By SHERRY DIGMON
News Staff Writer
That’s how Escambia County Middle School Principal Debbie Bolden described the new collaboration lab recently launched at the school.
At the open house Wednesday, September 19, Bolden said, “This lab is a game-changer for us.”
She gave a little background on how the lab came to be. She had asked Escambia County School Assistant Superintendent Beth Drew about a collaboration lab for the school. Drew’s response: “I don’t even know what it is.”
A lot of those in attendance last week felt the same way. What’s a collaboration lab? What do the students do here?
As teacher Angela Davis explained, it is what it sounds like – a place for students to collaborate to solve problems. No traditional desks and chalkboards here – the room is furnished with stations conducive to discussion and complete with computers.
The ultimate purpose of the collaboration lab might surprise you.
“It’s about workforce development,” Davis said. “We teach students to think outside the box, to work with others and to solve real world problems.”
There are two main areas. Lego robotics includes building and programming robots. Problem-based learning involves a problem, finding a solution through research and information gathering. Then the question to the problem: How are you going to fix it?
All students in the school, grades four through eight, will use the lab.
“No one else in the county or surrounding counties has this,” Bolden said. “Mobile [school system] has nothing this size.”
Funding the project was no easy matter. According to Bolden, ECMS is the largest school in the county and also has the highest poverty level. Although the school receives Title I funds, that money cannot be used for furniture or installations.
Dale Ash got involved and directed Bolden to a number of grants. Ash also reached out to Gulf Coast RC&D Council Vice-Chairman Raymond Wiggins who sent the grant to the state level for funding.
The $5,500 grant was the springboard the middle school needed to begin applying and receiving grants, Ash said.
The project became a collaborative effort itself, with Gulf Coast RC&D Council, Atmore Community Fund, Friends of Education Designated Fund, United Bank, Masland Carpet, Alabama Representative Alan Baker, Alabama Senator Greg Albritton, and others involved.
“The grants required letters of support and that is when businesses and individuals in Atmore pulled out all the stops in singing the praises of the leadership at Escambia County Middle School and most importantly the need for advanced technology skills in the classroom in order to insure the education and development of our future work forces,” Ash said.
The following, without hesitation, wrote strong letters of support: Jerry Gehman (GH Systems), Patty Helton Davis (PHD Realty), Richard Maxwell (Maxwell Construction), Foster Kizer (Royal Oaks Bed & Breakfast), Alex Jones (United Bank Community Development), Greg Brown and Dan Brown (Brown Precision, Inc.), Pepsi-Cola, Mayor Jim Staff (the City of Atmore), Stephanie Bryan (Poarch Creek Indians).
Down to the wire, the school was still short of funds. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians made up the shortfall.