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Federal BOCES grant to boost distance health learning

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A federal grant will fund distance learning upgrades to connect 41 rural New York schools to Advanced Placement classes, medical courses and specialized instructors.

U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide $987,267 in grants to schools within the Board of Cooperative Educational Services jurisdictions in Jefferson, Lewis, Herkimer, St. Lawrence, Hamilton and Oneida counties.

The technology improvements will let students take an Advanced Placement class without having to travel or require the district to pay a faculty member for just a few students. Of the 41 schools awarded grant money, 19 will be able to provide their students with distance-learning programs for the first time.

Jennifer M. French, senior superintendent for school improvement at St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, said the system will improve communication and open up opportunities for rural students.

As of Dec. 13, there were 189 open health-care jobs in St. Lawrence County, 124 in Jefferson County, four in Lewis County and five in Herkimer County, according to the state Department of Labor.

The BOCES schools receiving the grants will use the funds to purchase video teleconferencing units. One grant totaling $487,267 will fund upgraded technology and equipment at a BOCES site in Watertown that will let the region’s students access advanced medical and mental health courses at Clarkson University, Potsdam, Jefferson Community College, Le Moyne College in Syracuse, Syracuse University and the Syracuse University School of Medicine.

A second grant, totaling $500,000, will allow for technological upgrades in St. Lawrence and Lewis counties that will help BOCES consolidate low-demand courses and offer Advanced Placement courses and enrichment programs. It also will support individualized learning and special needs education, teacher training, continuing education and adult learning programs. St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas R. Burns said the grant comes at a beneficial time for the organization.

“We’ve had distance learning for many years, but I know technology is evolving so quickly,” Mr. Burns said. “Timing is perfect.”

Ms. French said BOCES started planning for technology improvements two years ago to upgrade the fiber-optic system that had been installed 10 years ago.

“We needed to make the move to Internet Protocol. Right now we’ve been working on a system that will only allow communication in our network. The new system will allow the schools to connect our 18 districts to other schools and colleges,” Ms. French said.

The system improvements will aid in professional development for educators to hold a teleconference from their home district. Ms. French said the distance learning technician, Steven G. Fenton, already goes out of his way to arrange for any student in the district who is home because of a medical condition to do classwork online.

“We will be working over the next month to put out bids and arrange for the purchase of the new equipment,” Ms. French said. With laptops, students can learn from home. Additionally, she said, about 12 classrooms will be set up for the tele-classroom.

She said the goal is to have the entire system in place by the time students return from summer vacation in September.

“This is going to be an improvement for our program,” Ms. French said.

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