Exeter receives distance learning grant

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Exeter R-VI School District, in conjunction with the Verona and Crane school districts, has been awarded a $121,958 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Agency that will increase students' access to more advanced coursework.

"This grant will allow us to purchase and install equipment that will tie our districts together and tie us to the virtual school at Missouri State University," said Nolan. "This will allow us, as a small district, to offer dual credit courses for our kids."

The distance learning grant received by the three school districts is a highly competitive grant program. Only four entities in the state of Missouri were awarded funding through the program.

"These funds will increase the range of educational opportunities available to students in rural communities," said Thomas C. Dorr, agriculture undersecretary for Rural Development. "The projects will also open the door to the expansion of technology, increasing rural economic opportunities, promoting strong and vibrant communities.

According to Nolan, the video conferencing equipment purchased with the grant money will also enhance the district's professional development opportunities.

"This is a way for us to bring professional development to the school that we normally wouldn't have if we had to pay someone to come here," said Nolan. "It will also allow the three districts to share courses and teacher expertise."

It will take the district the rest of the year to get the equipment installed and operational. Although the equipment is mobile, Nolan said Exeter intends to dedicate a classroom to its use.

In addition to utilizing the equipment for upper level courses, younger students could also benefit from the equipment in the form of virtual field trips.

"This will allow us to access all sorts of things," said Nolan. "For example, the Smithsonian offers a virtual field trip."

The idea for the grant began after Nolan and several other superintendents visited Missouri State's virtual school, which allows students in rural communities to learn from a college instructor who has a SMART board and videoconferening equipment set up in his or her office.

"It's learning in real time," said Nolan. "Kids will be in a class together here at the school with a supervising teacher and they can communicate back and forth with the instructor in Springfield."

Through this grant, Exeter, Crane and Verona will be connected with Missouri Virtual School at MSU utilizing the state-wide MOREnet network, which already provides Internet service to all elementary, secondary and higher education institutions in the state. The districts will be adding a video agreement with MOREnet to support video conferencing.

In addition to using the technology to offer upper level dual credit and advanced placement (AP) courses, Exeter may also use it to access foreign language classes.

Students typically pay to participate in dual credit courses, because in addition to receiving high school credit for the course, they also earn college credit.

Nolan said she would like to see the district pay a portion of the cost for dual-credit courses but said no decision on this proposal has been made yet.

"If our students can't afford these classes, the technology won't be used," said Nolan.

In support of the grant, the three districts will be providing matching funds. Exeter and Verona have pledged an $18,000 match, and Crane will provide a $25,000 match.

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