Porterville Unified brings student-programmed robots to life in Animakerspace

Porterville Unified School District teams up with Garner Holt Productions to bring Animakerspace, an engaging learning experience to students

PORTERVILLE – Disneyland is an experience that puts smiles on millions of children’s faces every year, but not everyone gets the privilege to hang with Mickey Mouse, sail with Captain Jack Sparrow and board the Millenium Falcon with Chewbacca at the cinematic theme park. Porterville Unified School District (PUSD) is bringing the Disneyland experience home with the all-new Garner Holt Animakerspace.

A leading manufacturer in animatronics—the making and operating of lifelike robots, much like those seen at Disneyland—Garner Holt Productions has teamed up with PUSD to bring the world of animatronics, storytelling, lighting, costuming and fabrication at the district’s Citrus South Tule campus.

Erik Santos, PUSD’s pathways learning director, said the Animakerspace will be for fifth graders as a two-day visit to immerse themselves in animatronics, as well as high school students who will serve as mentors for visiting fifth graders. The students will write scripts based on books they are reading in the classroom, sculpt faces and create costumes to bring animatronic figures to life and voice record their scripts. On the second visit, the students will program SPARKY’s, the animatronic robots, to perform their voice recordings and movements for a showcase performance.

“We want to be able to introduce students to college and careers not just in our high school pathways, but early on, so when they do move through the grades and get closer to joining a pathway in high school, they’ve been able to have their eyes opened to various different fields,” Santos said. “They will be able to see a lot of different career industries that line up to a number of our different pathways through the Garner Holt lab.”

Santos said PUSD’s engineering, performing arts, manufacturing, technology and computer coding pathways all align with the Animakerpace. In addition, the district’s education pathway partners up nicely through the high school students’ mentorships for the visiting fifth graders.

“It’s a very unique world that really does envelop a lot of the different elements of STEAM—science, technology, engineering, arts and math—particularly the art piece. A lot of times it’s those engineering aspects that are the easier ones, but the arts has always come as the hardest one to envelop in STEAM,” Santos said. “[Animakerspace] really does incorporate the art piece so strongly. It’s going to allow students to really be able to use their imagination and creativity through storytelling.”

The Citrus South Tule campus also houses the district’s Qualcomm Future Ready Lab, another STEAM-based engaging learning environment to foster creativity, collaboration and the development of critical skills necessary for the 21st century. Labs at the Citrus South Tule campus are available for all of PUSD’s schools, as well as all of their feeder K-8 schools free of charge.

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