Cuyahoga Falls -- As construction of a laboratory for the area's first biomedical college prep program moves closer to completion, fundraising continues to equip it.

Renovation work continues inside Woodridge High School to convert a former math classroom into a science laboratory and future home of the Biomedical Engineering and Technology Academy. BETA is a new college prep program that just began this past fall.

BETA is open to juniors and seniors in the Six District Educational Compact, which includes the districts of Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Kent, Stow, Tallmadge and Woodridge. Juniors enrolled in the program are currently meeting in an existing classroom at Woodridge until this new lab is finished.

Kirk Bennett, Woodridge Local's director of academic services, and Joel Morgan, Woodridge High School's principal, say progress is being made in the room. The walls are ready to paint, and soon the flooring and ceiling will be installed. Water and gas will be hooked up for lab sinks and burners, and outlets will be put in for electronic equipment.

Funding for BETA comes from the Woodridge Foundation, said Woodridge Superintendent Walter Davis, who helped forge a partnership with the University of Akron to make BETA possible.

The partnership grew from a chance meeting with a childhood friend a couple of years ago while Davis was visiting his mother and attending Sunday service with her. Davis said he ran into Marnie Saunders, someone he grew up with at that church, Westbrook Park United Methodist Church in Canton.

"I asked her what line of work she was in now, and she said she is a professor of biomedical engineering at The University of Akron. And I said, 'Well, gee, we ought to get together and talk about how to get some of my students involved with that.'" Davis said that re-connection with Saunders eventually led to the partnership with the University.

Davis said the Compact had been looking for an opportunity to start a program to focus on biomedical engineering for several years.

"This was perfect timing," Davis said. "Then I approached the Woodridge Foundation and asked for help with fundraising, because at the time we didn't have any money for that kind of new programming. When we had a commitment from the Foundation to pay for the lab, it was a no-brainer."

Last fall, the Foundation presented the Woodridge Local Board of Education with a check for $190,000, thanks to a major gift from the Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital Fund of the Summa Foundation. This was the first phase of fundraising by the Woodridge Foundation, which is now in the second phase with a goal to raise another $100,000 to go toward additional lab equipment, said Jeff Wilhite, the Foundation's president. The Foundation has raised $15,000 so far in the second phase, Wilhite said on Feb. 5. Phase two fundraising will continue until the end of August, he said. Future fundraising for BETA will be done on an as-needed basis, he added.

"We are excited to help this project go forward and are committed to continuing our efforts to improve upon it in any way we can," Wilhite said, "and make this a magnet program that attracts students from other Compact districts."

"We're excited to see the room finished and ready to use," said Morgan. "The science-oriented kids are especially excited."

Bennett said it couldn't happen in a better place: Northeast Ohio.

"We are in a hotbed, he said. "There are so many companies working along these lines. To be the first district in the Six District Compact and one of the first in northeast Ohio to have such a program, we feel very fortunate to have this opportunity for our kids here in Woodridge and also for the kids in the Six District Compact."

For more information on enrolling in BETA, call Kirk Bennett at 330-928-9074. Anyone interested in donating toward the purchase of BETA equipment, can call the Woodridge Foundation at 330-928-9074.


phone: 330-541-9420

In the accompanying video, Kirk Bennett, Woodridge Local's director of academic services, and Joel Morgan, Woodridge High School's principal, as well as two site workers, describe the improvements being done to prepare a high school classroom for the district's new biomedical program.