Volunteers Build STEM Lab at Ketcham Elementary

AbbVie Partners with Heart of America to Help Students Explore the World


On Thursday, June 13, students at John H. Ketcham Elementary School (1919 15thSt. SE) got a brand-new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lab, the work of more than 50 volunteers. Students now have access to new math and engineering technology, including robots, building kits and 3-D printers.

Principal Maisha Riddlesprigger (blue blazer, with arm upraised) joins AbbVie volunteers and students to cut the ribbon on the new STEM lab built by volunteers, June 13. Photo: AbbVie

The work was made possible through a partnership between AbbVie Pharmaceuticals and the Heart of America Foundation for AbbVie’s fifth annual Week of Possibilities, during which AbbVie employees give back to the communities where they live and work. The Heart of America Foundation, a long-standing partner for AbbVie’s Week of Possibilities, focuses on creating quality educational environments that improve children’s development.Over the last 20 years, the nonprofit has worked across the nation to transform 400 under-resourced school spaces into modern learning environments.

Volunteers transformed part of the Ketcham campus into the new STEM lab, providing the school’s nearly 300 students with access to new technology and makerspace tools. They painted, built and moved furniture, deep-cleaned fixtures and windows, hung artwork and assembled technology and makerspace components and resources.

AbbVie volunteers also completed beautification projects, including painting two new outdoor murals at the Anacostia school. Students also received age-appropriate take-home books to reduce summer-learning loss, and teachers received kits with classroom supplies.

A Ketcham student high-fives volunteers on his way to check out the new lab. Photo: AbbVie

“We think these students deserve spaces that reflect their ambition,” said Principal Maisha Riddlesprigger, the 2018 DC Public Schools Principal of the Year, speaking to volunteers at the ribbon-cutting. “You are helping to create joy for our students, and we thank you for your time and dedication.”

In January, Riddlesprigger celebrated a ribbon-cutting with Mayor Muriel Bowser on a new childcare center at the school. The center provides a 10-year pathway of care for up to 32 children ages six months to three years.

Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White (D) and a representative from the office of DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) joined the AbbVie employees in undertaking the transformation. “Technology allows individuals to explore things around the world,” said White. “While we are confined in a physical space, the development of this new STEM lab will allow access for these students to gain more insight on careers in engineering, science, technology, math and find some non-typical careers right here from this lab.”

When asked by Riddlesprigger how they felt about their new STEM lab, students responded that they felt as if people cared about them.

Ketcham Elementary School has a rich history and a strong group of dedicated staff, community partners and parents. The school’s motto is, “Our students. Our future. Our responsibility.”

AbbVie Foundation President Tracie Haas said that the annual Week of Possibilities is transformational for everyone involved. “Great things happen during the Week of Possibilities when people around the globe come together to give back to their local communities,” she said. “Our focus on underserved communities allows us to build our volunteer activities around specific needs and ultimately have the greatest impact.”

Students at Ketcham face multiple challenges. In the 2017-18 school year, all of the population was considered economically disadvantaged, and the school has one of the highest percentages of homeless students.

Recognized as a Bold Performance and Improvement School, Ketcham continues to be a school on the rise. Since 2015, the number of Ketcham students who are proficient in math has nearly tripled, and the number of students who are proficient in English language arts has doubled, according to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The school is a Washington Nationals Grand Slam STEM School, and has a robotics club. Until the event, the school had some robotics materials but did not have a full STEM lab.

“Heart of America is thrilled to partner with AbbVie for a sixth year to create engaging and inspiring STEM-focused spaces all across the country,” said Heart of America Foundation’s president and CEO, Jill Heath. “Volunteers serve in the communities where they work by giving back to schools that will deeply benefit from an infusion of new design, maker technologies and books to enrich instruction year-round.”

Learn more about the AbbVie Week of Possibilities by visiting abbvie.com/landing/wop/week-of-possibilities.html. Learn more about Heart of America at heartofamerica.org, and about Ketcham Elementary at www.ketchamelementary.org.