Through their technical education classes and student-led enterprise, Tiger Manufacturing, students at Northwestern High School have left their stamp on the area.

"We're building the sign for the Brule Fire Department. We're making picnic tables for the Lions Club. We're doing Blueberry Festival kiddie tractor pull medals and presentation awards," said technical education teacher Laurence Charlier.

Students experience a burst of pride when they drive by signs they have made for state parks and trails, like the After Hours Ski Trail in Brule. And their work is a symbol of pride for the winners of the inaugural Northern Pines Sled Dog Race in Iron River. The students designed and fabricated medals, keepsake keychains and plaques for the event.

"I'd love to go back to high school and take all these classes with the new CAD (computer-aided design) machines and all that. Wouldn't you?" Nancy Hutchinson of Poplar said. "I keep telling him they need an adult program."

This fall, they will. The Maple School District was one of 20 schools to receive a fab lab grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

The matching schools grant of $22, 937 will be used to purchase a laser engraver, thermal forming unit, four vinyl cutters - one for each school in the district - and five 3-D printers. Only one of the printers will come fully formed, Charlier said. It will be used to print and assemble the other four out of kits. Each school in the district will have its own 3D printer once the project is done.

"With the grant, we'll be able to do a lot of other things for the community," senior Ethan Brown said.

And the community will be able to do it for themselves. Part of the impetus behind fab lab grants is to open school technology workshops to local crafters and entrepreneurs. Members of the public visit fab labs in Solon Springs and Minong weekly to learn and create.

"It's always great to see the work that's being done by students but also the collaborations with businesses and hearing the community members who come in after hours and use these labs," said Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range. "These are really important assets, especially for rural communities ... for small manufacturers, people who work on their farms."

Charlier said that 56 schools applied for fab lab grants; only 20 received one. Something that set the Maple School District's proposal apart was the fact that $5,000 of the matching funds came from Tiger Manufacturing students.

"We make products for the community, we sell them," Brown said. "All the money we make at Tiger Manufacturing goes right back into our program."

The NHS Fab Lab is expected to open to the public Oct. 15.

"I'll be the first to sign up," Hutchinson said.

As president of the Classics By the Lake Car Club, she's well aware of the "phenomenal" things students can produce in their technical education classes.

The car club has supported the tech ed program at NHS for years, donating steel and wood for projects. Members have also become customers. Students have created custom signs and art pieces for them; they've also fabricated and repaired parts for their classic cars.

"They can do anything," Hutchinson said. "It's not only teaching kids to do it, but it's also helping us out to fabricate something we can't find someone to do."

When a fab lab opens up, it connects generations through technology.

"It exposes students, parents and area people in the community not only about what you can do with a fab lab, but just what goes on inside our schools today," said Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Delta.

And it has an exponential effect.

"It brings people back into school; it takes students and puts them back into the community in new ways, and I think it just puts us all in a position where we can all come together and do what's best for our kids and the future," Bewley said. "You can't do a fab lab without community."