holt Animakerspace Lab at the Citrus South Tule campus, Gordon Plaisted, STEAM teacher and coach with PUSD Pathways, sang a few words from Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination.”
“Come with me and you’ll be….in a world of pure imagination,” he sang as he led the group through the door.
Immediately everyone entering appeared amazed — many of them taking out their cell phones and taking photographs of the various stations.
“It’s nothing short of amazing for our students in the Porterville district,” said Chris Reed, Tulare County Board of Education board member representing Porterville. “When I first walked into the Animaker building, I thought how fortunate it is for our students to be the very first in the state of California to have this experience.”
And “Education through Imagination” — is exactly what PUSD is doing on the campus.
"Our new Animakerspace Lab is the result of an inspirational journey with our partners at Garner Holt Productions," said Cindy Brown, director of PUSD Pathways, after a welcome by PUSD Superintendent Nate Nelson.
The partnership between PUSD and Garner Holt began three to four years ago, Brown said, with a connected vision to expose students to a world of imagination and sparking students' minds with vibrant learning through the lens of animatronics.
The lab will offer a powerful learning experience to elementary students who will visit the lab for a day-long, hands-on learning experience, and an equally-powerful experience to the high school Pathway student interns who will mentor the younger students at various stations.
“From lighting and sound operations, voiceovers and code programming to scriptwriting, designing and costuming leading to the final student created animatronics performance,” Brown said.
It's a learning experience, Brown said, that intersects all the career themes of PUSD’s 14 pathways.
“It is a model of how learning can be exciting, meaningful and magical for any child’s future,” Brown said. “What better way to expose young minds to the world of work they would have never dreamed of?”
The Garner Holt inspired lab is a first for the company in that it's nestled in a rural community and at the site of an historic, small school house used in the 1800s to show what school looked like in the past — and with the two high-tech labs, what school should look like in the 21st century.
“Now more than ever do our students need education to be a promise of hope for their future,” Brown said as she thanked the district’s governing board members, Nelson and partners for their support in creating the incredible early college and career exposure opportunities for students.
Also offering a few comments was Ryan Rainbolt, president of the education division of Garner Holt Education through Imagination.
Rainbolt said Holt was his childhood hero. He also praised the Porterville Unified School District and Pathway Director Cindy Brown.
Nationwide, he said, Porterville is setting the example for others.
Rainbolt talked of how he created a business in his garage and had it incorporated while he was still in high school.
And it's possible, he said, a local student could be sitting in one of Porterville’s classrooms who will follow in similar footsteps.
“Porterville is giving them experience and I’m very proud to contribute,” he said and talked about the bigger picture and of acting as hope ambassadors.
“Students can dream big and imagine. That’s why we are Entertainment through Imagination,” Rainbolt said.
And with that, Brown called Nelson, PUSD Board members present and other key staff members and colleagues for the official ribbon — or in this case, chain — cutting ceremony.
Once inside the building, guests marveled at the stations and listened to a couple of short videos, one of them by Gordon Holt.
“Hi. I’m really happy to be talking to you today,” Holt said in the video as he talked of the excitement for Porterville Unified School District’s grand opening.
“What you’ve chosen to do is invest in imagination,” Holt said. “Porterville is the first school district anywhere to decide on an animaker space.”
And it reinforces, he said, the Porterville community and its visionary leadership make it possible.
The future is never completely known, he said, and he stated it was an honor to be a partner with PUSD.
“I can’t wait to visit your new animaker space,” Holt said.
Following the videos, Plaisted introduced one of the robots – SPARKE – who talked to the group.
His name stands for Specialized Programable Animatronic and Robotic Kids Education.
“In this exciting place, our fifth graders throughout Porterville will get to experience what its like to work at Garner Holt Productions and the many different careers they have to offer. Students will be able to create an entire show which will culminate with a final project that they will be able to present at the end of their two-day visit.
“This will open up a world of opportunities for students and their futures,” SPARKE said.
It will also help students who are interested in the arts and technology choose a Pathway that is right for them, SPARKE said.
“What is awesome about it is we bring it to our students in our community,” said PUSD Board President Felipe Martinez. “Some of them have never been to Disneyland. Here they get to see Disneyland every day.”
Porterville resident Donna Keeley said she had no idea what to expect when she arrived to the lab.
“It’s mind boggling. It’s so wonderful for students to open up their creative minds,” she said. “I am so happy for our youth.”
Reed said she was impressed by it all.
“Tulare County Office of Education has been very supportive of the PUSD community — Link Learning and Pathways. This is a wonderful culmination of their hard work,” Reed said. “Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Tim Hire is always highlighting what the districts are doing in the County.”
And Porterville and its Garner Holt Animakerspace, she said, is definitely a highlight.