PADUCAH — Paducah and McCracken County aren’t growing. Over the past decade, Paducah and McCracken County’s populations have actually declined, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

That means our area is losing opportunities.

One school district’s big idea is now moving forward with hopes of changing the city’s and county’s path.

“We are helping education become more innovative and really more in touch with the student,” Monica Bilak, Sprocket board president said. Sprocket is a place where you learn for the sake of learning.

At Sprocket, they teach kids skills of the 21st century workforce. “Let’s help them become creative and great thinkers for sustaining our community and growing it,” Bilak said.

She calls Sprocket a test lab for the Paducah Innovation Hub, which will be similar but on a much larger scale. What they both are doing is trying to turn kids into creators. Ultimately, local leaders hope that will create a bigger workforce.

That’s what the Paducah Board of Education is working toward on Wednesday when they approved the bid for the Paducah Innovation Hub that will sit right behind Paducah Tilghman High School and serve students from across our region.

Superintendent Dr. Donald Shively said he wants students to become successful in Paducah. “We are educating using our local tax dollars to educate these students to a very high level,” Shively said. “But, if they don’t come back and work in Paducah by design, then what’s the return on our taxpayers dollar?”

This mini version has only been open since March and has taught 200 students so far. “The kids that leave here come away with skills that you just can’t get in a normal classroom experience,” Bilak said. “It’s very hands on, and it’s very high tech.”

While you do have to pay for programs at Sprocket, students will not pay for programs at the Paducah Innovation Hub. That will be a part of their public education.

The hub is getting closer to being a reality. Groundbreaking on the project is set for October, with plan to open in the fall of 2020.

Ray, Black and Sons bid was accepted by the school board for $22,611,654. Paducah Independent School District will pay for the project through grants and help from the Kentucky Department of Education.

So far, the district has gotten $4.2 million in grants for the project.

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