By Mike Tomberlin
Alabama NewsCenter

Apple CEO Tim Cook announced today the planting of Education Farm in Birmingham in hopes that it will grow students and adults ready for the workforce of tomorrow.

Apple is partnering with the Alabama Power FoundationTechAlabama and Birmingham City Schools on the ground-breaking education initiative. Cook, an Alabama native, said Birmingham was the right place for the launch.

“The Ed Farm is about clearing a path for anyone – of any age, background or interest – whether or not they’re destined for a career in technology. This is the culmination of a lot of hard work, of a strong vision for the future, of the tireless advocacy of educators, students and Birmingham leaders,” Cook said. “With the team we’ve built here, with the Birmingham community, and with an abiding faith in education’s power as a ‘great equalizer’ – I’m grateful to walk this path together, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.”

Ed Farm is designed with education equity, learning outcomes and workforce development as its key objectives. From its downtown Birmingham headquarters in the Forbes Building, Ed Farm will provide programs such as:

  • Teacher Fellows – working with educators from 13 Birmingham City Schools and giving them professional development experiences and access to curriculum, new technology and ongoing support.
  • Pathways – working with adult learners in the greater Birmingham area in an 11-week course to build digital skills, increase confidence with coding and promote attaining post-secondary credentials.
  • Student Fellows – engaging middle schoolers in Birmingham City Schools in rigorous challenge-based learning experiences that solve community problems and build entrepreneurial skills.

Apple, TechAlabama partner for new Ed Farm technology initiative from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“Ed Farm is going to create a learning environment, education ecosystems that allow students, teachers and communities to be equipped with the right tools, the right training, the right information so that as we look at the education outcomes that we want to change, we do it in a way that far exceeds our wildest expectations,” said Anthony Oni, chair of TechAlabama. “Part of my goal also is that we create an education economy in Birmingham.”

Oni said he hopes others look back at Ed Farm as starting something that was truly monumental in changing the way we approach education and its role in workforce development.

Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation, hoped the same.

Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation, speaks at the Ed Farm announcement. (Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

“I think it puts us on a national spotlight in a way that, perhaps, people have not thought of Birmingham before,” Calhoun said. “Certainly, we have been the cradle of technology and innovation for many years and I think this opportunity to partner with Apple on this most important educational initiative will be the gamechanger for the city.”

Lisa Herring, superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, said Ed Farm will provide those things most needed to be transformative.

“We are preparing our scholars not just to have devices. We are preparing out teachers not just to be able to share something shiny in the classroom, but to engage, to flip, to redesign, to innovate,” she said. “Not for devices to substitute, but for them to create for every scholar the opportunity to be prepared for careers that none of us in this room can possibly identify come 2030. That is this work.”

Deon Gordon, president of TechBirmingham and executive director of TechAlabama, echoed Herring.

“We realize that it’s not just about giving educators equipment, it’s about equipping our educators and giving them wonderful professional learning opportunities and skills and resources so that they can create powerful experiences in the classroom,” Gordon said. “Collectively, once we all come together, we can get beyond just moving needles and start moving mountains.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin speaks at the Ed Farm announcement.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin recounted a trip to Chicago that a Birmingham delegation made in April 2018 to see what Apple was doing there through its Community Education Initiative.

“I remember a moment. There was a whiteboard session – the superintendent (Herring), Dr. Perry Ward of Lawson State (Community College) and Deon (Gordon) of TechBirmingham and myself – whiteboarding what we wanted to see in tech in Birmingham,” Woodfin said. “We fast-forward almost two years later, we have here the Ed Farm.”

Having Apple as a partner was critical to Ed Farm becoming a reality.

Ed Farm provides opportunities for students of all ages to learn to code using Swift, Apple’s easy-to-learn coding language. As part of its Community Education Initiative, Apple is providing Ed Farm with hardware, software, funding and professional learning support. Apple has granted Birmingham City Schools with more than 400 new devices being used in classrooms today.

“As our society continues to evolve and advance, more and more job opportunities of the future will require digital skills, and helping our communities prepare for that is our priority,” said Chris McCauley, Ed Farm program director. “Our partnerships with Birmingham City Schools and the Birmingham community on the Teacher Fellows, Pathways and Student Fellows programs have already produced successful results, and we are thrilled at this initiative’s potential as it continues to move forward.”

Gordon said Ed Farm’s potential is hard to overstate.

“At the end of the day, it is an idea, an idea as big as Birmingham’s founding,” he said. “The idea that we just don’t have to survive this fourth industrial revolution, we can thrive in it as well.”

Oni agreed in its potential to shape the future of education and workforce development in the Magic City.

“When we all think about the future of our students – the young and the young at heart – we know that the world ahead requires a different language, a language that goes beyond math, English and science,” Oni said. “We know that this language, this language of coding, is going to create different experiences in the way we engage ourselves, interact with each other. We know that this language is going to shape the way our communities are built and in the way that they’re framed. We also know that this language is going to help us compete in the future ahead.”

For the head of Apple, it is an important initiative taking place in an important place.

Apple CEO Tim Cook toured the Ed Farm at the announcement of the initiative on Feb. 27, 2020. (Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

“Today’s very special for me personally because, while education is in Apple’s DNA, Alabama is in mine,” Cook said. “Alabama is my home – where I grew up, where I went to school, where I learned to be the person I am, both inside and out of the classroom – so it means the world to be back here with you.”

Cook also announced that Ed Farm will collaborate with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

“Few cities have played a more consequential role in our struggle to build a free and fair society, where equality of opportunity is real. That work did not end with Brown v. Board of Education or the Civil Rights Act. It still has not ended to this day,” he said. “To help tell that story, the Ed Farm will be teaming up with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, to develop digital storytelling and augmented reality tools that bring the civil rights movement to life for visitors from around the world.”

Watch the full press conference below.

Watch the Ed Farm press conference from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama NewsCenter website