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: K-64 chief executive officer Mark Story breaks down a recent survey of seventh-grade students who received Chromebooks from the K-64 board in January. The board voted to provide devices to incoming sixth- and seventh-graders next year as well.

HICKORY — Every middle school student in Catawba County will have their own Chromebook next year.

Based on the success of this year’s rollout for every seventh-grader, the K-64 board voted to extend the project to incoming sixth- and seventh-graders in all three public school districts for the 2018-19 school year.

The approximate cost for next year’s two grade levels will be approximately $960,000 covering nearly 3,800 student devices, K-64 chief executive officer Mark Story said.

This year’s seventh-graders will get to take their Chromebooks into eighth grade.

K-64 (kindergarten to age 64) 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 technology committee chair Michael Ellwanger proposed the extension of the Chromebook initiative during the board’s meeting on Thursday.

Last year, the board approved a plan to provide the devices for the 1,900 seventh-grade students in Hickory Public, Newton-Conover City and Catawba County Schools. The cost of the project was $435,100, and the devices were distributed to the students in January.

The source of financing for next year is not set at this point, and the rollout will be determined by the school districts.

“We would hope that we could start this fall, but we do want to ensure that teachers, students, and parents are well prepared,” Story said.

The board got to hear some feedback as well on current Chromebook usage based on a survey of seventh-grade students and their teachers.

According to the survey, nearly 20 percent (19.49) of the students did not have any kind of a computer at home before receiving their Chromebook.

“I think if we would have asked if they had their own personal device that might have been an even bigger number,” Story said.

He was surprised to discover only 2.13 percent had no access to the Internet when they weren’t at school while 65.94 percent had access at home.

Of the 1,900 students using the devices, 1,110 said they use their Chromebooks to access new assignments while 1,036 students said their teachers use them during class, according to the survey.

When asked if they were more engaged in school since receiving their device, 898 agreed or strongly agreed.

Since they are able to take home the Chromebooks, 952 said they are more likely to complete assignments.

“I had a principal tell me he had kids turning in homework who never did before, and we assumed it was because the just didn’t want to do it and it turns out they just didn’t have the means to do it,” Story said.

The survey addressed the potential problem of damaged or lost devices, but Ellwanger said it “really hasn’t been an issue.”

Catawba County Schools Chief Technology Officer Marty Sharpe reminded the board the school districts have the ability to disable the Chromebooks remotely in case they are stolen.

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