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AMES, Iowa — Ames Middle School students were surprised their first day back from break. A handful of students were asked to follow the principal to a room that had been under lock and key over break.

“It was a total surprise. At first I thought I was in trouble,” said Eli Johnson, an Ames Middle School student.

The students were informed that they would be the first to test out a brand new Virtual Reality Lab Classroom. They were encouraged to pick up the headsets and view the 3D reality programs running on the system. Some saw spaceships and cars driving on the moon. Others got to swim with sharks.

The $50,000 classroom was a gift from the Big 12 Conference and the College Football Playoff Foundation for the Big XII Extra Yard Classroom for Teachers Makeover. The Project was also given an assist by Lakeshore Learning Materials.

“We had the opportunity to give it to one school, one teacher, one classroom,” said Ames Superintendent Jenny Risner. “But instead, we chose to put it into the middle school so we could have all of our students be impacted by this as they came through.”

“Everybody in this community has supported Iowa State and the Big 12 for many years,” said ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard. “Today what’s really neat is the Big 12 Conference and Iowa State University get to support our community.”

This type of project has been done for years by the Big 12 Conference.

“We kind of started out with libraries, and libraries are beginning to change and so we quickly adopted media centers and media labs like this one,” said Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 Conference commissioner.

“I was honestly just speechless … It was like everything I would want in technology,” said Eli. “The VR stuff is so cool. I did a swimming with the sharks thing. This was so cool. It just blew me away.”