‘Lab-in-a-Box’ program continues through donations, Roane State help

By Bob Fowler

Roane State staff writer

Teachers in three Morgan County schools have fascinating new tools to add to their educational arsenals, thanks in large part to Roane State Community College.

The large plastic bins have been dubbed “Labs-in-a-Box,” and this version of the popular kits holds fossils that tell tales of life eons ago. Also included are magnifying glasses, handbooks and other items.

“The kits provide much needed hands-on engagement for students, are put together well and include exceptional products,” said Kristan Headrick, a teacher at Coalfield School. “They are a resource that, if purchased by teachers, would be a large out of pocket expense. I am thankful for the kits and the training provided by Roane State.”

With pandemic safety precautions in effect, Morgan County educators from Coalfield, Sunbright and Petros-Joyner schools were recently given two-hour overviews of how to use the hands-on kits. Coalfield and Sunbright are pre-K-12 schools, each with around 500 students, while Petros-Joyner has about 150 students in pre-K through eighth grade.

Providing the instruction were two long-time Roane State professors, Dr. Arthur Lee, who teaches geology, and Dr. Sylvia Pastor, an assistant professor of chemistry. She has overseen the rollout of the Lab-in-a-Box workshops for four years. The nonprofit Roane State Foundation administers contributions to the program.

Watching the lessons, held in a Wartburg Central Middle School classroom, was Jeanne Richardson. Jeanne, a retired botanist, and her husband Neal, a retired architect, have been longtime benefactors to Morgan County schools and Roane State. They have contributed funds to provide Lab-in-a-Box robotics kits to all five of the county’s middle schools. The third type of kit delves into the physics of friction.

The Morgan County couple has also underwritten the Neal and Jeanne Richardson Scholarship, which goes every year to non-traditional Roane State students who live in Morgan County. They’ve also given every third-grader in the county their own encyclopedic dictionary.

The Lab-in-a-Box program was launched by the East Tennessee Economic Council in 2010 as part of the Rural Communities STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Initiative.

The program is for rural school districts that lack the resources to provide students with robust, hands-on experiences in science classes. Roane State quickly became involved, with faculty members designing the first kits and hosting workshops for teachers.

The program serves 27 schools with sixth through eighth-graders in the rural counties within the Roane State service areas. Over the last four summers, more than 50 kits have been distributed. The kits are for the respective schools and remain there even if the teachers who received the initial training relocate.

Additional information on the Lab-in-a-Box and Rural Communities STEM Initiative is available online at roanestate.edu/labinabox.

Roane State is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has locations in Roane, Campbell, Cumberland, Fentress, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, and Scott counties as well as a branch campus in Oak Ridge. For more information, visit www.roanestate.edu or call (865) 882-4554.

Remember, eligible adults can now attend Roane State tuition-free with the new Reconnect grant. Learn more at www.roanestate.edu/reconnect.

About Bob Fowler

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