Reflections from the field: IBM Service Corps in Edgecombe County, North Carolina

By and Paul Thompson | 3 minute read | November 25, 2019

Edgecombe County is a rural county in eastern North Carolina.

For the past 4 weeks, we’ve been part of a group of 11 IBMers deployed to Edgecombe County in North Carolina as part of the IBM Service Corps program.  This is an IBM leadership development experience focused on delivering social impact for communities facing critical challenges.

Our team was tasked with assisting the Edgecombe County Public Schools to analyze student performance in two schools – Phillips Middle School and North Edgecombe High School. These two schools have adopted an innovative way of educating students in the classroom through student-led passion projects called “Design Labs”. Students get to pick a topic they are passionate about and design a project around that passion. The hypothesis is that this type of learning will lead to academic improvement, as well as high social and emotional intelligence.

In addition to “Design Labs”, students participate in “Banner” or “Advisory” which is a short period at the beginning of the day to help students emotionally prepare for the upcoming school day. It’s a time to reflect on what happened between the time they left school the previous day, to when they arrive for the next school day. It’s clear from the students we talked to that this is one of their favorite times of the day.

The schools weren’t always this innovative. Historically the test scores of the students in the region have been below state and national averages. In 2018, several dedicated people within the Edgecombe County school district decided to try a different way of educating students in collaboration with a non-profit called EdNC.

Together they started a pilot program called the North Philips School of Innovation (NPSI) targeting 30 students from 8th and 9th grades. The pilot used a project-centered approach and focused on social-emotional learning. The pilot was expanded to all 8th and 9th grade students at Phillips Middle School and Edgecombe North High School in Edgecombe County for the 2019-2020 school year.

Our IBM Service Corps team was enlisted to support the school in creating a data strategy to leverage existing student data housed in disparate places.  Our team was deployed to create a dashboard that NPSI can use to integrate and visualize the data it has, define a roadmap for future changes and enable NPSI to tell its story both now and in the future.

The IBMers took a day off to volunteer locally.

It’s a classic #goodtechIBM story.  We adopted agile practices and mapped our activities targeted outcomes, researching possible tools that could be used to visualize that data and provide insights to Edgecombe County School District. We interviewed many stakeholders and worked to understand the data, designing a framework to relate the various data sources.  We identified several possible tools to use for the data visualization and created a prototype dashboard and demonstrated it to the teachers and staff involved in the NPSI.

The final step was to build the dashboard and get it running.  It’s been rewarding to be able to put our technical skills to help Edgecombe leaders in their goals. We’ve gained so much personally in the process. We’ve been able to immerse ourselves in the local community, meeting with community leaders, attending a discussion on racial equity in education training and even helping to harvest potatoes from a local community garden.

Through this experience we’ve been able to see the layers of deep inequalities in education that run in our country, and here in our own state of North Carolina. On the flip side, we have seen passionate leaders and committed teachers working tirelessly to make a difference. Day by day they are changing things, one student at a time. And for that we have great hope in Edgecombe County and North Carolina’s future.  Thank you NPSI.