A federal grant will provide Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES school districts with distance learning opportunities.
“We’re officially announcing our award from a [U.S. Department of Agriculture] grant on behalf of the school districts,” said Mark Vivacqua, Herkimer BOCES district superintendent, during an announcement at the school on Thursday. “It’s a very competitive grant. Everything had to fall into place perfectly.”
The grant will provide $338,716 to the BOCES school district and will include the purchase of 26 endpoints (monitors) — two for each of the 12 school districts in BOCES and two for BOCES classrooms. It also will provide for distance learning training and infrastructure.
Currently the 12 districts offer a combined 21 Advanced Placement courses, but most individual districts only have the funding to provide one or two AP courses to their students.
“Our students have continued to lose opportunities due to budget cuts, and distance education is a tool which has the promise of restoring some of what has been lost,” said Vivacqua in a news release.
James Piccolla, director of secondary programs at Herkimer BOCES, said teachers are currently being trained on how to use the technology and he expects for the distance learning classrooms to be implemented as early as September.
“It’s not just Ilion, but all school districts in the county are going to benefit,” said Dan LaLonde, president of the Ilion Central School Board of Education. “It’s going to open up new ideas for students and teacher and get them excited about learning.”
Piccolla demonstrated how the technology would work by using one of the endpoints to connect to teacher Lance Ford in Howe, Okla. Ford, a T4 trainer for CISCO Systems, talked with the audience present for the announcement and brought up Google Map on the monitor. He then showed how he was able to circle Howe’s location, and also write notes on the screen from where he was, but those in the audience could see it.
“Because we’re rural, we’re three-and-a-half hours away from Oklahoma City, three-and-a-half hours away from Little Rock, and four-and-a half hours away from Dallas, this way we can bring in some awesome material to our students and the students can put out some awesome content,” said Ford.
“We’re not as educated as we need to be to rebuild the middle class,” said U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, R - Barneveld. “That American dream we all talk about and think about, you guys [BOCES] are doing that right here.”
Vivacqua thanked the efforts of several local officials who penned letters of support, which were included with the grant application. This included state Assemblyman Marc Butler, state Sen. James Seward, Herkimer County Administrator James Wallace, Herkimer County Sheriff Christopher Farber, Herkimer County Employment and Training Administration Director Karen Zipko and Herkimer County Community College President Ann Marie Murray.
Page 2 of 2 - Vivacqua noted while this opportunity will be available, there needs to be participation from the students. “We’re having an engagement crisis with kids,” he said, noting they are working with the Herkimer County Chamber of Commerce about getting students interested in careers.
“Students have to want to take the courses. That’s the difficult end of it,” he said.
The 12 component school districts include Dolgeville, Frankfort-Schuyler, Herkimer, Ilion, Little Falls, Mohawk, Mount Markham, Oppenheim-Ephratah, Owen D. Young, Poland, Richfield Springs and West Canada Valley.
Hanna made other stops throughout the region on Thursday, including participating in Flag Day celebrations at Benton Hall Academy in Little Falls and Conkling Elementary School in Utica, and the Herkimer County Senior Picnic in Frankfort.