September 3, 2020

Protolabs Foundation Supports Learning Lab 'Pods'

By Protolabs

As the 2020-21 school year starts, with all of its extraordinary challenges, Protolabs Foundation has contributed $25,000 to the newly created North Star Network, an initiative to start seven community-based Zoom learning labs or “pods” for the school year for selected K-12 students in Minneapolis.

Created by the African American Community Response Team (AACRT), along with the Minnesota Social Compact, the North Star Network is getting funding from a variety of public and private sources, including the Minnesota Business Partnership. The partnership also has been working to mobilize a number of companies to contribute, such as Protolabs, Ecolab, Target, Xcel Energy, General Mills, and others.

The seven planned pods will include 50 students each and be housed in locations such as churches and schools, some of which are still to be determined. As a recent Star Tribune article explained, these pods won’t take the place of students’ regular distance learning through their school—they will supplement that learning by providing tutors, a quiet learning space, and, most important, connected technology.

Distance learning
The learning lab 'pods' will provide tutors, a quiet learning space, and, most important, connected technology.

The article further explained that these community-based “pods” or learning labs will build on the successful Get on the Bus program AACRT deployed in north Minneapolis this summer. Over the past three months, mobile learning lab buses were outfitted with Wi-Fi access, Chromebooks, air conditioning, and staff support. Students participated in socially distanced sessions on the mobile learning labs. AACRT mobilized 10 buses, with three cohorts per day, serving 300 students each day.

The North Star Network program is in addition to another education-related initiative, ConnectedMN, which our Foundation supported earlier this summer with a $50,000 donation. ConnectedMN was formed with a goal of bringing tech devices and internet access to students across Minnesota, especially communities most in need including Indigenous students and students of color, students from low-income families, and families residing in rural areas.

Vicki Holt, Protolabs CEO, said both of these programs, the North Star Network centered in Minneapolis, and ConnectedMN focused statewide, will help students thrive during distance learning and help close the digital divide.

“Our Foundation is excited to help support these efforts,” Holt said. “These are challenging times, given how, with remote learning, families are juggling work, parenting, and educating—all at home. And it’s even more challenging when some families may not have access to needed technology for distance learning.”