An area program is prepping Albemarle County's next innovators and engineers. It's one of the first of its kind in the country.

Albemarle is one of 20 locations around the United States hosting the new education program called Maker's Ed. Organizers say it will help students develop advanced manufacturing, engineering and design skills.

The program is being offered during the month of July at Stony Point, Scottsville and Red Hill elementary schools for upcoming first through fifth graders.

The students will be making objects out of materials like cardboard - using their imagination, a little research, and some help from their peers. Organizers say the projects aim to increase "STEM" (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.

Irene Lee was selected as a program instructor. She is an upcoming sophomore at Duke University, and is a former Albemarle High School student. She said the program is similar to the Destination Imagination (DI) program she used to be a part of.

"This program promotes creative problem solving, allowing the kids to think outside the box, which is what DI is about as well," said Lee. "Both of them involve letting the kids explore their own directions and letting them see what they can come up with."

Lee said the point is to allow kids to explore their own creative possibilities.

That's what Max Acgtblu, and upcoming fifth grader at Stony Point Elementary, really likes about Maker's Ed. "I think we really get to create with our own minds," he said. "Cause a lot of the time when we go to camp we do what they say to do."

Maker Ed concludes next Thursday, July 25, with a "Maker Fair," where students will display their work. Organizers hope to eventually expand the program to the school year.

Albemarle County Public Schools Press Release

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Albemarle County is one of 20 locations around the country hosting an innovative new education program that has important implications for the future of the advanced manufacturing industry in the United States.

The national program is being offered this month at three elementary schools—Stony Point, Scottsville and Red Hill. Students from these schools are participants, including students from a fourth elementary school—Yancey—who are in the program at Scottsville.

Part of the “Maker Movement,” a national initiative designed to create opportunities for young people to sharpen their project-based learning, the program’s mission is to increase the opportunities for students to develop and use skills in science, math, engineering, technology and the arts.

President Barack Obama has said, “I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”

The county’s program, which began this week, will operate Monday-Thursday mornings, concluding on July 25 with a “MakerFair,” that will display the students’ work. Albemarle County is the only school division in Virginia in the program.

“We are building upon the strong foundation we have in our STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum,” said Chad Ratliff, who is directing the program. “It adds a fifth component—the arts—to this process. We believe a highly effective way to develop both critical thinking and problem-solving skills in students is through a hands-on approach that incorporates engineering and design competencies,” he added.

Stony Point Principal Carrie Neeley said what especially is valuable is the program’s emphasis upon students to initiate ideas for the products they will create. “This will not be traditional teaching to a standard classroom approach. It will empower students to use their creativity and enthusiasm to go beyond that standard,” she said. Projects could include computer programming, electronics, robotics, 3D printing, prototyping, even music composition.

At Stony Point, Neeley said students will choose from projects that include the creation of a “learning village,” a vehicular safety restraining system, Lego constructions, digital photography, and videography. “Engineers, designers and teachers will help to guide students in the process,” Neeley added.

The county’s program includes five teaching consultants who completed an eight-week training session with the MakerEducation Initiative on how to serve as program mentors and facilitators. The consultants also will work with teachers on curriculum and technical skills.

“Programs such as Maker Ed are catalysts in developing our nation’s advanced manufacturing base, which includes engineering and design,” said Ratliff. “This can have significant implications for our economic prosperity and our global leadership,” he said.