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Rural Alaska Schools to Use Federal Funds to Increase Distance Learning, Teacher Development

Two Alaska school districts will receive grants to increase technology, distance learning systems, and teacher development opportunities across several rural schools through the federal Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program.

Jim Nordlund, Alaska State director for the United States Department of Agriculture-Rural Development, announced last week that the two districts will receive a total of about $894,000 in an effort to expand educational opportunities in rural communities.

The Hydaburg School District in Southwest Alaska will receive $500,000 to purchase video conferencing equipment, which will allow students to participate virtually in "vocationally oriented and high-interest curricula" at the University of Alaska Southeast. Students will also be able to use the technology to experience "virtual field trips" and connect with Alaska Native students in other parts of the country. Teachers will use the equipment to access professional development content.

The Annette Island School District, also in south Alaska, will receive about $394,000 to establish a distance learning system that will connect students across six districts.

Improving Native American schools has been a recent focus of the U.S. Department of Education, which in 2012, created a pilot program to increase the role of tribal education agencies in educating their students. That year, the Education Department awarded nearly $2 million to improve education in American Indian and Alaska Native schools. This year, Alaska was awarded more than $1 million to continue improvement efforts in its lowest performing schools.

According to an article last year in The Hechinger ReportNative schools in rural Alaska are often faced with a host of challenges, including low graduation rates and a struggle to meet federal guidelines while also preserving native culture and language

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