It really empowers students to take on a whole new level of learning, to engage in learning where they are solving real problems and developing real solutions.
Standing in the middle of a large room at Dalewood Middle School, principal Arielle Hayes announced that by the start of the next school year the bare space will be transformed into a state-of-the-art engineering lab.
This year, the school's staff and volunteers have been working to prepare the space, Hayes told dozens gathered Tuesday.
"If you smell the paint, that's because it's fresh," she said, pointing to the white-and-blue walls.
Dalewood is one of the eight Hamilton County public schools that will be creating new Volkswagen eLabs as a part of a $1 million effort between the automaker and the state announced in January.
Officials with VW, Hamilton County Schools and the Public Education Foundation identified the eight schools receiving the labs during a program at Dalewood Tuesday. The others are Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences, East Hamilton Middle/High, The Howard School, Hunter Middle, Normal Park Museum Magnet, Red Bank Middle/High and Sale Creek Middle/High.
The labs will be filled with digital fabrication tools, including automated manufacturing equipment, programmable microcomputers, renewable energy kits, 3-D printers, robotics and laser cutters.
Michael Stone, director of innovative learning at the PEF, will be coaching the teachers leading each of the eLabs, and said he is excited for students to have access to the tools.
"It really empowers students to take on a whole new level of learning, to engage in learning where they are solving real problems and developing real solutions," Stone said.
Twenty Hamilton County middle and high schools applied for the chance to receive an eLab, and 11 schools were identified as unanimous finalists. After extensive site visits to each school, representatives from the school district, the PEF, VW and the state picked eight. In the next school year, the county's remaining middle and high schools can submit an application for a lab, as VW plans to create eight more.
Nicole Koesling, senior vice president of human resources at Volkswagen Chattanooga, congratulated the students and educators at the schools receiving labs during the announcement Tuesday.
"We are very eager to see these labs come to life," Koesling said. " We are very pleased to put these funds to use in this way."
When the program was unveiled in January, Randy Boyd, then Tennessee's commissioner for economic and community development, said the state was facing a challenge in developing a workforce for the future, especially in manufacturing.
"Tennessee was No. 1 in the U.S. in advanced manufacturing last year," he said. "We're growing. We've got a huge [workforce] need. It's a huge challenge."
A Chattanooga 2.0 report states that around 15,000 existing jobs are not filled by Hamilton County residents because they do not meet the education requirements. In the coming years, 83 percent of job postings in the county paying a livable wage of at least $35,000 a year are expected to require education past high school.
If nothing changes, the county will be unable to supply local workers with the skills needed to fill those positions, as only 35 percent of Hamilton County's public high school graduates complete a training, certificate or degree program within six years after graduation, data show.
Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly said the labs will help better prepare students for the workforce and such jobs.
Tennessee provided the $1 million as a part of the package of financial incentives it offered when wooing the German automaker to Chattanooga. VW could have used the funds in a variety of ways, but along with the state chose to craft the eLabs.
Dan Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation, said the labs will help prepare students for the constantly evolving jobs of the future.
"Kids will be able to work with tools of the future to solve the problems of the future," he said. "And the future is closer than it appears."
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.