Why did Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg visit Eastern Kentucky on Sunday?

Ben McNamee, a freshman at Belfry High School in Pike County, said he was told he was among the students who would be going to Hazard Sunday to meet with the staff of the national technology-driven Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for a “test-run to see if it was worth somebody big in the corporation to come in.”

But the 14-year-old said he was stunned when “it wasn’t a test run” and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg walked in to work with him and other students and educators from school districts in Pike, Floyd, Johnson, Knott and Wolfe Counties. Zuckerberg traveled to the Hazard-based Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative on Sunday to meet with students and teachers from the five school districts about the technology transforming public schools across Eastern Kentucky,

“We didn’t expect that,” said Belfry teacher Haridas Chandran. “We took four different projects we were working on. He was very pleased with the things the kids had done.”

Zuckerberg and members of his Chan Zuckerberg Initiative “asked for a cross section of students and teachers from our region,” but wanted “it to be a listening and interaction opportunity without media,” said Ron Daley, a Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative official. The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative is an education service agency serving 22 public school districts in rural eastern Kentucky

Students from the five school districts along with Cooperative staff, “were able to demonstrate and discuss some of the innovations taking place in schools and classrooms that are transforming teaching and learning,” said Daley.

“Zuckerberg was able to tour one of the ‘Tiny Houses’ designed and constructed by local high school students, drive a student built robot, witness the flight of a student constructed drone, and experience the state-of-the-art Virtual Realty Capture Suite in the soon to be opened Innovation Lab at the KVEC office,” a news release said.

KVEC is working to help pilot a technology initiative called the Summit Learning Platform in several schools in the region.

“We were talking to him about our robot project,” Ben McNamee said. Their robot named J.D. is designed to help patients with Alzheimer’s Disease deal with cognitive problems by repeatedly asking questions. Zuckerberg “liked that,” Ben said. “He liked the programming part of it.”

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