North Country
4:21 pm
Wed December 28, 2011

Federal Funds To Help North Country Schools Expand Horizons

A new federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide about $500,000 for North Country schools.

It is the largest grant of its kind in more than a decade and educators hope it will greatly expand the horizons of students and teachers.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Only about 500 people live in Stark, which is in Coos County, just east of Groveton.

So you can imagine the school is quite tiny.

Sound of children chattering….

Stepping into the Stark Village School is like putting on the wayback machine, going to a charming time of small, close-knit communities.

The school has just 26 students. One classroom holds kindergarten through 3rdgrade, the other fourth through 6thgrade

But being small has its advantages says teaching principal Shelli Roberts.

“I really feel like the students here receive a private individualized education and that’s one of the advantages of having a multi-grade classroom is the teachers have to work extra hard to ensure that all of the students are meeting the curriculum and getting what they need.”

But soon Stark should have horizon that goes far beyond the valley in which it sits.

That’s thanks to a new almost half million dollar federal grant aimed at helping 18 North Country schools get high-tech, video-conferencing equipment.

In some schools –like Stark Village - it will replace equipment that is more than a decade old.

Ray Healey heads up North Country Education Services in Gorham. It got the grant.

“It opens up all kinds of possibilities of improving instruction as well as staff development.”

Stark can really benefit from the grant.

While teachers love the individualized attention they can give their students, they lack money for things like field trips.

The new video equipment will make virtual field trips possible.

Stark teacher Bridget Young:

“I think it is going to be extremely helpful for the students especially in such a rural and isolated area for them to be able to experience as much as possible what it is like to be there without actually the huge cost of getting there.”

Stark’s principal, says one goal this year has been to get her students in touch with students in other countries.

That could happen with the new video conferencing system, says SAU 58 technology director Karen Conroy.

“There are a lot of schools all over the world that are available that do these types of activities and you hear about them in a lot of the larger schools because they already have the equipment set up properly. So, I think it may expose them to other areas of the country, other areas of the world.”

The new equipment will also make it possible to teach a class that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

For example if only a few students are interested in an unusual subject the video conferencing would allow a handful of students in several schools to be linked to a teacher with special expertise.

Matt Treamer is the technology director at North Country Education Services:

“We’ve had up to 10 or 11 teachers willing to offer classes everything from Spanish, to French to Latin.”

At the Groveton High School social studies teacher Andrew Lefebvre teaches an elective class called Mock Trial, The Constitution and Law.

He gets four or five students in each class but he thinks offering to students in other schools would be great for everyone.

“In specific mock trial cases where you have different students playing different roles, lawyers, prosecution, defense, there could be witnesses. In some cases I do allow them to be a judge. So, it depends how many people we have in the class how effective that portion is. So, I think with more participation it could be really neat.”

The program will be getting under way during the coming year.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen.

More information about the USDA's distance-learning program: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/UTP_DLT.html

Information about North Country Education Services: http://www.ncedservices.org/

USDA announcement: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/STELPRD4013612.html