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Five STEM school teachers, below, meet in Kim Stanley's English classroom as the entire student body, above, receives training from Apple technicians on the use of their new iPads Monday on the first day of school.

The latest corporate donation to Hamilton County's science, technology, engineering and math high school brings the project even closer to its fundraising goal of $500,000.

On Monday, local digital advertising agency Area 203 announced a $100,000 gift to the high school, which opened in August on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College.

Area 203 President Doug Freeman said his company relies on STEM-skilled employees to fill marketing, creative and technology positions.

"The future of our business certainly relies on you and others like you," Freeman told the STEM school's 75 students, who were in attendance for the announcement.

The gift brings total donations to $455,000, just shy of a $500,000 goal previously set to cover construction costs. The Hamilton County Board of Education used $500,000 from its reserve funds to get the STEM project under way. The donations will be used to replenish the school board's reserves. Another $15,000 has been raised to purchase supplies for the school.

Owned by Chattanooga businessman Carey V. Brown, Area 203 is a digital media company whose clients include colleges, charities and other businesses including online payday lenders.

The new program wouldn't have been possible without the support of local companies, nonprofits and higher education institutions, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said. Officials praised such companies as First Tennessee, SunTrust, TVA, Unum and Volkswagen for making the school's launch possible.

Tennessee Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey, a former Hamilton County mayor, was at Monday's event, where he was heralded as a champion of the new school, which received a $1.8 million state grant.

The superintendent said Ramsey was key in expediting the progress of the school, which opened in a matter of months.

"The first thing we found out is you don't open a schoolhouse in Tennessee without cutting through a lot of red tape," Smith said. "We made one phone call to Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey, and the red tape disappeared."

Ramsey said the school's digital curriculum and hands-on projects will transform the way education is delivered.

"We can't do education the way we did 20 years ago," he said.

Though the school will hold only about 300 students at full capacity, strategies used by its teachers will be spread throughout the region because of the work of the STEM hub.

"This is not a place where it's all going to happen," Ramsey said. "This is the place it starts."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at 423-757-6249 or