Inside Williford Elementary School in Rocky Mount NC you will find a center of learning with many of the traditional icons and interior cues that most of us have come to recognize like classrooms, gym, music room, and of course the library.  Williford Hallways highlight positive messages throughout the building and famous quotes are reinforced against the schools most colorful blues and freshly colored yellows. It is obvious that the school’s pride and commitment to its community starts early and ends when the gate to the playground closes as the sun goes down over Rocky Mount.

Today, its not unusual to find educational institutions starved to fully offer the full commitment, creative resources, and school pride associated with today’s limited budgets and shifting social challenges. Its really all to common.

These realities can be easily observed at Williford as several of those classrooms have been closed as shrinking districts struggle to find ways to retain students, families, while remaining competitive to area parents.  Yet these “turn around” challenges that schools face today, isn’t a new one, nor is it a time to ignore, deny, or turn inwards. In cases like these the phrase “Innovate or Die” works best because it is a departure towards the possibility for possibilities.  Advancing on our visions and taking thoughtful risks makes unusual relationships seem obvious, demonstrable, and certainly very possible.

Determined to not just transform Williford Elementary, Principal Alston is set on making big changes to boost the home of the Wildcats and its community.  After several conversations with the community and local stakeholders, a seed was laid.  The idea grew to include learning through STEAM related programming that focuses on design, entrepreneurship and manufacturing (a.k.a. “making”) processes. This “creative laboratory” would be the vehicle where an introductory skills and innovation pilot would be introduced.

Identifying a community partner in Rocky Mount to lead this innovative STEAM endeavor was easy as Boys & Girls Club Tar River Region, Chief Executive Officer Ron Green shared his vision to ensure a positive experience for members through special interest clubs and after-school programs geared towards today’s learning needs, tech interests, and career skills. After visiting and researching several spaces in Indiana and the North Carolina region, Green turned to local partner Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant to help advance the pilot by commissioning a design consultant with experience and training curriculum around these new innovation spaces.

Indiana based design team w/purpose was invited by the Boys & Girls Club Tar River Region to transform the Williford classroom into a maker laboratory and training space.  The classroom includes new 3D printing equipment, computer stations, drawing robots, furniture, and tools to inspire and promote collaboration around 21st century career skills and entrepreneurship.

The w/purpose team activated the space w/ charrette space, large bean bags, 3D Printers, and drawing robots that can make some slick flyers. The space needed to be flexible, but with a level of detail geared towards making and collaborative learning.

Thanks in large part to funding by community partners like the Cummins Foundation these spaces are encouraging our youth to be leaders in tomorrows way of making, thinking, and problem solving.  Cummins’ Rocky Mount Plant Leader John Judd explained, “Working with our schools and non profits in this way allows us to try new models & adjust to ways our college-bound or future workforce can learn together.  These high tech spaces, shops, or lab’s allow learning and exploration to happen with new tools, creative expectations and needs of the Rocky Mount community.”

The F.R.A.M.E Shop opened its doors in September 2018 after a two week transformation. Green said, “that the F.R.A.M.E. (Fun, Realistic, Artistic, Maker, Environment) Shop’s mission is simple.” He continued ecstatically…“In this space we wanted to create an environment where young people could have fun while using their artistic and creative ability making physical things that are useful and beautiful. The F.R.A.M.E. shop is a culmination of a youth caring corporation, a creative design team, and an organization that wants cool things for the young people they serve.”