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Grant to fund distance learning

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Monday, November 12, 2018

Edgecombe County Public Schools is of the recipients of a recent round of Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The school district will receive $162,989 to “assist Edgecombe County Public Schools with implementing distance learning labs through the purchase and installation of video-conferencing equipment,” a grant announcement stated.

“We are extremely happy about this grant,” said Matthew Mayo, director of technology for Edgecombe County Public Schools. “This is one more way to amplify the opportunities for our students to be career and college ready.”

Mayo, who was instrumental in applying for the grant, said the money will be used to provide new distance learning labs at each of the four high schools in the district.

“These learning labs will allow students to connect virtually with teachers at other schools. They may also be able to connect to the community college and other sources to be able to offer courses to students that we cannot offer now,” Mayo said.

Mayo said students sometimes desire to take courses that the school district cannot offer because there are not enough interested students at a high school to justify the cost. With the new technology, interested students from all four high schools can take the course together without leaving their respective high schools.

Edgecombe County Public Schools will also have the capacity to expand course offerings even if no teacher in the district is available to teach that course, Mayo said.

“Some of these courses may be teacher-created courses and some may be from other sources like Edmentum or North Carolina Virtual Public Schools,” Mayo said. “We are looking now at how to create blended learning models so that students also have access to a teacher.  We don’t want this to be a strictly online model. Most students need a human connection to be successful.”

Mayo said he is excited about the opportunities for professional development the new distance learning labs will offer. As part of the grant, teachers will be trained to use the labs and will be able to use the labs to learn more about their own teaching craft.

“Teachers will be better able to collaborate with others in their field to gain knowledge,” Mayo said.

The distance learning labs will not be fully available until next fall, but Mayo said the school district will begin planning for future courses this spring.

“We plan to create a student focus group, a teacher focus group and a parent focus group as we discuss our options,” Mayo said. “Through this project, we are really trying to provide students with more voice and choice,  impact student engagement, increase the rigor of our course offerings.”

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