Milwaukee Public Schools reps visit Northwoods fab labsSubmitted: 02/02/2017
Lane Kimble
Lane Kimble
News Director

Milwaukee Public Schools reps visit Northwoods fab labs
EAGLE RIVER - Sparks flew in front of Valencia Carthen's eyes, sparking inspiration to take back home.

"The first thing you learn as a brand new teacher is steal, steal, steal the best ideas," Carthen said.

The Milwaukee Washington High School principal was getting ready to unpack her school district's first fab lab equipment Friday. Thursday, she and 12 other Milwaukee Public Schools members checked out several Northwoods labs with 3D printers, laser engravers, and routers.

"I had a small idea, which I thought was a big idea, but just going on this tour... The sky's the limit for these kids," Carthen said.

The tour through Northland Pines, Three Lakes, and Florence happened after a conversation between State Representative Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver. The two agreed small and big districts need to work together.

"A lot of times people think the rural schools just won't have access to different resources, but they've shown us what they can do with what they have," Dr. Driver said. "So, now my folks are going back and we're all thinking like, OK, we can do this."

State Representatives Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander), Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz), and Felzkowski made a point of visiting Three Lakes. In 2014, it became the first K-12 district in the state to get a fab lab.

"This is where future education is heading," Three Lakes senior Jack Connelly said.

Connelly and his team showed off their creation to lawmakers and school representatives. They also explained their goal of forming a business.

"I have no doubt in my mind that any student is capable of replicating what we've done here," Connelly said. "The reason I know that is because I didn't think I could do this six months ago."

Since Three Lakes' successful launch two and a half years ago, about 150 school districts statewide have built or signed on to build fab labs. 

"We're can-do people," Felzkowski said of the Northwoods' leadership in starting fab labs.  "And maybe that's because we've had to be. We don't have everything at our fingertips. The challenge was put out there and we've risen to the challenge."

It's thanks largely to a 2015 law that offered districts $25,000 matching grants through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to buy equipment.

"It's not only going to help northern Wisconsin, but it's going to move education forward as a state," Rep. Felzkowski said. "So that a kid in Northland Pines, a kid in downtown Milwaukee, a kid in Brookfield all have the same opportunities and the same ability to learn and have that successful life."

Learning from the labs takes a strong curriculum, which is something Northland Pines is just working out in its first year with a lab.

"If we can come up with some good ideas from Milwaukee Public Schools, if they can come up with good ideas from us, it's definitely a success story," Pines Administrator Dr. Mike Richie said.

Valencia Carthen knows her district will face the same challenge, but one Milwaukee is ready to face thanks to some new ideas shared from the Northwoods.

"Sometimes the best ideas are in the rural areas, sometimes the best ideas are in the urban areas, but you have to learn how to share," Carthen said.

State Representatives Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) also joined the tour.

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