A local Boy Scout’s passion for technology and learning has helped bring a new high tech tool to students at Iuka Elementary School.

Mark McCarley recently completed his Eagle Scout project, a community project marking the final step toward obtaining scouting’s highest rank, with the installation of a custom-built computer and Oculus Rift virtual reality headset for use in the school’s special education and gifted education programs.

The Tishomingo High School junior said the project is the culmination of a career in scouting that began in elementary school when he started as a Cub Scout. In scouting, he found a place to learn and build relationships.

“I just really love the experience of hanging out with my pals and learning some useful stuff,” he said.

He and his friend, Jamie Southward, developed the idea of putting their interest in technology to use for his Eagle Scout project. The project began with a plan to build several computers for use in the gifted and special education programs, but as they got into it they saw an opportunity to do something really cutting edge.

“We decided this would be something more unique,” he said.

The Oculus Rift headset, connected to the state of the art computer the two custom built in the project, offers an immersive virtual reality experience that can put students into imaginary worlds where they can learn and develop a variety of skills.

Gifted education teacher Melissa Henderson said she’s excited about the possibilities for students as they explore how to integrate the equipment into the classroom. She expects her gifted classes to use it for activities and games to encourage high-level strategic thinking. Special education students will benefit from programs on yoga, meditation and other sensory calming techniques.

They’re just starting to explore the equipment and she said the sky’s really the limit as they discover how it can be used to benefit students.

Henderson recalled having McCarley as a sixth-grade student in her gifted class and said he’s always been a very motivated learner.

“He has that initiative. He always liked to make his own projects and make his own goals,” said the teacher.

McCarley said the project could not have happened without the hard work of Southward, who provided much of the technical know-how to construct the system, and the support of several donors who gave funds to purchase the equipment. The school’s PTA provided a large donation toward the effort and other supporters include Dr. Scott and Diane Segars at the Segars Clinic, Mark Segars and First American National Bank, Lisa Koon and the Koon Law Office, Cindy McAnally and Renasant Bank and Dr. Ben and Joy Kitchens.

The scout said his parents, Myra and Thomas McCarley, were also key in supporting and encouraging him throughout scouting and this project.

As he looks to the future, the soon-to-be Eagle Scout is still considering his options. He said he’s interested in information technology and computers, game design and writing. Wherever he goes next, he knows the lessons learned through the scouting program and his Eagle Scout project will help prepare him for the future.

Banner Independent Editor

Managing editor of the Daily Corinthian’s sister newspaper, Booneville’s Banner-Independent, Brant Sappington has been a member of the Daily Corinthian family since 2001.

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