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$2.3 million in USDA distance-learning grants for Alaska Natives

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published December 8, 2011
Five Alaska school districts and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium have won $2.3 million in federal grants to provide distance learning and telemedicine courses.

The money, awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program, will help improve educational opportunities for Alaska Native students and residents living in rural villages accessible only by boat or plane, said Jim Nordlund, director of the USDA Rural Development program in Alaska.

Funding recipients have operated with minimal or outdated equipment and technology, he said in a press release from USDA. One example of distance learning takes place in Barrow, where Jana Harcharek, Inupiaq education director, provides dual-credit distance-learning courses through Ilisagvik College.

The release describes how the awards will be used:

• Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium ($201,650): Allows at-home monitoring of Alaska Natives residing in remote areas who suffer with diabetes and other chronic diseases. Monitoring will include 220 new devices capable of transmitting blood glucose, blood pressure, pulse, weight and other vital signs monitored 24-7 by a call center.

• Yukon-Koyukuk School District ($454,938): Extends current distance learning services to seven schools in Yukon Flats, including a vocational education center bringing access to a wider range of teachers. It also allows access to career-oriented, continuing education, dual credit and traditional courses along with teacher development and support.

• Yakutat School District City/Borough ($499,635): Ties 515 remote home-schooled Alaska students into the Unlimited Learning Center in Cortez, Colo., an organization that will provide vocational training in healthcare, hospitality, culinary arts and office administration through courses, including core curriculum for high school, dual credit, AP coursework, and a variety of vocational courses leading to certifications.

• Lower Kuskokwim School District ($500,000): Replaces existing, but technically outdated, two-way video system with new technology that will double the availability of courses. Introduces enhanced functionality such as media capture, streaming and video management.

• Kodiak Island Borough School District ($294,958): Links two distance-learning studios in Kodiak with eight schools in coastal villages on the island. Educators will deliver core subjects, adopt science technology, engineering and mathematics, provide virtual field trips and participate in professional teacher development courses

• Northwest Arctic Borough School District ($315,160): Purchase video-conferencing equipment for the 11 villages served in the region. Replaces the limited and outdated distance learning modes currently used.