Think about what it is like to be the superintendent in the school district with the fewest resources to spend on each student.
In 2015, the Davidson County Schools serve 19,717 students with the lowest per-pupil expenditure of any district in our state: just $7,282.19 per child. Superintendent Lory Morrow advocates for the “resources the schools need, the resources our students so richly deserve.” She needs additional funds to attract, recruit, and retain high quality educators; to provide resources at the school level specific to the needs of elementary, middle, and high school students; to address the social and emotional needs of students; and to purchase the academic tools needed for instruction.
At EdNC, we celebrate our everyday heroes — the superintendents, principals, teachers, and all of the other school personnel who strive to provide a high-quality education for all of our students.
The work that is happening in this resource-starved district is inspiring.
Determined to provide all of her students with a high-quality education, the superintendent has been working with CyberKids Robotics to implement a robotics program districtwide. Robots are in all of the elementary and middle schools, and there is a drone program in the high schools. Morrow says, “This program teaches soft skills like collaboration and problem solving. It teaches students to be solutions-oriented.” She wants her students to be competitive in the global marketplace, and the robotics program brings local industry into the schools, and it gives the community something to be proud of.
This is Milo, a robot that teaches social behaviors to students with autism, created by RoboKind and using a program called Robots4Autism.
In the Davidson County Schools, 6.3 percent of the exceptional children are autistic, and this district is the first in North Carolina to use Milo to serve these students. School board member Vicki Trail heard of Milo and asked Morrow to look into it. Morrow asked CyberKids Robotics to figure out how to bring the program to her district. The robots cost $5,000 each, and the district is using two robots to serve students at the Stoner-Thomas School — a public, separate school for 92 exceptional children ages kindergarten to 22.
So far, four teachers have been trained to use Milo, and nine students are working with the robot. Morrow says that working with the robot is helping the students “strengthen speech patterns, gestures, and communication skills.” She says, “What sold me on it was that educators and engineers came together to create this tool for students to refocus their learning.” Milo can be programmed to deliver student-specific curriculum, and it tracks data on student performance for feedback to the teachers. Sessions with Milo last about 30 minutes, but students have to build up to that goal.
Here Darlynn Guest is working with Landon, age 11.
In this lesson, Milo was teaching Landon how to calm down, giving him four different strategies — count to 10, take a breath, squeeze the stress ball, or take a break.
Here Terri Clark is working with Jonas, age 9.
In this lesson, Milo was teaching Jonas the steps in greeting a friend or teacher — smile, look at the person’s face, and say, “Hi.”
After the session with Milo, Clark tells Jonas, “You did a great job.” Jonas pats Clark on the back.
And then Jonas runs to greet Principal Jonathan Hayes, “his buddy.”
Lesson with Milo are delivered in an individual or small group setting, based on the needs and individual education plan of the student. While Clark is working with Jonas, two teacher assistants manage the classroom.
Here Michael Haynes is working with Bradley, an older elementary student.
In this lesson, Milo is teaching Bradley how to recognize when someone is happy. Haynes says of working with Milo and the students, “It’s gotten easier and easier. At first, the students were scared, wondering ‘what is this?’ But now we have to do much less prompting.”
The learning trajectory
Superintendent Morrow says, “We simply are going to do whatever it takes to continue the learning trajectory for all children.”
She says, “It’s what will help the kids. We have to be creative. We have to be innovative. We have to make learning exciting, fun, and relevant for all of our students.”
And so in the Davidson County Schools, with the fewest dollars to spend on each child in North Carolina, the teachers, principals, and the administration work together to make that happen.
For more information about Milo and Robots4Autism
Here is a video about Milo produced by the company that created the robot: