Rural Education Center to receive USDA grant for robot-facilitated distance learning in rural schools
Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019
MANHATTAN — Robots will bring more learning opportunities to rural schools in Kansas, thanks to a national grant to be awarded to the Rural Education Center in the Kansas State University College of Education.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that the center will receive a $146,031 Teaching Rural Students STEM Through Telepresence grant designed to create a distance learning network to benefit rural schools, with emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math. Participating schools will be Ashland High School, USD 220; Clay Center High School, USD 379; Dighton High School, USD 482; Haviland K-8, USD 474; Lakin High School, USD 215; Liberal High School, USD 480; Skyline High School, USD 438; and Bennington High School and Tescott High School, both in USD 240.
"We recognize the tremendous potential that exists in our rural students and are excited to take the lead in infusing our district partners with this innovative approach to STEM education," said Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education.
The telepresence grant is part of the USDA's $42.5 million investment in 133 distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and two U.S. territories. The USDA will provide the funding through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program. These investments will benefit 5.4 million rural residents. In Kansas, the grant is expected to serve 2,360 rural students and 37,964 residents in rural communities.
The funds — used solely on equipment for the schools — will purchase 36 Double Robotics robots, which allow educators to teach and interact with their students who are at a different location. The schools will also receive Apple iPads and laptops, as well as other equipment necessary for the project.
"This grant will allow us to provide more STEM opportunities for student learning and teacher professional learning," said Spencer Clark, K-State associate professor of curriculum and instruction and director of the Rural Education Center. "We believe it could also possibly help address teacher vacancies in rural schools."
Jamie Wetig, superintendent of the Ashland Public Schools, said teacher supply is always an issue in rural schools and this partnership may impact what classes his schools can offer students.
"In an evermore challenging environment to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers, the ability to provide educational opportunities in a small and rural school may sometimes be limited," Wetig said. "By partnering with the Rural Education Center at Kansas State University, Ashland Public Schools will have the opportunity to work on the forefront in redesigning education from delivery to enhancing the curriculum. We look forward to expanding the opportunities afforded to USD 220 through the USDA telepresence grant and know this is just the beginning of using an innovative approach to support our students and our community."
Entering its fifth decade, the Center for Rural Education and Small Schools has been renamed the Rural Education Center. Along with Clark as its director, Lori Goodson, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, serves as assistant director. This is the initial grant since Clark and Goodson assumed center leadership in spring 2019.
Approved by the Kansas Board of Regents in 1978, the center focuses on meeting the needs of rural schools in the state of Kansas. Clark and Goodson are emphasizing advocacy for rural schools and their communities by pursuing grant opportunities and other sources of funding to support various rural educational projects. They will also conduct research and coordinate other educational activities to support the learning opportunities for rural students and teachers. Clark and Goodson look forward to supporting current curriculum initiatives and goals associated with the Kansas State Department of Education school redesign, STEAM education, place-based education and civic engagement in rural schools.