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USDA money strengthens local education

RICH SQUARE – If you could imagine a place where students from northeast North Carolina would be able to reap the same educational benefits as those sitting in the classrooms at some of the most prestigious universities or those in metropolitan cities, what would it look like?

Most people would be able to picture a large busload of kids on a field trip to the state capital or the expansive turf of a large college bursting with technological resources and other useful computer-oriented devices than entertaining the idea that something that remarkable could take root right in their own back yard.

But, thanks to a $445,143 check presented Wednesday to the Roanoke River Valley Education Consortium at the Roanoke Center from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), parents, teachers, administrators and students alike no longer have to imagine, they will know.

The grant provides funding for an Internet-protocol video conferencing network of multi-media sensory classrooms to address critical instructional and staff development needs. The Roanoke Center will serve as the hub for the network.

According to Roanoke Electric Cooperative (REC) Executive Vice President and CEO, Curtis Wynn, the network will connect the Center with six high schools and two community colleges in the region, allowing area schools an opportunity to tap into resources previously inaccessible to rural communities.

&uot;This is a much-needed asset to the community,&uot; said Hertford County Superintendent Dennis Deloatch, adding that the video conferencing would help expose young people to different technology and resources.

The project, which is being implemented through the Consortium, is scheduled to commence immediately.

&uot;We are already in the first phase of the project,&uot; Deloatch said. &uot;We have already ordered the equipment.&uot;

Dr. Ted H. Gasper Jr., President of Halifax Community College (HCC), who has been working towards obtaining funding for distance learning since 1998 said, &uot;This is very important to us, especially in light of the unique transportation challenges that face many of our students. Where it was impossible before to get someone from the lower half of Northampton County here for an eight o’clock English class, students will soon be able to learn via teleconferencing.&uot;

Dr. Mary Wyatt, President of Roanoke-Chowan Community College (RCCC) agreed. &uot;This will certainly help us to accomplish our goals of meeting the needs of those in our community.&uot;

Despite the overall project cost of $800,000, each of the schools will be able to function as a hub, allowing specially-trained area certified teachers to instruct students in any of the locations and provide a link to courses offered through HCC and RCCC through teleconferencing. That feat is made possible through a partnership between local, private, state and federal agencies, including a combined match of $300,000 in funds from each of the school districts, the Roanoke Center, HCC and RCCC.

Taking place in the historic event was Congressman G.K Butterfield, NC USDA Director John Cooper, representatives from the offices of Senator Richard Burr and Senator Elizabeth Dole as well as representatives from the NC General Assembly along with local government and educational leaders.

&uot;I have been fortunate enough to have three children graduate from Duke University,&uot; said Cooper. &uot;I believe when it comes to educating our children, every student should have the opportunity to go to a good school and gain the kind of quality education that will give them the edge they need to compete in the global economy.&uot;

He continued, &uot;I am very familiar with this area. I know the people and have worked with the peanut and cotton farmers. I understand the needs of the area and there is no better place to be than here, so rest assured we’re committed to doing all we can.&uot;

Congressman Butterfield, who serves on the Agricultural Committee as well as the Armed Services Committee, said in light of serious fiscal challenges of the $427 billion dollar deficit in the 2005 budget, he is committed to conservative fiscal practices.

&uot;I don’t believe spending more than you make is good policy,&uot; he said. &uot;We have to get our spending under control because inevitably that impacts rural America.&uot;

Butterfield stated that as the 15th poorest district in America, unless the problem of deficit spending was addressed, it would not be possible to bring funds into the counties. He also cited the &uot;tremendous gap between urban and rural achievement&uot; and acknowledged the task ahead.

&uot;We have a lot of work to do, but as we struggle with limited resources, this project shows how partnerships and cutting edge technologies can be used effectively to meet the needs of students in poor rural areas like eastern NC,&uot; he said.

&uot;The Bush administration recognizes the importance of technology in bringing new resources to rural America,&uot; Cooper said. &uot;Information technology is critical to North Carolina and this grant will improve the ability of students to have access to state-of-the-art educational programs.&uot;

He added, &uot;We have developed a great relationship with the consortium as well as others who have partnered in this effort and we are honored that the Roanoke Center is taking this on.&uot;

The mission of USDA Rural Development is to deliver programs that will support increasing economic opportunity and improve the quality of life of rural residents.

Rural Development also provides equity and technical assistance to finance and foster growth in home ownership, business development and critical community and technology infrastructure.

For additional information on rural programs, visit www.usda.gov.