Franklin Countys First News

Grant to enhance local special education learning opportunities

RANGELEY - Connecting educators to professional development programs and students to a world of educational opportunities is now possible thanks to a USDA Rural Development grant of $441,841 to the Regional School Union 78.

The Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant, to be administered by the Rangeley School Department, will provide 23 area schools with video conferencing equipment to aid their special education programs.

Rangeley is one of 10 projects funded in Maine for a total of $3,183,473 invested in rural communities. This is the most of any state in the country - the highest dollar amount and largest number of recipients, according to USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. With 18 percent of Maine’s K-12 students requiring special education, the grant will provide new access to assistance from physiologists, physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, audiologists, and other disability specialists – regardless of geographic restraints.

Locally, Rangeley's latest funding is an extension of a grant awarded a few years ago that provided telecommunications equipment installed in schools in the western mountain region. The technology already in use has connected teachers with other teachers across the state and classrooms to events thousands of miles away.

RSU Superintendent Brian Foster said the virtual field trips are especially important to the rural areas of the state because they offer boundless educational opportunities to students and their teachers. For example, for a Thanksgiving study unit, Rangeley's students were able to meet, via the telecommunications technology, with professional reenactors dressed as pilgrims in Virginia. In another instance, students at Stratton Elementary School regularly meet on screen with advanced freshmen math students at Mt. Abram High School.

The extension grant is focused on using the technology to enhance special education programs. Directors won't have to travel long distances to statewide meetings, hospitalized students can attend class via a screen and consultations with speech therapists who work with children, for example, can meet special education instructors on a regular basis.

"It's using technology to be able to increase the availability of programs," Foster said. It will also allow for professional development programs, including those offered at the University of Maine at Farmington, for teachers when previously, "It was so hard for us to be able to attend," he said.

"For me in Rangeley, being as isolated as we are, this gives a wonderful opportunity to be able tp meet with other teachers without making the long drive," Foster said.

Nationwide, 106 projects have been selected to receive more than $34.7 million in grants to fund educational projects and expand access to health care services in rural areas through USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program. Further information on rural programs is available at: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/me.

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