USDA grant to further evolve school district’s videoconferencing

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Tuesday, November 24, 2015 10:49pm
  • News

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is one of six Alaska school districts that will receive a portion of the United States Department of Agriculture’s nearly $22 million available through the Distance Leaning and Telemedicine 2015 grant.

Thirteen designated sites will receive equipment purchased from the allocated $354,647.

“As we look to the future of education, technology and blended learning opportunities are important aspects for our students’ success and this grant allows us to better equip our classrooms to meet the personalized learning needs of our students,” said Director of Secondary Education John Pothast.

Students in Port Graham, Nanwalek, the three schools in the Old Believer Russian Orthodox villages outside Homer, Homer, Nikolaevesk, the Central Kenai Peninsula area and Anchor Point will be able to use the new technology by the start of the 2016–2017 school year, Pothast said.

“The schools were chosen in part because of their rural status and their need to access educational opportunities via this equipment,” Pothast said. “… Some of the larger schools (such as Homer High School and Skyview Middle School) were chosen because they lacked equipment, but with the appropriate equipment can be a source and resource for the smaller, rural schools.”

All of the school district’s buildings use video conferencing, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff.

Across the district, it is incorporated into the professional development of staff and administrators and for instructional purposes. Soldotna Prep teacher Rob Sparks, Soldotna High School teacher Gregory Weissenberg and Kenai Central High School teacher Greg Zorbas have used video conferencing to connect their students with others across the globe.

It has been used for peninsula-wide public forums, such as budget discussions, and connecting with congressional offices in Washington, D.C., Erkeneff said. It also has helped administrators attend on-site events that weather has prevented physically flying to, as happened when Nanwalek School was presented with iPads through Apple’s ConnectED initiative.

Assistant Superintendent John O’Brien and Information Services Programmer Casey Olson did the background work for the grant application, and Tiffany Eck, who works in the Secondary Education and Student Activities department, wrote the grant, Pothast said.

“Technologically, this project brings exciting new resources to the schools in our project,” the school district’s grant application reads. “Simply by downloading an ‘app’ from the App Store, students can turn their laptops, tablets or phones into personalized distance learning devices, connecting to other students for the sake of collaboration, or to counselors or special educators. For students in some of our smallest locations, this capability opens a world of opportunities!”

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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