Crossing the Line in the Sand: Why Early Exposure to Emerging Technologies Will Lead Our Students to Greatness

Jeffries Epps

Jeffries Epps is being honored as a Champion of Change for his work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.

For the past 21 years I have served the public schools of North Carolina in the area of technology implementation. As a systems engineer and now a technology director, I have worked in both a management and leadership capacity.   From my engineering point of view I have witnessed technology change every two to three years.  When I became a director I set my cross hairs on the skills we were teaching our students. Working with business leaders, administrators, teachers, and students has afforded me the opportunity to see how our efforts to prepare students directly affect the workplace.  It is now my mission to ensure that the technology training inside of the school walls keeps pace with the needs of the global economy.

For two decades, technology in education has evolved rapidly.  The rate of change outside of the school walls has not only altered the way we teach our students, but also how early we should expose them to emerging technologies.  By exposing them early, and integrating science and mathematics at every grade level, they will have years to master these technologies as opposed to semesters. In addition, most companies will not entertain an engineer’s application unless they have seven verifiable years of exposure to the engineering process. So where can these applicants be found? They are currently in the 3rd grade!

In 1996, we began wiring schools for internet access.  Students could access the internet from every classroom, media center, and computer lab.  Since then, tools such as word processing, electronic presentations, and desktop publishing have become commonplace in our schools, homes, and the workplace.  Students who were 3rd graders in 1996 graduated in 2005, however, they progressed into a workforce that had already been saturated with workers possessing the same skills. During this time, we drew a line in the sand that separated mediocrity and greatness. We sided with mediocrity. Yet, the workforce was demanding more highly-skilled, innovative workers.

Early exposure equips them to compete for current and future jobs, satisfy the seven year requirement and most importantly fail their way forward. When failure occurs, students often side with mediocrity. At this early stage they will learn that failure is a part of success and they persevere toward greatness. Greatness when their first line of code throws them a syntax error. Greatness when their first 3D scan does not align properly.  Greatness when their first 3D object does not print as expected. Suddenly greatness is no longer a buzz word; it is now an attitude.  This provides upward mobility.  3D technology will continue to evolve and these students will have the necessary knowledge, skill, and attitude to lead us into the future. By the time our 3rd graders graduate, they will be well-equipped to fill these jobs.  The key is early exposure!

Somewhere along the way the real world component became someone else’s responsibility. As educators, it is our responsibility to take the time and make the connections between coursework and the real world. When students apply what they have learned to solve real world problems we pull them to the “greatness” side of the line and we dare them to go back!

In education, we stand on a great Genesis. We are redefining ourselves, and the way in which we do things. If we don’t get this right, generations will pay the consequences. If we are to lead the world, we must cast the vision of what the marketplace will be by teaching skills and thought processes that will be relevant well into the future. The end result is a highly skilled workforce that is prepared to compete globally.  The United States will maintain its economic edge. Success does not follow mediocrity; success follows hard work and leads to greatness. Let’s start!

Jeffries Epps is the Director of Information Technology for Richmond County Schools in Hamlet, NC.

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