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Apple’s CEO in Birmingham to launch groundbreaking tech program

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during the launch of a new education and technology initiative, Ed Farm at the Forbes Building downtown. (Erica Wright, The Birmingham Times)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Ed Farm, short for Education Farm, a groundbreaking education program supported by tech giant Apple, Birmingham city and education leaders and area corporations was launched Thursday.

The initiative is designed to prepare students and communities for jobs of the future and it aims to inspire children and adults to explore technology, learn to code and pursue STEM careers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was on hand for the launch at Ed Farm’s Birmingham headquarters in the Historic Forbes Building downtown.

“Tech education is a key to unlock new opportunities for future generations,” said Cook, an Alabama native and Auburn University graduate. “Education is in Apple’s DNA, from our earliest days, we cared about making the best technology to help students learn and in the process to discover new things about themselves and the world around them.

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

The initiative is a partnership between Apple, TechAlabama, Birmingham City Schools, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the City of Birmingham, Alabama Power Foundation among others.

Ed Farm will provide opportunities for students of all ages to learn to code using Swift, Apple’s easy-to-learn coding language.

“Birmingham Can Code has helped hundreds of local students learn to code and nearly 2,000 community college students across Alabama have taken Swift courses,” said Cook. “Already, we’ve teamed up with Ed Farm to invite adult learners here to learn to code. Already, we’re moving beyond these walls to students in Birmingham. By creating this community hub and giving teachers the tools and skills to bring coding and creativity lessons into their classrooms, we can make a ripple in a much bigger pond.”

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Apple is providing Ed Farm with hardware, software, funding and professional learning support and has already supplied Birmingham City Schools with more than 400 new devices being used in classrooms as part of its Community Education Initiative.

“In Birmingham City Schools, we are building leaders and we are impacting the world, we do that with a strategic plan, ‘Force for Greatness’, to change the landscape of education . . .,” said Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring. “. . .We’re preparing our scholars not just to have devices, we preparing our teachers not just to share something shiny in the classroom, but to engage, to flip, to redesign and to innovate.”

Ed Farm is working with educators from 13 Birmingham City Schools for its Teacher Fellows program. The program also provides teachers with access to curriculum, new technology and ongoing instructional support. The Fellows are now offering computer science and creativity courses in their respective classrooms.

“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 the initiative’s potential as it continues to move forward.”

In addition to supporting the Ed Farm, Apple will also back the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to implement new technology, said Cook.

“Few cities have played a 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,” said Cook. “To help tell this 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 around the world. This is a story about Civil Rights, education, this city and its centrality to the American project of forming a more perfect union.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said the collaboration among the numerous partners is a “big deal” for the city.

“Birmingham is very proud to partner with Alabama Power and so many others in this community who are making a true investment in what we do for the future of the city but we’re also proud to partner with Apple for this new venture Ed Farm,” said Woodfin. “Through Ed Farm and TechAlabama, we’ll be opening doors for both children and adults to explore careers in technology, STEM and coding. This is a game changer for workforce development in this city and this community.”

For more information, visit www.edfarm.org.