K-64 brings education, business, and government together to connect people of all ages with the skills needed to fill jobs and build careers in Catawba County.

John Bailey | Hickory Daily Record

HICKORY – The world became a little less cluttered after the holiday break for every seventh-grader in all three public school districts of Catawba County.

In November, the K-64 board approved the final planning and funding for its pilot program to provide Chromebooks for the 1,900 seventh-grade students in Catawba County, across all three school districts, Hickory Public Schools, Newton-Conover City Schools and Catawba County Schools, at a cost of $435,100.

The districts began rolling out the Chromebooks to parents and students this month.

Grandview Middle seventh-grader James Keyes likes the idea of fewer worksheets to worry about when he’s doing his homework.

“Just being able to do more and find what you need quicker instead of having all these worksheets, you can put it all in one thing and have your stuff done faster and you can look up your answers faster,” James said.

His mother Patricia Keyes said she believes the Chromebook Hickory Public Schools sent home with James was just what he needed to increase his educational opportunities.

“It’ll allow him to accomplish more with his time rather than flipping through a text book and being able to search online and gather more information than text books have nowadays,” Keyes said.

The K-64 board initially approved the idea for the Chromebook program during its meeting in October.

“First and foremost, I want you to understand this pilot is not to determine whether or not technology is needed or will work in the classroom,” K-64 Chief Executive Officer Mark Story said during the October meeting. “The research is there proving that. The purpose of this pilot is to see how well we can utilize it and where strengths and weaknesses are within what we’re doing now.

“We really do not know if there is something broken until we can identify where we are excelling or falling behind.”

Staci Bumgarner, the media center coordinator at River Bend Middle in Catawba County Schools, said teachers are excited about having a Chromebook in every seventh-grader’s hands.

She’s the leader of the digital learning team for the school as well.

Like other schools in the district, all of the seventh-grade teachers at River Bend have been busy attending training sessions through Catawba County Schools’ central office, preparing them to find ways to integrate the new tech into their class work.

“They’ve learned about some of the apps they can get to on the Chromebooks, some of the ways they can incorporate those into their projects,” Bumgarner said.

The seventh-grade teachers at River Bend expect their students to be more engaged because of the Chromebooks as well.

“We’re going to be able to go more in depth into the standards because we’re going to have more resources to do that,” science teacher Rachel Hodges said. “Instead of just using a worksheet or a textbook page, they’re going to be able to interact with whatever the content might be. For science you could do an interactive dissection.”

This is another step toward turning their students into 21st-century learners, something they would find more difficult to do without the Chromebooks.

“This generation is going to enter into the workforce where you have to be technologically literate to get a job anywhere,” math teacher Jaime Watson said.

Bumgarner sees this as both a learning and maturing opportunity for the students as well.

“They’re going to have to take responsibility for these devices, keep them charged, bring them back to school every day, and they know there are consequences if something happens to their Chromebooks,” Bumgarner said.

Part of the package parents got during the rollouts was information on how students were to care for the Chromebooks. They learned about the levels of security the districts built into each machine and their ability to monitor all the activity on each Chromebook as well as being able to shut off Internet access at any time.

The parents are responsible for damage or loss, and they had to sign an agreement before their child could take the Chromebook home. If not, the student could only use it when at school.
A familiar tool

The addition of enough Chromebooks for the entire seventh grade at Newton-Conover Middle was a perfect match with the schools STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) focus it’s developed in recent years.

For Principal Donna Heavner, the computers help students meet two of the school’s STEM characteristics: collaboration and communication.

“(STEM) is this constant focus on trying to answer a question or answer a problem and those Chromebooks are a tool to help us do that,” Heavner said.

The new computers certainly support the unique project-based learning going on at the school.

“With STEM, you look at a question and you try to answer that question and you design and you think about how would you find a solution for that particular problem,” Heavner said. “Then you’re constantly trying to revise and change and make that answer better, but you do that by doing research and readying and designing and testing.”

Kim Heckler, Grandview Middle’s assistant principal, said the students in Hickory Public Schools completed an online digital citizenship certificate prior to getting their Chromebooks.

Like all the other schools, students were already familiar with the machines after using Chromebook carts the classes share. They’re already working in digital environments like Google classrooms and Canvas.

“These allow teachers to post assignments and links they want the students to complete, tests anything really, and the students are already familiar using them,” Heckler said.

Where they went

Catawba County Schools

  • Arndt Middle School – 358
  • Jacobs Fork Middle School – 268
  • River Bend Middle School – 242
  • Maiden Middle School – 239
  • Mill Creek Middle School – 199

Hickory Public Schools

  • Longview Middle School – 195
  • Grandview Middle School – 166

Newton-Conover City Schools

  • Newton-Conover Middle School – 233

Sponsors for cases

Catawba County Schools

  • Arndt Middle School – cases donated by Lowes Foods
  • Jacobs Fork Middle School – cases donated Lowes Foods
  • Maiden Middle School – cases donated by Town of Maiden
  • Mill Creek Middle School – cases donated by Temprano Techvestors
  • River Bend Middle School – cases donated by City of Claremont

Hickory Public Schools

  • Grandview Middle School – cases donated by City of Hickory
  • Longview Middle School – cases donated by City of Hickory

Newton-Conover City Schools

  • Newton-Conover Middle School – cases donated by City of Newton

* * *

The K-64 (kindergarten to age 64) plan is an educational and economic development initiative to prepare all students to be college and career ready in a global economy and support the local workforce and economic growth.

The K-64 focus is on six initial objectives. They include: 1-to-world technology, character and soft skills development, tech savvy educators, work-based learning, employer engagement and career adaptability.

For more information about K-64, visit k-64learning.com.