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STEM education has a new home at Foxcroft School

Freshman Bella Watson demonstrates a robot she built to guests at the opening of Foxcroft’s Innovation Lab. Courtesy Photo/Cathrine Wolf of Foxcroft
Middleburg’s Foxcroft School is no stranger to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. Already known for its coding and engineering programs, the school has built on its commitment to science and technology with the creation of its very own Innovation Lab. The rooms making up the Innovation Labs are known as makerspaces. But unlike other makerspaces in schools, this one was designed entirely by students.

“What our students learn about and create in this space has relevance outside of school,” Foxcroft Head of School Cathy McGehee said. “Ultimately, space to innovate is a place where we will foster a culture of creativity and joy and build skills, confidence and courage that will prepare our students for success in college, but also in their professional lives.

The Innovation Lab is made up of five classrooms, the already existing engineering lab, the technology room, which houses a sewing machine, a T-shirt presser, 3D printer and laser cutter, a digital design studio, digital and audio video room and a collaboration room.

“Our goal in this space is not only to inspire our students, but to also be a resource to the larger community of Middleburg, including adults launching businesses, younger girls exploring their creativity,” McGehee said.

One year ago, an anonymous donor gave Foxcroft the funds to create the makerspace. The school, founded in 1914, is a college-preparatory boarding and day school for girls in grades 9-12 that offers 76 courses, including 16 AP classes, and a STEM program that inspires girls to pursue disciplines underrepresented by women. The donation came with one stipulation: the students be involved in the design and creation of the space in accordance to Foxcroft's mission.

McGehee gave the team of students the parameters for the project, then last spring, the girls presented their plan to the administrative team and the school’s board of trustees.

Over the summer, the school brought the students’ plan to life.

Alex Northrup, director of educational technology at Foxcroft, led and advised the student team as they researched and planned the makerspace. The group visited different makerspaces and innovation labs across the commonwealth to get ideas for what they wanted to create.

“The key for me, for this process, is I learned a lot from the students and it was kind of a joyful process for me to see their enthusiasm and to learn alongside them,” Northrup said. “A lot of the ideas I had actually were overturned by the students so it was actually a student project, it really was. And that really speaks to what we hope to do in a space like this, which is to move students to the center of the learning process, to see themselves as agents of change rather than passive recipients of knowledge.”

Sophomore Kenzie Green and junior Amara Brooks were part of the team who designed the space. Brooks said that while she knew she was applying to change the basement space of the school, she never imagined just how much she would help change the space. Green said she expected their plan would take years to implement and seeing the rooms used every day is a heartwarming experience.

“I was able to do so much by learning through doing and being in the community and working with innovators in the technology field to learn more about innovation,” Green said. “This space provides all students the ability to just come down here and learn using their hands and learn creatively instead of just filling out worksheets.”

Brooks said the students’ vision for the space was to enable other students to complete school-related projects, but also work on personal projects and dreams. McGehee said that by opening the makerspace to community members, students can work as mentors to younger girls in the community or may even gain potential internships and mentorships for themselves.

Senior Harper Northrup has used the technology room to create a transformable dress prototype to nail down a design that will eventually be used for the school’s upcoming performance of Cinderella. Green also created her own businesses using the technology available in the makerspace.

“I know that all the students in Foxcroft will have the opportunity to do something great using this space,” Green said.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of two students, Bella Watson and Harper Northrup.

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @VeronikeCollazo.


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