May 24, 2018
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USDA funds to aid schools in Aroostook County

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

CARIBOU, Maine — Visiting a museum in Washington, D.C., or getting an up-close look at dolphins at an aquarium in Florida will be just one mouse click away now that more that 20 schools are set to benefit from their share of approximately $1 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

Officials with USDA Rural Development announced Wednesday that it has awarded approximately $1 million in funding for distance learning and telemedicine equipment to benefit the Caribou School Department and the Region 2 School of Applied Technology in Houlton.

In central Aroostook County, more than 20 schools will be receiving Tandberg telecommunication equipment for a wide variety of educational enrichment activities, including courses in CPR and CNA certification, as a result of the grant awarded to the Caribou School Department. The school department served as the official grant applicant for nine area school systems that are part of the Central Aroostook Council on Education.

The council is a partnership consisting of SAD 1 in Presque Isle, SAD 20 in Fort Fairfield, SAD 32 in Ashland, SAD 42 in Mars Hill, SAD 45 in Washburn, Caribou, Easton, Limestone, and the University of Maine at Presque Isle. CACE, which maintains its office space at UMPI, has been in existence for more than 15 years.

David Ouellette, CACE executive director, said Wednesday that it’s hard to explain all of the benefits the equipment will bring to the schools.

“This grant puts a [telecommunications] unit in almost all of the CACE buildings,” he explained. “The equipment is portable and has a 52-inch LCD screen. The equipment connects to the Internet so that whoever is using the device can connect to other schools and sites with similar equipment.”

Once connected, he said, teachers and students can interact with classrooms around the U.S. and the world.

“A classroom full of students can then take virtual trips to museums, aquariums and more,” he explained. “We are so excited to have this equipment.”

The equipment also will allow educators to connect with consultants and specialists throughout the U.S. for professional development purposes.

“We believe this is going to save us a lot of money in travel expenses,” said Ouellette. “A lot of our educators are on state committees that require travel to Augusta or Portland. Now, they can just use the telecommunications equipment to connect.”

Because some of the equipment will be located at UMPI, it also will allow high school students to take early college courses remotely as well as provide recertification and graduate course opportunities for area teachers.

Ouellette said he hopes to have all the technology online by midwinter.

The Region 2 School of Applied Technology also will be receiving Tandberg telecommunication equipment. Director Mike Howard said the equipment will link vocational and technical centers in 11 Maine counties.

“This is going to give us a chance to have greater teacher collaboration and have classroom-to-classroom communication,” he said Wednesday. “With this technology, a teacher in one of our classrooms in Houlton can link with a teacher in a classroom in Lincoln. We also expect it will save on travel costs for teachers and staff.”

Located in Houlton, Region 2 will serve as the coordinating site for 18 participants, including the Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center. Other participating sites include St. John Valley Technology Center in Frenchville, Husson University in Bangor, the New England School of Communications in Bangor, Unobskey College in Calais and The Boat School in Eastport.

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