Washington Junior High School has officially opened its tech center. The former junior high library is now the Washington Junior High School Design and Innovation Studio.

The ribbon cutting and open house brought in school and community partners in the project to join with students to try out some of the new equipment.

“This is pretty awesome. This is our design and innovation lab. This was a project including IN-MAC at Purdue University, Toyota and Vincennes University. They were able to donate to us $28,000 in equipment for our students to use. Our upper elementary, junior high and high school kids will utilize this,” said Nikki Sparks, Washington Community Schools integration specialist. “It’s full of technology. There are 3-D printers, robotic arms, a glow forge. We have robots and micro-bits, and what this will do will help our students be prepared with the technology that is out there. They will have the engineering skills, the design process that will make them better all-around students whether they pursue a technical career because they will be exposed to this updated, most recent technology.”

Sparks points out the lab is a logical extension of the growing work the school system is doing on all levels.

“This is going to impact several students. We have upped our STEM game at the elementary level,” she said. “It is a process that will grow from kindergarten all of the way up. We have made it so we are always adding at the grade appropriate level. This is another way to help keep our students current and let them know what is out there.”

The project is the combination of business, college and local school efforts. And it is the combined effort that has produced something Washington never could have done on its own.

“There are a lot of people involved with this,” said Washington Community Schools Superintendent Kevin Frank. “We were first approached by Toyota. When they were here last fall at our college and career symposium, they were impressed with what we already had in place and thought we would be a good candidate to house this type of facility. Toyota was the point, then Vincennes University, Purdue, IndianaMac joined in and now it is a multi-partner attempt to increase stem use in schools.”

Washington Junior High Principal Mark Arnold says he sees the new center as an opportunity for both students and faculty to build their tech abilities.

“This place gives them access to technology. That is the main thing. We have never had a location for it. We never had the supplies for it. We didn’t have the budget for it. With the partnership with Vincennes University that Nikki Sparks helped put together, it gives them access to things we would have trouble getting a hold of,” said Arnold. “This is great. The kids are excited about it. It is a regeneration for some of the teachers too. They have been interested in these things but really didn’t have access to it. So, to have the opportunity to learn with the kids and learn from the kids has really invigorated some of the teachers as well.”

The Washington Design and Innovation studio is the fourth Vincennes University has helped develop in Indiana. VU officials say they intend to help develop ten more such centers around the state.

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