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New Amazon STEM lab opens at Wakefield High School

The ribbon was cut Monday for Amazon’s new “AWS Think Big Space,” a STEM-focused tech lab, at Wakefield High School.

The lab is located on the ground floor of the school at 1325 S. Dinwiddie Street and is divided into several technology stations, including 3D printing, E-sports, cybersecurity, virtual reality, coding robots Sphero and robotics.

Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera, APS Superintendent Francisco Duran, School Board Chair Reid Goldstein and County Board member Matt de Ferranti all gave speeches at the opening ceremony and joined the lab tour.

Many of the officials believed that the new lab would better prepare students for future careers in STEM.

“We truly believe in the necessity and the importance of creating opportunities for our students,” Duran said in his speech.

“In Arlington County, there are many businesses and jobs that are available to students who leave our school system not prepared to enter into that workforce. It’s our duty, it’s our responsibility to create those skills and pathways for students to be able to access those jobs,” he added.

Wendy Maitland, a teacher at Wakefield High School, is set to become the manager of the lab. She planned to offer the space to teachers there to assist in their teaching.

“For example, if they want to do something in terms of astronomy, they can come down and use the program on the VR,” Maitland said.

She also is planning joint programs with the nearby Barcroft Elementary School at the lab. Other Arlington schools are also expected to use the space.

Maitland approached Amazon for funding to create a STEM lab two years ago. Donor and local apartment building owner Ralph Johnson joined her effort, she added.

“We created a presentation, they liked it and they came back to us and said, ‘Yes, work with our AWS team because they have the Think Big Spaces,'” Maitland said.

Amazon chose to build its Think Big Space at Wakefield because the high school is the “neighborhood high school” for employees working at Amazon HQ2, Arlington School Board Chair Reid Goldstein said.

“At Amazon, we’re proud to call Virginia home, we’re committed to making a positive impact in the communities where we’re located,” Amazon’s Vice President of Economic Development Holly Sullivan said in her speech.

Wakefield High School is also the most diverse high school in Arlington and the second most in Virginia, Guidera said, adding that she believed building the STEM lab there would be “a great opportunity” — especially for children from underrepresented communities — to access “innovative spaces like [the lab] that make learning comes alive and also expose students to the future of work.”

Although no concrete plans have been drawn up yet, Amazon is considering exchange programs for students engaged in the 35 Think Big Spaces across the world, including India and Ireland, Sullivan said.

The lab will operate as a public-private partnership, with financial support from large local employers like Amazon, Guidera said.

Amazon contributed $150,000 and Johnson gave $109,000 to build this lab. The School Board approved its construction last October, according to School Board documents.

A similar lab funded by Amazon was built at an elementary school in Prince William County is 2019, but Wakefield’s is the first to be built in a high school in the Americas, according to material from a School Board presentation.

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