By Jaime Thomas
Hartford students will soon have the opportunity to learn alongside students from Fort Ann, Salem, Argyle and other nearby districts.
School Superintendent Andrew Cook announced the district’s plan to open a distance learning classroom this fall during a board meeting last Monday.
Come September, students throughout Washington County will be able to take elective courses in a smart classroom with three televisions, on which a teacher will be projected live into various schools. It is not online learning, merely a joint classroom of students in various schools.
“This was a way in which we can share courses. It’s a way to expand student opportunities and maintain staffing,” Cook said.
As state aid remains low and schools are forced to look for ways to save, upper level or elective courses often get cut. With this initiative, districts can pool their resources to maintain diverse educational offerings.
“It’s providing the opportunities for students that we otherwise wouldn’t in a rural community,” Cook said, mentioning sports marketing and management as an example of a distance learning class.
In neighboring Granville, District Superintendent Mark Bessen said the school has been offering distance learning for years. He sees several benefits to the program.
“It’s classes we teach that other districts don’t have the staffing or funds to teach,” he said. Granville, for example, offers a marine biology course that outside students are enrolled in, while Granville students are able to take part in agriculture technology and equestrian management courses offered elsewhere.
“They not only get the course they wanted, but they get to meet children from other districts,” Bessen said. He said despite their being in separate buildings, the distance learning students are able to interact with each other and meet during field trips, a chance that has even led to prom dates in the past.
Cook said the distance courses will be conducted in the same way as a conventional course, and though the teacher on the screen is in charge, there will also be an adult physically in the classroom.
Bessen thinks more districts will continue to turn to distance learning.
“I think it’s something rural schools will have to do more of, so we can increase the number of offerings for our children and compete with downstate districts,” he said.
Cook said the program was an idea that came out of the regionalization study Washington County schools underwent last year. BOCES will reimburse 70 percent of the $75,000 installation fee, which will be spread out over two years. And once Hartford is hooked up, it will have unlimited access to the network.
This will not only bring a dramatic increase to broadband access both in the school and in Hartford, but it may also allow adult learners to take night classes at nearby SUNY Adirondack, Cook said.