CHINA GROVE, N.C. — 2023 marks the first year that SparkNC is making its way into North Carolina. The program offers high-tech pathways to students in 16 districts across the state. 

What You Need To Know

  • 2023 is the first year that Spark Labs are being created in North Carolina

  • Sixteen districts across North Carolina have a Spark Lab

  • Spark Labs introduce high-tech career paths such as artificial intelligence, game development and design to students 

  • Spark Labs can be found from Cabarrus County to Elizabeth City

One Spark Lab is at South Rowan High School in China Grove. Junior Joseph Saleeby created a computer game on his own that school administrators are testing for the first time. 

“I kind of wish I had a little more time to work on it because there are some bugs I would’ve liked to work out, but it is pretty cool,” Saleeby said. 

The State Board of Education has career technical education courses, also known as CTE, that introduce students to career fields of their interests. 

“Aside from basic classwork, we had CTE classes which more focused on welding, woodworking, masonry and farming, so this is kind of a brand in a different direction” Saleeby said. 

Now, through SparkNC, students are learning more about careers in technology.

Students can work toward additional high school credits on their own time in fields including artificial intelligence, game development and design. They’re able to complete hours of work during free periods and at home.

The program's three areas of achievement are discovery, experience and career navigation.

According to SparkNC, students are encouraged to explore pathways through interactions and challenges, dive deeper into learning by working closely with peers and choose opportunities that show employers their strengths in high-tech careers. 

“Give it a try, because ... you can just unenroll. There's no penalty — doesn’t affect your GPA or anything,” Saleeby said. 

Ashlyn McNeely is a Spark Lab instructor at South Rowan High. She says the program is important for districts like Rowan County, that are more rural and where access to high-tech resources is limited. 

“They know that these are very prominent options and a lot of them are interested in this already, they’ve just never had anything available to them to learn about it,” McNeely said. 

Above all, McNeely says giving students a high-tech foundation to build upon will set North Carolina students apart from others and showcase their strengths in the real world. 

“They set this up so that our kids would definitely be set apart but also already have the skills necessary to do these careers straight out of high school or go to a two-year, four-year college and get a degree or certification," McNeely said. "But this would definitely equip them and prepare them for whatever path they want." 

McNeely says the district plans to expand the SparkNC program and offer opportunities to all students.