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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Dalewood Middle School student Demontrel Bell works on a logo design in the lab.

Dalewood Middle School was named an Amazon Future Engineer school, which will provide access to computer science materials and curriculum through a partnership between Amazon and Project STEM.

The program supports communities that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Schools like Dalewood will be supplied with computer science material and curriculum from Project STEM, including introductory courses in computer science, programming with languages like Python and advanced placement computer science courses.

"Amazon's investment in our schools through their Amazon Future Engineer program will help the district reach our goal of providing future-ready students prepared for success after graduation," said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson in a news release. "These skills are vital for young people, and the early start for our middle school children in this program will reap benefits while the students are in school and as they move forward in a career or postsecondary opportunity after high school."

Resources like digital fabrication labs, or eLabs, have come to Hamilton County and continue to expand across the school district.

Dalewood received an eLab in 2017 through funding from Volkswagen, and seven elementary schools will receive an eLab this year through an anonymous $1 million donation to the Public Education Foundation. At last week's Chattanooga Fabrication Institute, a Dalewood teacher and rising eighth grade student kicked off a series of conversations about eLabs and shared their experience working on different projects to an audience of around 150 educators.

Rashaad Williams, who became principal of Dalewood last year, told the Times Free Press on Thursday that the Amazon Future Engineer program's curriculum will be more rigorous than what the eLab provides and will help prepare students for high school and postsecondary options.

"The eLab has given some basic foundational knowledge in reference to students and creating and into digital fabrication, so they've had some introduction to that, but what we found was it didn't necessarily engage them in the most rigorous learning of that," Williams said. "They'll engage in [the new curriculum] to such a level that when they leave middle school, our students will be very versed in coding to the point that they can actually become entrepreneurs and start small businesses as coders."

Dalewood is one of seven schools in the MidTown Learning Community and previously part of the district's Opportunity Zone, which provided support for the district's lowest-performing schools from 2017-2020. In the Chattanooga community, workplace shortages in STEM fields have led to increased demand for employees skilled in subjects like computer science, particularly from underrepresented communities in the region.

At the postsecondary level, the BlueSky Institute targets six priority high schools in Hamilton County including Brainerd High School, another school in the MidTown Learning Community. It is an accelerated bachelor's degree program allowing students to graduate in two years and comes from a partnership between BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and East Tennessee State University with a focus on filling vacant technology jobs.

One of Williams' goals for the program at Dalewood is similar: to prepare students to fill gaps in computer science jobs, along with seeing more engagement from students and seeing them narrow the achievement gap.

"We hear of the achievement gap, a part of the issue of the achievement gap is there's an opportunity gap. There's research that talks to students who are minority and don't even have the opportunity to engage in rigorous learning at this level, to even compete, and therefore close the achievement gap," Williams said. "So we hope to see that our students will engage in this great opportunity, be more involved and engaged in learning and hence will make some of those academic goals that we need to make."

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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