Students at Douglas Byrd High school and throughout the Cumberland County School system will be returning to the classroom with new technology opportunities available this fall. On Thursday, June 29, faculty and staff with Cumberland County Schools along with business and community partners and SparkNC leadership gathered at Douglas Byrd High for the ribbon cutting and unveiling of a new tech based learning resource new to the state.
The state’s first SparkLab will now be available for students interested in training for high- tech jobs expected to dominate the future job market.
The space includes a computer lab and work spaces and will incorporate the opportunity for interdistrict learning by providing live instruction from partners within 18 Innovation Project Districts.
Of the expected 16 districts expected to be opening a SparkLab throughout North Carolina this year, Douglas Bryd’s is the first to launch and have a ribbon cutting ceremony.
“A lot of things have been birthed here at Douglas Byrd and the Eagle's Nest and so we are excited about this innovation,” said DBHS Principal Kenneth Williams. “I do want to thank our admin team and my custodial staff for the work that they put in, we were given a timeline and I said ‘I need to make this happen’ and they made it happen.”
The Lab is a part of the SparkNC Program, “a revolutionary effort” to help learners engage with high-tech fields like artificial intelligence and machine learning, software development, computer systems engineering, and cybersecurity.
Through an interdistrict network, learners will have opportunities to explore these fields and collaboratively prepare for modern work. SparkNC is learner-centered, industry-relevant, and competency-based.
Students will be working from a “Catalog of Units” which includes 50 learning experiences covering topics that delve into multiple niches in the tech industry including Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning, Game Development & Esports, Computer Systems Engineering and more. Eight units will be worth one credit hour and each student will be able to customize their learning experience and work as a group or individually.
“We're hearing from employers that in addition to these tech skills, knowing how to show up, knowing how to persevere, knowing how to be on a team to collaborate, empathize with the people that you're working with, and for those are the crucial things. We will teach you how to do the tech, you need to come in with those soft skills or success skills. So SparkLab is going to be an experience where they're going to have opportunities to build those professional skills as well,” said Senior Director of SparkNC Dana Brinson.
The goal of the program is to make education in technology as accessible to students as possible,
with the team behind the project taking feedback from students into account when designing the curriculum and topics. Part of that accessibility includes the multiple ways students can be taught: live units, experiential units and on demand units.
“We asked them what they wanted and what they thought about their education now. We heard that education could be boring, that it wasn't relevant to the real world. When we talked about high tech careers we heard words like “daunting,” or it's only for the kids who are like valedictorians. And so, as we started to design and think about what we wanted SparkNC to be,” shared SparkNC Executive Director Joe Ableidinger. “We wanted to be the antithesis of all of that. We wanted to be engaging, we wanted to be accessible and be something that students would come into and say, I can see myself in the tech career. It's not daunting.”
SparkNC has also partnered with District C, a nonprofit, Raleigh based, organization founded by Dan Gonzalez and Anne Jones. Their mission is to prepare the next generation of diverse talent for modern work through their “Teamship” program.
“You can think of Teamship as a reimagined, team based internship, where teams of high school students work together to solve real problems for real businesses in the community,” said Gonzalez. “As part of this SparkNC initiative, teams of high school students will work together to solve real problems for high tech businesses in the community. And we are calling this together Spark Teamship. SparkTeamship is one of the units that students will be able to opt into as part of their high tech learning accelerator journey.”
The lab will be overseen by the newly named SparkLab Facilitator Jennifer Milton. While the Lab is now available, it has been in the works since last year.
“In April of 2022. We went to Wilmington with other students from Douglas Byrd High School and thought about designing a program for students and we let the students lead the way in the design process. But we've really come full circle in the design space here and giving students a modern learning environment, as well as given them a desire to move along the clear career pathway here on high tech careers,” shared Career and Technical Education Executive Director for CCS Chip Lucas.
Anyone interested can learn more about SparkNC online here.
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