Customized Curriculum in the Works

Years in the making, Fort Wayne Community Schools’ Amp Lab at Electric Works comes to life.
Aug 9, 2022
Jennifer Blomquist
Jeffrey Crane & Provided

“If I had to sum it up in just one sentence, I’d say the Amp Lab is the marriage of entrepreneurial spirit and design thinking and innovative processes,” says Riley Johnson, Director of the Amp Lab at Electric Works. “It’s so outside the box for Fort Wayne and everyone is curious about what it’s going to be.”

The Amp Lab officially opens on Aug. 10, the first day of school for Fort Wayne Community Schools 2022-2023 calendar year.

Johnson, who previously worked as an instructor at the New Tech Academy at Wayne High School, is ecstatic to see the Amp Lab come to fruition.

“This has been four to five years in the making,” he says. “Fort Wayne Community Schools was one of the first publicly announced tenants of the Electric Works project, and even though there have been some ups and downs along the way, we never wavered in our commitment to provide this.”

The name Amp Lab was chosen for two reasons. The root word “ampere” is the base unit of an electrical current, in reference to the Electric Works campus, which is located at the site of the former General Electric facility just south of downtown Fort Wayne. “Amp” is also in reference to the idea that this lab will amplify learning opportunities for the students.

All 400 of the spots available to students this school year were quickly filled once the application process was opened last winter. The program is open to 11th and 12th grade students from all five of the district’s high schools.

“It’s a half-day model with roughly 200 students there in the morning who then return to their home high school for their core subjects,” says Johnson. “The other 200 students come in the afternoon after spending the morning at their high school. The program by design is very ambiguous and it’s a very individualized experience. We have a diverse population of students in our district and that is also reflected among the students participating in Amp Lab.”

“No one that I know of is providing this kind of opportunity at this scale,” says FWCS superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel. “I’ve been a superintendent in two other states and I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude that is so purposeful and intentional on blending education and entrepreneurship.”

The Amp Lab is roughly 30,000 square feet of space comprised of four separate studios on two floors at the Electric Works campus.

“First, we have our ‘venture’ studio which focuses on business, analysis, entrepreneurial ideation and creation,” says Johnson. “Our second studio is what we call our ‘make’ studio and it’s a maker-space and fabrication lab where students will have the ability to do everything from coding and 3-D printing to advanced manufacturing and carpentry. Third, we have our ‘create’ studio that’s based on content creation like graphic design, photography, video and animation. The fourth studio is the ‘grow’ studio which is a science, research and development lab with an indoor greenhouse. It’s my favorite room because it’s so striking and beautiful.”

Fourteen adults serving as both teachers and support staff will be at the lab every day.

“We have a mixture of some of the best professional educators our community has to offer,” says Johnson. “We’ve got a subset of people coming from various industries into the Amp Lab environment.”

Johnson emphasizes that the curriculum is heavily student-driven, but says guardrails will be strategically placed to keep them focused.

“We know that some students already have things they’re really passionate about or they might already have a path they’re walking on to reach their goals. We also know that with a lot of students, it’s better suited for them to take a general mindset and be exposed to a lot of different things.”

A huge component of the experience for students centers on collaboration – not only with each other, but with people from the community they can look at as mentors in their field of interest.

“In the past year, I’ve met with roughly 200 businesses and organizations in northeast Indiana whose people would be of immeasurable value to the students by partnering and engaging with us,” says Johnson. “Our key focus has been our fellow tenants at Electric Works, including Do It Best and Parkview. Not only will they be able to come into our space, but our students will be able to work hands-on with them in their space. We also plan to have a global element, but we’re hyper-focused on impacting the local community.”

“I think what we are doing at Amp Lab will absolutely be a place that others will want to emulate,” says Dr. Daniel. “We are already being contacted by people within and outside of the state who want to see what we’re doing. We’re hoping to have an effect on the economic growth of northeast Indiana and the entire state.”

Johnson says he can hardly wait to see the students launch their future dreams and start chasing them.

“Our goal is to make sure they have the skills, experiences and relationships to set them on their trajectories. This whole project is a testament to how eager our community is for more opportunities to give students real-life experiences, but also to change what school can and should look like.” 

Amp Lab


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