Grant going to ‘rural’ schools

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2006

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
BERRIEN SPRINGS - U.S. Rep. Fred Upton participated in Monday afternoon's announcement at Berrien County Intermediate School District (BCISD) of its award of a $350,000 Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development office.
The three-year grant will provide Polycom video conferencing units to 35 middle and elementary schools in Cass and Berrien counties, including Dowagiac, Niles, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Marcellus and Buchanan.
Schools were selected based on high “rurality” scores as defined by the township population from 2000 census data and high poverty scores from the national school lunch program.
Almost every high school in the BCISD's service area is already equipped with a Polycom unit to allow students to participate in video conferences and video field trips thanks to a similar grant in 1999.
Because the Polycoms are housed in high schools, they provide limited access to students outside that building.
When classes from a district's middle or elementary school wish to use video technology, they have to be transported to the high school.
Having Polycoms on-site will decrease classroom interruptions, providing a seamless transition from classroom instruction to an interactive video conference held right in their own building.
Janine Lim, instructional technology consultant, added, “In a March 2004 survey of local educators, over 79 percent of the respondents indicated they would participate in videoconferences to enrich their curriculum if they had access to the equipment in their building. Now we can bring our successful distance learning program to even more students and teachers in our service area.”
Newly-approved USDA Rural Development Michigan Director Gene DeRossett presented local officials with an oversized $350,000 check.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns on Feb. 1 announced the appointment of DeRossett as state director for USDA Rural Development. The Manchester resident served in the Michigan Legislature as a state representative from 1999 to 2004. As a lawmaker, he chaired the Agriculture and Resource Management Committee and the Transportation Committee.
He is a licensed real estate agent and licensed general contractor, being a founder and president of DeRossett Construction Inc.
Upton, who visits at least one school in his district every week, said, “What we have for our high school students is perfectly acceptable for our elementary and middle school students, too. They are the ones who really are the future, they are the ones who need technology, they are the ones who can benefit from this - even at an early age.
Chris Siebenmark represented state Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, who taught school for 30 years before becoming a lawmaker. “Anytime we're able to move the classroom forward, Ron's very excited. Lifelong learning in Berrien and Cass counties has now moved up to worldwide learning. It's a very exciting time.”
Districts receiving one or more units for their middle and/or elementary schools also include Berrien Springs, Bridgman, Coloma, Eau Claire, Galien, New Buffalo, River Valley and Watervliet.
BCISD's instructional technology department will continue to provide organizational and technical support to schools utilizing Polycom units.
BCISD generated more than $190,000 in matching funds to secure the RUS grant.
USDA received 227 grant applications this year. Seventy-nine of those applicants, including four in Michigan, were selected to receive the RUS grant. During the past five years, USDA's Rural Development sector has invested more than $4.6 billion in telecommunications programs across America.