RSU 10 Technology Coordinator Brian Carrier, standing, shows members of the RSU 10 board of directors a Promethean Board, which is basically a large touch-screen smart TV with built-in hardware, he said during the board’s meeting Monday. Directors seated to his right are, from left, Linda Beaudoin of Hanover, Abbey Rice of Rumford, and Ashley Derouche of Mexico. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

Regional School Unit 10 will receive grant funding of $499,676 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help expand rural education and health care in the area.

The Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant funds and materials will be shared among each of RSU 10’s six school buildings located in Rumford, Mexico, Buckfield and Sumner and the Western Foothills Regional program, a K-12 school for students with special needs in Rumford.

“RSU 10 will act as the fiscal agent partnering with other rural districts in Maine including RSU 56, which includes schools in the Dixfield area; RSU 83 schools in the Bingham and Moscow area; RSU 87 Carmel and Levant schools; and Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico,” said Brian Carrier, Technology Coordinator for RSU 10.

Carrier applied for the USDA grant last May and the district was notified of the award on Nov. 20, he said. The district’s share of the funding amounts to approximately $218,000.

“We approached other districts; we approached RSU 56 first as they are the closest (district) and kind of the same rural set up as us. They were on board and we brought Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico in as well, and then from there we kind of stemmed out and looked at other rural areas that kind of fit the same demographics that we have,” Carrier said.

The USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant “actually focuses on two distinct topics: the first being the opioid crisis (which) we’ve experienced in this area as well, so that was partly one of the things that we grasped at when we applied for the grant,” Carrier said.

The second aspect of the grant funding involves STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, he said.

Each of the school buildings of the four districts and the Region 9 School of Applied Technology will also receive two 75-inch Promethean Boards, which are basically large touch-screen smart TVs with built-in hardware.

The boards will “allow the kids to engage more in hands-on rather than a sitting and learning type of environment,” Carrier said.

Examples of how the distance learning part of the grant could be used in the schools might be, for example, a 3-D printing class, a coding class or a robotics class, that students from outside or other buildings could potentially (virtually) attend as well, he said.

As for grant money used to fight the opioid crisis, RSU 10 plans to work with the Larry Labonte Recovery Center and the River Valley Rising programs in Rumford, as well as with Miki Skehan, the director of the district’s after school program.

The implementation of the grant’s programming and installation of the Promethean Boards includes a three-phase rollout with three- to six-month installation of the smart boards. The goal is to have everything up and running over the summer and start the program next fall, Carrier said.

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