Eight Additional Hamilton County Schools to Receive Volkswagen eLabs

By Keith King

Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations, LLC (Volkswagen Chattanooga) in partnership with the State of Tennessee, Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE), and Public Education Foundation (PEF), have named eight additional HCDE schools to receive digital fabrication equipment as part of the Volkswagen eLabs initiative.  

Volkswagen eLabs, the result of a $1 million donation by Volkswagen Chattanooga and the State of Tennessee, provide students access to digital fabrication tools including automated manufacturing equipment, programmable microcomputers, renewable energy kits, 3D printers, robotics, laser cutters, and other emergent technologies that will empower them to engage in authentic problem solving.

The eight schools chosen are:

  • Brainerd High School
  • Brown Middle School
  • Center for Creative Arts
  • Hixson Middle School
  • Hixson High School
  • Ooltewah Middle School
  • Orchard Knob Middle School
  • Soddy Daisy Middle School

These schools represent the second round of recipients for the Volkswagen eLabs, fulfilling Volkswagen’s commitment to open a total of 16 eLabs in Hamilton County schools over a two year period. The first eight schools were opened in August 2017.

“The results of the Volkswagen eLabs have been inspiring. I look forward to seeing the additional eight labs operating and cultivating an atmosphere of learning and exploration,” says Nicole Koesling, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Volkswagen Chattanooga. “At Volkswagen, we are dedicated to the principles of education and training, and the eLabs are certainly a major piece of this, enhancing the quality of education available to young people throughout our community.”

“Volkswagen has been a great partner to our state for over 10 years and I appreciate the company for continuing to invest in innovative ideas like the Volkswagen eLabs that promote future growth in our state,” says Bob Rolfe, Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development (TNECD) Commissioner. “Through the Volkswagen eLabs, the eight Hamilton County middle and high schools chosen in this round will give their students the opportunity to enhance their skills by learning new techniques that will prepare them for the future workforce. This program goes hand-in-hand with one of our state’s main goals: strengthening our education system.”

After extensive site visits, schools were selected by representatives from Volkswagen Chattanooga, Tennessee Department of Education, TNECD, HCDE, and PEF.

The eight chosen schools were required to identify a team of four teachers, including a Volkswagen eLab Specialist, who will serve on the Volkswagen eLab Innovation Team to ensure each eLab is used to its maximum capacity. The schools are each responsible for raising $5,000 annually in cash or contributed materials to ensure that the lab is continually refreshed and materials are replaced.

“The Volkswagen eLabs have created an excitement for learning and you can see that in the eyes of the children who have the opportunity to utilize them,” says Dr. Bryan Johnson, Superintendent of HCDE. “These labs open a new world of possibilities in instruction for teachers and prepare students for the world they will live in tomorrow.”

The original eight eLabs officially opened in August of 2017. Since then, more than 1,500 HCDE students have had the opportunity to learn and explore areas of STEM previously unavailable to them. HCDE teachers have logged more than 4,000 person hours of training and 88 percent indicate that students who have meaningful experiences in eLabs are more engaged in their work in traditional classes.

The program is administered in partnership with the Public Education Foundation (PEF), an independent nonprofit organization that provides training, research and resources to teachers, principals and schools in Hamilton County.  Michael Stone, PEF Director of Innovative Learning,  will continue to help equip the Volkswagen eLabs as well as design and lead the professional learning of the educators in the newly- announced labs.

Students, with support of the Volkswagen eLab specialists and teachers, have embarked on new projects through the empowerment of the eLabs. Students designed and 3D printed orthopedic devices for people and pets with special needs. Seven of the eight labs successfully launched student-run entrepreneurial ventures dubbed Ed Corps in partnership with Real World Scholars, a nonprofit e-commerce platform that allows teachers to operate a classroom-based business. Students from the Volkswagen eLab at the Howard School and Red Bank High School partnered with students from the Fab Lab at STEM School Chattanooga to pioneer HCDE’s first multi-campus, international, project-based learning unit. Students worked with the Global Institute for Urban Mobility & Urban Planning, which aims to eliminate mobility disparities and enhance urban living, to conduct research on the viability of highly autonomous electric vehicles in Chattanooga.