MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Wednesday the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $72 million in grants to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities.
These investments will benefit more than 12 million rural residents.
“I look at investing in broadband as a critical priority, especially in today’s environment,” USDA Rural Development State Director for Alabama Chris Beeker said. “Having access to broadband is vital and no longer a luxury, but rather a fundamental need of rural Alabamians because it creates opportunities for the development of the economy, health care centers and educational institutions that wouldn’t otherwise be available.”
USDA is funding six projects through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. The program helps health care and education institutions buy the equipment and software necessary to deploy distance-learning and telemedicine services to rural residents. Investments in Alabama include:
- The Clay County School District will use a $304,801 distance learning grant to establish a distance learning network connecting the Clay County Hospital and Clay County Board of Education. Clay County Schools will utilize this project to bolster Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) input through the addition of distance learning Advanced Placement (AP) and Dual Enrollment courses. Clay County Hospital will use this partnership to connect to teletherapy providers for mental health and drug counseling services, thereby increasing the culpability of school district, hospital, and community. This project will raise the educational outcomes for all students providing much necessary STEM course offerings in the project sites and stimulate growth in the project community by increasing practitioner involvement in all areas of STEM education and health services, including real-world connections to our current curricula and the opportunity to integrate tele-education in areas not currently served through our health services programs.
- The Central North Alabama Health Services will use a $173,818 telemedicine grant to help deliver an interactive digital audio-visual communication platform across five health centers in northern Alabama. Distance learning will be focused on a health and wellness curriculum including concentrations in nursing assistant and opiate substance treatment and counseling. Equipment will include interactive tele-health carts that feature video codec, display, audio system and camera installed on a rolling base that contains an external battery; some will contain peripheral examination equipment. A large conference monitor will also be placed at all sites for group conferencing.
- The Dale County Board of Education will use a $716,114 distance learning grant to allow the Dale County Board of Education to launch a new Distance Learning project that will serve seven schools, a career and technical campus, and an alternative school in rural Dale County. Interactive video conferencing will be used to deliver Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM)-focused, synchronous educational content to participating end users.
- The Franklin Primary Health Center will use a $610,927 telemedicine grant to connect health center hubs located in Mobile, AL with rural end-user medical and dental sites. The new connectivity will provide real-time audio and visual interactions with expert medical and behavioral specialists for the care of rural patients. The services will include the treatment of substance abuse disorders. The project will deploy interactive video conferencing equipment required for medical consultations and provide training in the use of other project equipment. This, along with telehealth carts with integrated codec, camera, microphone, monitors, and peripheral patient examination devices, will assist specialists to provide real-time interactive telehealth visits.
- The Macon County School District will use a $469,859 distance learning grant to assist the Macon County School District to purchase interactive video conferencing equipment. The equipment will provide distance learning services for high school and middle school students. This project will enable the district to deliver new courses at Macon’s high schools and middle school by connecting and sharing teachers across schools. This will position the District to provide more electives, more core courses, and more opportunities for advanced courses for middle school students.
- The Madison County Board of Education will use a $775,058 distance learning grant to allow the Madison County School District to expand Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education augmented curriculum, and virtual field trip opportunities using distance learning technology. This expansion will help to enhance career and college readiness for every school within the district. Twenty-eight sites will connect with each other to share curriculum and improve learning and engagement for their students. This project will help to provide equal access to educational opportunities throughout the schools served within Madison County.
To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, interested parties should contact their USDA Rural Development state office. USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.
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