Media Archive

Penquis schools receive Gates Foundation funding boost

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 25, June 18, 2003

By Ben Bragdon
Staff Writer

GUILFORD Already a leader in the integration of technology and education, Piscataquis Community High School will have an opportunity to further expand the capabilities of computers in the classroom thanks to one of the medium's pioneers.

The Guilford high school will institute a number of programs over the next year funded by grants awarded last week by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the charitable organization set up by Microsoft's founder. Each of the programs will focus on enhancing and augmenting the use of computer technology in the classroom.

PCHS recieved $10,000 to underwrite the cost of a "boot camp" for students to be held the first week of August. Over the course of five days, 30 to 40 students will attend training seminars at the school that will create a corps of teacher's aides to help with computer-related questions in the classroom. Students will be chosen based on their demonstrated technological ability as well as their enthusiasm for the subject.

"The idea is to really teach them to use the software tools on the machine as well as some troubleshooting," said SAD 4 technology director Crystal Priest, who will run the camp.

"What we want is to have in every class we offer at least one person who can help the teacher," said PCHS
principal Bruce Lindberg.

"We'll bring in some of our more accomplished teachers, but also authorities from here and New England," he said.

"There should be a lot of interesting things for the kids to do," said Priest, who added that some teachers have expressed an interest in attending the camp as well as a way to improve their skills.

Another grant from the Gates Foundation will provide the school with a technology "coach", who will spend a total of 40 days spread throughout the year at PCHS helping both students and teachers better understand and utilize computer technology as an educational tool. The coaching grant is renewable, Lindberg said.

The school will also receive an initial planning grant of $10,000 to conduct a research project into the effects
of technology on the school's learning environment and educational capabilities.

PCHS presented the ideas for the programs in a proposal to the Great Maine Schools Project, which is the program through which the Gates grants are administered, and it was met with approval.

"We feel its an intriguing model," said Pam Fisher of the Great Maine Schools Policy Board in the letter confirming the grants. "We agree that it is critically important to understand the impact of technology on teaching and learning."

PCHS and the rest of SAD 4 have been recognized across the state and country as leaders in the integration
of computer technology in the classroom. They are one of only a few school districts in the Northeast that have one-to-one computer access for all students grades 6-12, and they were one of six pilot schools for the MLTI statewide laptop program.

Other local schools will also benefit from the Gates Foundation and the Great Maine Schools project. A $10,000 planning grant was also awarded to Dexter Regional High School to use in a program that will bring
together students from Dexter, PCHS and Penquis Valley.

The class schedules for those three high schools have been sychronized so that common classes can be offered. Starting next year, students will be able to take classes through the Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) system, which connects classrooms over distance with real-time interactive voice and video. PCHS will offer government and Spanish 4, Dexter will handle Maine history and calculus, and Penquis Valley will run marketing and environmental science.

"Each school is going to put out two classes on the ATM, and each school will be able to receive four," said Dexter principal Bruce Bailey.

Bailey said plans to use the ATM system to connect the schools were already part of "virtual consolidation" plans by the districts that increase educational opportunities in the region while saving resources.

"It gives us some depth," he said. "We are going to receive government, we are going to receive marketing, and we are going to receive AP (Advanced Placement) Environmental Science. That's three subjects that I could not teach here, so it makes these available to our young people."

Bailey said the arrangement allows a school that has only a few students interested in a particular subject to offer that course without all the additional costs.

The Gates Foundation last week committed $10 million to improve Maine high schools through the Promising Futures initiative. Ten schools, spread over ten Maine counties, will receive annual grants of $40,000-$60,000 over the next five years. Other schools will receive support for planning and studying technological-based programs, while still more schools will get one-time grants of $ 10,000 to jump start a particular initiative.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.