Learning lab goes full 'STEAM' ahead

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — While some intensive studies could happen in a new lab space in Carroll County High School, the construction project to set up the lab shouldn’t be too complicated, according to the schools superintendent.
Carroll officials and educators intend to go to bid for the construction of the new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab on Dec. 5.

Some county officials have taken to referring to the new classroom as a “STEAM” lab, with the A standing for the added agricultural component.
The lab will go on the second floor over the current agricultural classroom and feature fixtures found in typical science rooms, according to Carroll Superintendent Strader Blankenship.
“The lab itself is really not specific to any subject or course,” he said. “It’s just basically an up-to-date lab.”
The lab design includes rows of wired desks and work stations for lectures and hands-on pursuits, natural gas heat, five deep sinks to wash scientific instruments, a combination white board and smart board, refrigerators, a small project room for a few students to break off into groups, a prep room and its own computer server.
The 1,375-square-foot lab will accommodate about 20 students at a time.
The construction will require bracing from below and a reconfiguration of the current ag classroom.
It’s kind of generic, but the excitement comes from the studies that can happen there. Blankenship cited a recent spate of food safety issues, noting that the Carroll students could test for contamination in food as part of the ag-related work in the new lab.
Ag classes have been doing experimentation at the school farm, and Blankenship foresees students bringing those experiments back to the lab.
Teacher Randy Webb has looked at areas of study like gene splicing, for example.
Educators consulted with Virginia Tech officials on what the lab should include.
“I know there are some really high-tech ideas going on here,” Blankenship said. “We have a close relationship with Virginia Tech. We went down and looked at their latest STEM lab, and it’s kind of modeled after that.”
What educators would really like to see is the ag, chemistry and biology classes working together on common projects.
“It’s a real opportunity for us to be able to have our kids in a state-of-the-art lab,” Blankenship noted.
Construction may start in February, another project in a string that has included new space to house the ninth grade and updates to the heating and air conditioning systems.