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Rural Routes

Amid the cries of some state leaders and rural educators about the challenges of the No Child Left Behind Act, federal officials recently shined a spotlight on several examples of rural schools that have been meeting the law's requirements using the wonders of technology.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige and acting Deputy Secretary Eugene W. Hickok were the guides for a town hall-style meeting on the Internet on Sept. 25.

Department officials did not specify how some of the schools' technology-based projects were meeting the mandates of the No Child Left Behind law. But the schools' projects seemed to impress the senior officials.

In Montana, students were linked with scientists in the field through the JASON Foundation's Web project, which serves rural students in grades 4-9 and on American Indian reservations.

"JASON really sparked an interest in science for me," John Atkinson, a senior at Billings High School, said on the Webcast. "I don't think I'll ever let go of it."

In Iowa, the ways rural schools are using technology to meet the mandates of the law seemed clearer. Because many small towns can't provide highly qualified teachers in every subject and grade, schools are reaching out and sharing their expertise.

The Iowa Communications Network links 750 school videoconference sites across the state, allowing courses such as Spanish to be taught in many schools where no teacher is qualified to lead such a course.

Brad Benton, a calculus teacher at Iowa's 500-student Manning Community School, said he was a skeptic, but had grown to love teaching students over the Web.

The West Virginia Virtual School provides a similar service.

Coordinator Donna Miller said middle school students even in the most remote parts of the Mountain State now can take foreign-language classes. More than 1,200 students are enrolled in the virtual school, and the numbers keep growing, she said.

Finally, rural schools in New Mexico showed how they were using handheld computers to test young children's reading skills. "We look forward to exposing our students to the rest of the world via the use of technology," said Albert Martinez, the superintendent of the Wagon Mound school district.

—Alan Richard

Vol. 23, Issue 6, Page 21

Published in Print: October 8, 2003, as Federal File

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