September 26, 2008

SAD 52 Awarded Learning Grant

TURNER - SAD 52 has won a federal grant that will enable elementary pupils and adults to talk to a NASA scientist in Florida or an artist in Boston without leaving their classrooms.

Superintendent Darlene Burden said the long-distance learning grant will help bring more of the world to her students.

"We are in a rural area. Just the cost of transportation for our students is a real challenge. By having this equipment we can provide outstanding education. It's pretty amazing," she said.

The hub will be Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle, which will have three classrooms with equipment linking teachers and speakers to students around the state, said Sharon Betts, educational technology coordinator for SAD 52. Participating schools will receive a small, rugged, cart-based video conferencing system that uses a projector instead of a screen. The cart can be moved from classroom to classroom, or to a gymnasium.

The grant will enable K-8 students and adult education students "to expand their horizons as far as cultural experiences," Betts said. Students will be able to take virtual field trips and have two- way conversations with people in other cities and states. "It's very exciting," she said.

The long-distance learning mostly will be used to enhance learning in subjects already being taught. A science lesson could feature a virtual tour of NASA or discussion from a NASA scientist. Art lessons could include trips to the Boston Museum of Art.

"This will enable our students to experience what students in the large cities do all the time," Betts said.

SAD 52 elementary pupils will also have the ability to communicate with some universities, Betts said. That could especially benefit advanced placement students. The system will also allow Turner-Leeds-Greene schools to collaborate with other schools, and offer teachers more professional development.

The equipment is expected to be installed by next fall to benefit K-8 pupils and adult education students. It can be expanded to high school students, she said.

The $425,118 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay for links to Greene Central, Leeds Central, Turner Primary, Turner Elementary and Tripp Middle schools in SAD 52, Livermore Elementary and Livermore Falls Middle School in SAD 36, and school systems in Rangeley, Bath and Lubec and the Association of Computer Educators in Maine.

- Bonnie Washuk

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