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A network of 37 schools across the United States and one in Mexico is receiving language-arts and science curricula by satellite as part of an unusual distance-learning project launched this month by the Hughes Aircraft Corporation.

The Galaxy Institute for Education--a venture of the California-based company--supplies schools participating in the demonstration project with equipment, programming, and curriculum materials free of charge. Unlike many such initiatives, the project is aimed at elementary school students.

The programming is developed in partnership with public-television stations in Boston and Pittsburgh.

The system employs a relatively new technology called the Very Small Aperture Terminal that allows schools to both send and receive signals from the satellite and exchange signals with one another.

The Public Broadcasting Service is also testing the new technology with its member stations.

Hughes officials plan to spend $12 million, and are raising matching funds, to conduct the demonstration program through 1994. They propose to extend the network to reach 10 million students in 20,000 schools by the turn of the century.

Meanwhile, with the support of several private firms, three public high schools in New York City have been linked by a fiber-optic-based system that will allow 10th- and 11th-grade students to enroll in courses at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

During a demonstration of the two-way link this month, students in the city also communicated by satellite with their counterparts at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus.

A cooperative venture will also allow the students, with assistance from the staff of The New York Times, to produce a newspaper that reflects students' concerns.

City officials said the project is the first step toward developing a citywide network that could serve as a model for other urban districts.

The U.S. Education Department's office of educational research and improvement is offering to educators free of charge a limited number of database diskettes that list distance-learning projects nationwide.

A spokeswoman for O.E.R.I.'s Star Schools program said that 1,000 copies of the diskette are available, but that users are granted unlimited rights to reproduce and distribute it.

To order a copy of the diskette, interested parties should fax a request containing their name, address, and telephone number to Jean Tolliver at (202) 219-2106.--P.W.

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