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State Grant Gives High School Students Introduction Into Technology, Allows Long Distance Learning

Thanks to a recently announced $400,000 Digital Learning Innovation Fund grant, high school students in Somerset County, MD are using tablets to explore long distance learning options. This is especially helpful for those who are ill or unable to attend school due to weather conditions.

The grant is specifically designed to blend student instruction with technology, using technology as a valuable aid in the learning process, according to Jill Holland, instructional technology coordinator for the Somerset County Public schools.

“We have never used tablets in Somerset County, we’ve never used applications, or apps, and those are all the things we want to test on a small scale before we employ the program to all three grades,” Holland said. “The incentive is to impact student learning.”

According to John Gaddis, Somerset Superintendent of Schools, a long-term goal is to provide each student with a tablet, an initiative that would allow the school system to incorporate long distance instruction for students who are not able to attend or participate in a traditional classroom setting.

A prime group for the long distance learning expansion would be the handful of middle and high school students whose weekday commute from Smith Island to Crisfield is often canceled during the winter due to extremely cold temperatures. Last year, Smith Island students missed more than one week of school due to the freezing of Tangier Sound, which canceled boat rides to the mainland.

“They got locked in six to eight days last year, and you can’t drive a car there,” Gaddis said. “We need to think about them as well. It is something we want to look into, thinking about how many days of instruction we miss.”

Somerset was among eight Maryland counties to receive the digital learning grant. For Somerset, this is the first technology tool used for individual instruction since a few middle and high school students received laptop computers more than five years ago. Funding for the laptop program ran out during the height of the Great Recession; however, laptops are still available to students at Somerset schools.

School officials are hopeful the new tablet initiative will help prepare students for the college experience, as enrollment in online college programs and courses steadily increases.

As student interest and enrollment in online programs increases, so does the heated debate over student loan debt. The average college graduate in the United States carries an estimated $31, 509 in student loan debt. The goal is to give middle and high school students the tools, resources, and knowledge they need in order to succeed in higher education, which in turn, increases the likelihood they will be able to secure — or create — better pay jobs. This puts college graduates in a better position to afford their student student loan payments post-graduation.

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