Igniting North Carolina’s Future: SparkNC’s Innovative Approach to Education

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By: Senator Michael V. Lee and Dr. Lynn Moody

In the next five years, almost every area of our lives will be fundamentally changed by advances in artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies.

As a North Carolina legislator and a former North Carolina school district superintendent, we believe we need to think differently about preparing students for this reality. We care deeply about education, economic development, and the future of our state. If schools can’t keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology, our children will be left behind.

This is why we are excited about SparkNC, a nonprofit organization rethinking education to give North Carolina students a competitive edge in an uncertain future.

SparkNC is different because students have the freedom and flexibility to pursue what interests them. Unlike traditional classrooms, SparkNC isn’t built around a rigid calendar and classes where students all move at the same pace. Instead, students choose their own paths, selecting learning experiences in fields like cybersecurity, computer systems engineering, and data analytics.

Learning is not confined to textbooks and classrooms. SparkNC collaborates with industry partners, helping students learn about tech careers firsthand. Through interactions with experts, students grow their networks and gain insights about tech jobs. Real-world experiences help students develop skills in teamwork, communication, leadership, critical thinking, and problem solving. All of this opens doors to career opportunities.

Every student in SparkNC develops a portfolio of learning where they collect tangible evidence of their accomplishments. It’s not just about what they’ve learned. It’s about what they’ve experienced and how they’ve prepared for their futures. This portfolio becomes a powerful asset as they take their next steps, to higher education or the workforce.

Sixteen school districts are currently partnering with SparkNC and opened high-tech “SparkLabs” this fall. These facilities serve as hubs of innovation where students can learn individually and in groups. All SparkLabs are connected through state-of-the-art systems that enable students in different spaces to meet, collaborate, and learn together with teachers and industry professionals.

SparkLab Leaders in each district facilitate learning. They are a new kind of educator, blending the roles of teacher, mentor, coach, entrepreneur, innovator, and connector. They guide and inspire students, helping them navigate their educational journeys and develop the skills and insights needed to succeed in a tech-driven world.

This year’s state budget continues funding for SparkNC’s innovative approach. This is an investment in the future of North Carolina. It’s an investment in our students, who will emerge from SparkNC with a competitive edge in the job market. And it’s an investment in our state’s economic development, as a tech-savvy workforce attracts businesses and drives growth.

We are each proud to stand behind SparkNC and its mission to rethink education in North Carolina. By offering students flexibility, choice, and a curriculum tailored to the demands of the tech industry, SparkNC is paving the way for a brighter and more prosperous future for our state.

Sen. Michael V. Lee represents New Hanover County in the North Carolina Senate. Dr. Lynn Moody is the former superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools and the current Senior Director of Partnerships at SparkNC.

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