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North Lenoir wins third CenturyLink grant in three years

It’s spring, so it must be time for North Lenoir High School to win another major technology grant from CenturyLink.

White woman with dark hair sits on a couch holding a laptop. For the third consecutive year, North Lenoir digital learning specialist Elizabeth Thompson has teamed up with a faculty member to win a CenturyLink Teachers and Technology grant. Of the more than 2,000 proposals received each year, CenturyLink typically awards only 10 percent nationwide.

This year’s grant – for $4,875 – will buy laptops and 3D printers that ninth graders in Kady Long’s world history class will use to learn how ancient civilizations dealt with river flooding and apply that learning to a situation the students are all too familiar with – the frequent flooding of the Neuse River where they live.

“We want students to analyze and problem-solve local flooding concerns using historical research from numerous ancient civilizations and try to find a correlation between that and our issues with the Neuse River,” Thompson said.

The grant proposal she and Long wrote, titled “The Neuse and the Nile,” not only envisions students researching the issues but also thinking about ways to tame the river and prevent property-damaging floods. Those ideas would take shape with the 3D printers.

“We want them to use the 3D printers to come up with three-dimensional proposed solutions to our flooding issue,” Thompson said. “Could we build an aqueduct system that feeds the water out of the river? What type of options could we do to alter the river to maybe utilize the water that we get instead of having such great loss from the water?”

The grant idea combines Long’s interest as a history teacher in ancient river-valley civilizations with the conviction of both teachers that making education real and relatable is the key to capturing students’ attention and unleashing their creativity.

Kady Long “When you have a real-world scenario, you’re going to get a much better product,” Long said. “I’ve always been fascinated by how these ancient river-valley civilizations could take something awful like a flood and turn it to their advantage, something they needed every year and they counted on. In eastern North Carolina, where we have flooding and hurricanes, we’ve have students who have lost homes and been displaced by flooding and I really thought this was an opportunity for them to solve problems within their own community and for their families.”

That real-world connection is also a thread that runs through all three of the CenturyLink Teacher and Technology grants that Thompson has had a hand in, she thinks.

“I think (a winning grant) has to be a unit that utilizes all the educational aspects and it has to have the students expand past the basic classroom. You embed the state standards, but it’s real-world, it’s problem solving, it’s action based – something the students can have an emotional connection with and a topic that’s really going to boost student engagement. All three of these have really been hands-on, where the students are digging deep, not the teacher digging deep.”

Neither does it hurt that North Lenoir High, like all schools in the district, is steeped in technology, with iPads in the hands of all students and with teachers equipped with MacBooks and bolstered by a continuous stream of professional development opportunities focused on digital learning. Thompson is one of the corps of digital learning specialists – a dedicated position in each of LCPS’s 17 schools – who help teachers and students get the most out of the technology on hand.

 “I know the power technology can have in the classroom,” she said. “I can see how much farther we can take it with a few more extra tools.”

Her CenturyLink grants alone have been worth $14,675 to North Lenoir.

An estimated 175 freshmen will take part in “The Neuse and the Nile” grant project. Long believes they’ll take part enthusiastically – and bring a new perspective to Neuse River flooding. She expects many of the proposed solutions, complete with 3D models, will be presented at school to a panel of county residents and perhaps later to county officials.

“We thought we could tap into people in our community and learn about how Kinston floods and study how that works here in comparison to ancient times,” she said. “If students knew the community was going to hear the results of this and knew they could make an impact and a difference, what are their products going to look like? How would they solve it?”

Will there be among those student proposals an answer to the problem of flooding that has devastated Lenoir County with increasing frequency since 1999?

“You never know. These kids are amazing and creative and forward thinking,” Long said. “We don’t give them enough credit.”

Photo captions (from top):

Elizabeth Thompson, the digital learning specialist at North Lenoir High School, has teamed up with a faculty member once again to win the nationally-awarded CenturyLink Teachers and Technology grant – her third Centurylink grant in as many years.

World history teacher Kady Long combined her interested in ancient river-valley civilizations with her enthusiasm for project-based learning to team up with co-worker Elizabeth Thompson to write “The Neuse and the Nile” grant proposal.