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USDA Awards Nearly $500,000 to Four Vermont School Districts To Expand Virtual Learning Network

Jacqueline Susmann
Release Date
Nov 20, 2014

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Thursday that schools in Bennington County, Franklin County, Rutland County, Caledonia County and Orange County will use a $498,856 grant to connect students and teachers across the state using technology. The USDA Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant will allow 19 schools to purchase videoconferencing equipment and new software to give students and teachers virtual access to classes and professional development opportunities unavailable in their own school district.

"Distance learning provides rural students with world class educational opportunities at a reasonable cost," said USDA Rural Development State Director Ted Brady. "By bringing classes to students over the internet, the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative, Marlboro College, and these schools are helping to increase available course offerings to students without busting a small school’s budget."

The grant funds will allow four school districts -- Vermont Southwest Supervisory Union, Blue Mountain Union School District No. 21, Rutland Central Supervisory Union and Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union – to participate in the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC). The VTVLC is a statewide virtual learning program run through River Valley Technical Center in Springfield, Vermont. In addition, teachers will be able to participate in professional development training through Marlboro College.

Approximately 5,000 students will be able to take classes not offered by their school’s curriculum online through VTVLC. New professional development for teachers regarding embedding technology in education and technology use evaluation techniques will be available through Marlboro College.

"As the rising costs of education continue to be a barrier for many in rural Vermont, we applaud USDA-Rural Development for funding high quality distance learning opportunities to 5000 students in 19 schools across Vermont," said U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and U.S. Congressman Peter Welch in a prepared statement. "We appreciate that this grant also invests in one of Vermont’s greatest assets – our educators – by creating new professional development offerings through Marlboro College. The Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative is an excellent example of a strong partnership between local school and higher education leaders, with the goal of providing Vermont students the critical skills needed to succeed in the digital age."

Purchase, installation and full curriculum implementation of the new technology is scheduled to be completed during fall 2016.

This project is one of 65 nationwide Distance Learning and Telemedicine projects funded by $20,396,309 in USDA Rural Development grants during 2014.

USDA Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program is specifically designed to assist rural communities acquire distance learning and telemedicine technologies to connect students, rural patients and rural residents needing various services directly to the source needed in their communities.

President Obama's historic investments in rural America have made our rural communities stronger. Under his leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.

USDA, through its RD mission area, administers and manages housing, business and community infrastructure programs through a national network of state and local offices. Rural Development has an active portfolio of more than $206.2 billion in loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural areas. For more information on Rural Development visit the Vermont/New Hampshire Rural Development website (www.rurdev.usda.gov/nh-vtHome.html) or contact USDA RD at (802) 828-6000.