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Northampton students benefit from high-tech education

CONWAY – Friday morning, Jessica Matte, a Spanish teacher with Northampton County Schools, taught her students at both Northampton County High School—East and West, at the same time.

Matte was able to teach the two classes from opposite sides of the county together through the latest distance learning technology in the schools.

Both classrooms feature cameras and microphones to allow students and their teacher to communicate and learn. The images of the classes are projected onto screens on both sides, which let the participants see one another.

“It’s through the inside network, not the Internet,” said Northampton County Schools Technology Director Rhonda Moses. “But it can be monitored through the Internet anywhere.”

Facilitator Jeffery Robinson, located at NCHS—West, controls the cameras and the microphones for Matte. He zooms in and out on each student on either side of the county.

The classrooms also include high level projectors, a document camera to show assignments, and laptops and DVD players that are utilized in the classroom for education.

Students can submit assignments through e-mail as well as share documents and power point presentations.

“We’re looking at museums for virtual field trips,” said Mel Cherry, network administrator for the school district.

Virtual field trips would offer students a chance to experience educational information from different places and experts without leaving the classroom.

Both Cherry and Moses said NASA has offered scientists for classes.

Matte’s classes started to use the technology in January, though the equipment has been in the schools for the past 18 months. Then it was used only by teachers for staff development.

“The bandwidth support wasn’t there (for a quality picture),” said Moses.

Since then the system now has high bandwidth, which provides a higher quality picture for the students.

“We have one Spanish teacher to cover the county; with the use of this technology we’re able to simultaneously teach the students,” said Northampton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathi Gibson.

Gibson also stated the technology it will help with the problem of attracting and retaining teachers in the school system.

Through the distance learning technology the schools may be able to cross school systems.

“Our goal, perhaps next year, is to send or receive classes,” said Gibson.

Quinton Shoulars, 18, who is a member of the class at NCHS—East, says he enjoys the class and receives help from the other students in NCHS—West.

“I’ve learned more in the past week than I have in the last semester,” said Shoulars.

NCHS—East Jerriel Mundy, 17, also says he has benefited from working with the other students. He also likes the fact that he doesn’t have a substitute teacher for his Spanish class.

“I have a teacher now, which before I didn’t,” said Mundy.

NCHS—East Principal Pamela Chamblee said the technology has been an opportunity, especially for a rural school like NCHS—East.

“I think it’s opened doors for our students,” said Chamblee. “It helps them stay on their chosen pathway.”

The technology is possible through a 2005 Roanoke River Valley Consortium USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) grant.

Others that are part of the consortium are Bertie, Hertford and Warren counties as well as Weldon High School in Halifax County.

Northampton County is the first to have the technology up and running.