Storage room becomes a bright new STEM lab at Bristow School

When the building served as an all-male residential military academy, the room was a large dormitory. More recently, the room called Dorm 5 was used for storage by Linton Hall School in Bristow, now a K-8 school founded by the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia. These days, what was described as a dark, creepy, cluttered space has been transformed into an airy, sunny STEM lab.

Liz Poole, principal of the school, opened the May 3 dedication ceremony with a prayer, then thanked the assembled donors – members of the Apesa family, the Pappalardo family and the 1922 Cub Scout Troop. Benedictine Prioress Joanna Burley cut the red ribbon with oversized scissors. The doors to the lab swung open, revealing a large room filled with a variety of bright blue, orange, and pale green chairs and tables, and walls lined with lockers overflowing with supplies of all kinds.

Jamie McNealy, a high school science and STEM teacher, thinks the space and hands-on work students do there will turn them into creative problem solvers. “We want (the lab) to be this big, collaborative, beautiful, inspiring legacy,” she said. “I’m very excited as we move into this next stage of our STEM programming here.” STEM stands for science, technology engineering and mathematics.

In one corner of the room, two fifth-grade winners of the school’s annual invention convention presented their projects – a ketchup bottle that opens on both sides and a hydraulic claw attached to a robot vacuum that picks up toys left on the floor and moves them out of the vacuum’s path. At the other end of the lab, fifth graders worked to get a robot through an obstacle course.

The students enthusiastically shared their enthusiasm for the transformation of the hall, which cost $40,000 for renovations and new furniture. Seventh grader Kate Heflin said she loves seeing a creepy storage room that no one wants to visit become a beautiful STEM lab that everyone wants to be in.

“(Being in the STEM lab) is so different from the normal classroom where you get a textbook or you take notes and then you take the test,” she said. “Not only is it an extra opportunity to learn, but it’s also an opportunity to have fun with your friends while learning.”

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