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FHS debuts new lab

Farragut High School held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new, state-of-the-art $350,000 science lab Thursday, Oct 4.

“It is very rare when you get to touch your dream and see it come to life,” FHS principal Mike Reynolds said. “That is the way I feel about this lab.”

The school’s lab was shut down in 2006 after an incident in which the Bunsen burners began shooting flames out the wrong end.

E. Brian Sellers, FHS Education Foundation chairman, said, “When I heard how much it was going to cost to remedy the problem, I was floored. I didn’t know if we could do that. So I started thinking about maybe if we got the community’s support, maybe we could get some governmental support and maybe start a capital campaign.

“One of the first things that happened was [Knox County Mayor] Mike Ragsdale heard about our problem. He asked me to meet with him and asked me what we could do. I told him we were willing to raise the money, we just didn’t know how we were going to raise $350,000 and he said we shouldn’t have to. He said: ‘I am going to pledge $250,000 of the next budget that goes to Knox County Schools will be allocated to this project.’ I said, if you do that then we could raise the rest.”

Sellers said the foundation began having fund-raisers right away and between businesses, restaurants, student-organized concerts and various other community efforts, the remaining $100,000 was raised.

“I can’t say enough about Knox County Schools,” he added. “They really saw this project through to the end once the funding was there. We are thrilled with the result.”

Karen Carson, Knox County School Board chairperson and 5th District representative, said, “I think the lab is a long time in coming, as any improvements in this school are. It is always hard to get funds shifted out west, but it is well deserved and very much needed and I think what people at Farragut do in spite of the funding is incredible, so just thinking about what they can do now with this lab, I think it will be a great thing for the kids.”

Thomas Deakins, 6th District Knox County School Board representative, said it was wonderful that the science lab has finally been updated to this level.

Kristin Baksa, a FHS science teacher, said watching the community come together to make this new lab a reality encompasses what it means to her to be a teacher.

“It is incredibly motivating to see all of this happen. Today I was doing a lab with my students, and as I watched them, I started thinking about the community’s support and this is what it is all about.

During the fund-raising campaign, Baksa, who also is a member of the FHS Science Advisory Committee, approached committee members about starting a research partnership between Oak Ridge National Laboratories and The University of Tennessee in which the top FHS students work on research projects at ORNL and UT.

The partnerships began in the summer of 2006 when several FHS students participated in summer seminars and in the fall began working on research projects in the labs at both ORNL and UT.

Dr. Jeff Kovac, UT chemistry professor, said, “[The benefit of these partnerships] is that these kids [will come into college] with better preparation, especially lab preparation. One of the things we run into with first-year students is that they have never been in a lab. They do not know how to do an experiment, they do not know how to analyze data because the labs that they have done up to that point have been fairly simple.

“You do not learn to solve problems by doing baby problems. Before, they could only do baby problems, now they can do grown-up problems and the kids can grow up.”

FHS student Brandon Falls, a participant in the partnership program, agreed.

“It gives me a better understanding of how to work in a lab as I come out of high school so that when I get to college I am better prepared,” he said.

Reynolds credits the students as well as the facilities for making the partnerships and the new lab a success.

“When you walk into that lab and our students are in there, it’s easy to not just see students, but to see our future chemists,” Reynolds said.

“A lot of people worry about our country’s future, but these kids came together and gave up their time and effort to advance themselves and become better researchers. When I see that, I say we have the makings of a great country and these kids can go anywhere,” he added.


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