At the opening of the new, state-of-the-art science center at Kennedy High School Tuesday, students and community members got a taste of a new generation of learning. The Fab Lab Richmond, an expansive science lab focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) principles, offers an innovative, entrepreneurial environment to create opportunities for Richmond students from kindergarten, well into adulthood.
“Fundamentally for us, this is all about supporting math and science and engineering,” said Superintendent of West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) Dr. Bruce Harter,. “We expect our students to integrate all that they’ve learned in those subjects, bring them to the forefront…and create futures they wouldn't have been able to make before.”
The Fab Lab is a large space with 3D printers, laser cutters, an electronics workbench, and other stations in what used to be Kennedy High’s auto body shop. The room was filled Tuesday with the electronic hum of machines at work and a faint smell of plastic as students programmed the machines to create models of their own designs.
LaRon Gray, a 4th grader at Coronado Elementary, watched eagerly as a laser carver seared his football-themed design into pieces of cardboard that he would assemble into a cube. To Gray, an aspiring football player, the Fab Lab made science and design fun and accessible.
“With the Fab Lab, we’re able to show students who might not be engaged with science or technology that this is what engineering looks like, this is what design looks like —and it’s fun!” said April Scott, Gray’s teacher at Coronado.
The Richmond Fab Lab is a joint venture of WCCUSD, which provided $1 million from its bond program, the Fab Foundation, an organization started by MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, and Chevron Richmond, which provided $1 million for the science center. There are over 800 Fab Labs in 78 countries, and the Richmond lab is the largest in a high school in the United States.
“This is a flagship Fab Lab for the state of California, and for high schools across the country,” said Sherry Lassiter, Director of the Fab Lab Foundation. “It’s a beautiful model for high schools going forward.”
The Lab in Kennedy High is immediately available for Richmond students from kindergarten through 12th grade, but it will expand into a community resource in the coming months.
“The Fab Lab is working to build a skilled workforce that can compete in a global economy,” said Andrea Bailey, Community Engagement Manager at Chevron Richmond. “Part of that involves opening up the Lab to community members to help spur entrepreneurship and creativity in local small businesses, and we’re proud to be a part of that.”
Additionally, Fab Lab, Chevron Richmond, and WCCUSD are developing a mobile lab that will have all the resources of the Kennedy Lab in a mobile setting to reach the city’s elementary school students.
Access to the tools and resources of the Fab Lab is a game changer to Richmond students. This was not lost on Richmond High School senior Judith Santiago Villegas, who is part of the school’s engineering program, Project Lead the Way.
“I am just in the beginning of all that I hope to learn in my life,” said Villegas, who hopes to attend UC Davis or UC Berkeley next year. “When I think about my classmates, I’m excited for them that they will have these resources…to be inspired to learn and realize their potential.”