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digiLEARN: The power of digital learning in schools

I accompanied former Governor Bev Perdue as she visited Southwest Middle School in the Onslow County school district. Southwest Middle School has a 1:1 laptop initiative, which means that all the students get a laptop. But utilizing digital technology means more than simply putting the tech in the kids’ hands. It means showing them how best to use it, and how technology can help them advance their lives.

At Southwest, technology is a piece of student success, but also a part of a larger whole. The stated mission of the school is to “provide all students with challenging academics so that they realize their potential for college readiness and improve their quality of life in a global society.”

On the school’s website, Principal Jerome Gidrey describes the school as having a college atmosphere. And it’s evident as you meet the students. They’re not just thinking about getting through the day. They’re thinking about their futures. In the following video, you will meet two students talking about their desire to pursue coding as they move beyond their K-12 education.

Perdue says that using digital technology allows for more personalized learning for all students — the capacity to help everyone find and or develop a skill around their interest, ability, disability, etc.

And, as you hear in the video, Governor Perdue also says:

“Every student that I’ve met here has the great, articulate ability to tell me that they’re going to do something academic or professionally important after high school.”

The activities available to students at Southwest aren’t limited to high tech. They are more expansive, and, sometimes, old school.

MakerSpace sign from Southwest Middle School

A MakerSpace is essentially a spot where students can work on Do-It-Yourself projects. This one was located in Southwest’s library, and, in addition to books, I found students sewing — while being filmed for posterity — coding, and even presented with the opportunity to just play some games.

Still, digital technology is heavily emphasized at Southwest Middle School. It was hard to find a classroom where it was not being utilized.

“We know the technology era is here, and we have to move forward,” said Onslow County Superintendent Rick Stout.

At the end of the day, Perdue left with a sense of awe. Awe that she will bring back to digiLEARN, a nonprofit she launched, which seeks to accelerate a new educational experience for students in the 21st century through digital learning. At digiLEARN, she says she strives to promote an education system where digital learning is integrated into all aspects of students’ lives. At Southwest Middle School, she saw this future already becoming a reality.

“I’m just amazed,” she said. “I’ve never been in a school like this.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.