Education

$25K donation to help Phenix City Public Schools install SmartLabs

Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com 
 Randy Wilkes, superintendent of Phenix City Public Schools, right, thanks Daniel and Stephanie Blevins, owners of the Anytime Fitness in Phenix City, for the $25,000 donation they announced Thursday to help pay for a $120,000 SmartLab at Lakewood Elementary School. 01/14/16
Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Randy Wilkes, superintendent of Phenix City Public Schools, right, thanks Daniel and Stephanie Blevins, owners of the Anytime Fitness in Phenix City, for the $25,000 donation they announced Thursday to help pay for a $120,000 SmartLab at Lakewood Elementary School. 01/14/16 mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

The Friends of Phenix City Schools has taken another big step toward raising $1.1 million to help elevate the school system's learning by adding state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.

During a news conference Thursday at the Anytime Fitness on Summerville Road, gym owners Daniel and Stephanie Blevins announced their donation of $25,000 for the naming rights to the SmartLab coming to Lakewood Elementary, a science magnet academy for more than 500 students in grades 3-5.

Their first-grade son attends Phenix City Elementary School, but they donated to Lakewood because many of those parents are customers and it's closest to their 3-year-old gym, which opened a youth fitness center last week.

"We've been welcomed very well to the community," Daniel said. " We want to give back for everybody being so supportive of us."

Approximately $766,000 from a total of 190 donors has been raised since the campaign was announced seven months ago, said Phenix City superintendent Randy Wilkes.

SmartLabs, produced by Creative Learning Systems of Longmont, Colo., feature eight types of technology, Wilkes said:

Computer graphics

Scientific analysis and data

Robotics and controls

Circuitry

Digital communication

Software engineering

Mechanics and structures

Alternative and renewable energies

A SmartLab costs about $120,000, but it will take more than double that price, $250,000, to fully implement it in a Phenix City school, considering other expenses, such as personnel, electricity and brick and mortar, Wilkes said. So it will cost the district an estimated $1.75 million to have a SmartLab in each of its seven elementary schools by next school year.

"We're moving to another phase today," Wilkes said.

The SmartLabs are part of the school system's i3 Initiative, which emphasizes inquiry, innovation and impact. The initiative also includes the $2.1 million Dyer Family STEM Center being constructed at Phenix City Intermediate School, a $3.1 million expansion facility designed for Central High School, and the $750,000 spent last year to equip each of the approximately 1,500 students and 100 teachers at PCIS (grades 6-7) and South Girard School (grade 8) with an iPad Air. The plan is to add grades 9-12 to the 1:1 electronic device program by next school year.

The STEM Center, which will provide a hands-on way to teach science, technology, engineering and math, was scheduled to open in August 2016, but Wilkes said Thursday that the 32 inches of rain since the groundbreaking in October has delayed construction. So the opening date is less certain. "We're three or four weeks behind," he said.

The contractor for the Central High expansion will be selected this month, and the facility's opening is scheduled for Dec. 15, or at least in time to start the spring 2017 semester, Wilkes said. The expansion facility will comprise classrooms, an indoor artificial turf practice field, strength and conditioning stations, a softball batting cage, a training room, locker rooms and storage.

According to the video Wilkes played during Thursday's news conference, a SmartLab helps students "explore STEM and media arts through applied technology and project-based learning. It's a fully integrated learning environment, where everything from the furniture to the technology, from the curriculum to the assessments, work together to support hands-on, minds-on learning. The teacher is the facilitator, and the students take responsibility for their own learning. Autonomy is encouraged. Collaboration is the norm. Challenges are celebrated as a path to mastery. It's everything learning should be."

Lakewood principal Sharon Elder already has seen the school's robotics and computer coding lessons spark more interest in math and science among her students.

"But they want more," she said, "so this SmartLab is going to allow us to give them more in that whole STEM approach. This will expose them to so much and prepare them to go to PCIS, where they'll have the whole STEM lab and they can go deeper."

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

HOW TO DONATE

To help the Friends of Phenix City Schools reach its $1.1 million goal, contact Lara Beth Johns, the school system's public information manager, at 334-298-0534 or lbjohns@pcboe.net.

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