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Private Help Boosts High-Tech Learning at Public Nexton Elementary

Nexton Elementary is a public school in Berkeley County, South Carolina, that lives up to its futuristic moniker, but it couldn`t have gotten where it is today without private philanthropy, according to school leaders.

Today, students at the school collaborate on problem-solving engineering projects, tinker with 3-D printers in a “makerspace,” learn computer coding at an early age and complete assignments on school-provided tablets and laptops.

At Nexton, which shares a name with a burgeoning mixed-use development surrounding it, the school district was able to provide iPads and Chromebook laptops as part of a broader push for “one to one” technology adoption.

But the district was not able to fund a full-time technology coach to help teachers integrate the devices into the classroom.

That`s where developers and other business leaders came in. Private donations have funded the technology coach position at Nexton since 2015. The position became part-time this school year, at a cost of about $35,000.

“I don`t think we could have been this far so fast without that technology coach and all the support from the community,” said Principal Nancy Leigh.

The school has a long list of business partners who are either constructing or working in the neighborhood, including CPM Federal Credit Union (which has a branch at Nexton), Home Telecom (which provides 1-gigabyte internet access in Nexton), Sanders Brothers Construction, Volvo, SCRA, and Newland Communities, a leading developer at Nexton.

“We do this because it makes you feel good, but it`s also really good business,” said Brent Gibadlo, vice president of Newland Communities. “It`s obviously good for us to have a good school for selling homes and all that but it`s also really important for business recruitment.”

The Berkeley County School District constructed the school in 2015 with $20 million from a voter-approved county property tax. It built on land donated by the packaging and paper company MeadWestvaco, which envisioned a 13,000-home mixed-use development also known as Nexton.

The land donation follows a pattern in Berkeley County. The new Philip Simmons Elementary, Middle and High schools also were built on donated land in the burgeoning Point Hope development, and the trio of Cane Bay schools were built on donated land inside Cane Bay Plantation.

Next school year, Gibadlo said the business partners are considering paying for the school to adopt Project Lead the Way, a technology education curriculum. Elsewhere in the region, Boeing recently chipped in $150,000 to set up Project Lead the Way at three North Charleston schools.

Nexton is one of three planned mega-developments, along with Cane Bay and Carnes Crossroads, that eventually could house 75,000 residents almost as many as the current number of residents in Mount Pleasant, a little bit more than the population of Rock Hill.

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