Maine’s island communities are scattered up and down the coastline, many of them miles out to sea - they’re rural communities carving out a life both in and on the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the distance from the mainland, the educators and healthcare workers in this remote area of the state are dedicated to providing the critical services our island residents depend on and have adapted to the necessary changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the elements of this adaptation has been through the use of telecommunications, and as State Director of USDA Rural Development in Maine, I’m happy our agency has been able to serve as a key partner in bringing this technology to our rural island communities.
The Outer Islands Teaching & Learning Collaborative leveraged this distance learning technology to benefit their member communities and schools on the small islands of Cliff, Frenchboro, Isle Au Haut, the Cranberry Islands, Matinicus, and Monhegan. Thanks to the long-standing partnership between USDA Rural Development and The Island Institute, the necessary equipment was already in place to conduct remote learning. The Island Institute received nearly half a million dollars in 2014 from USDA to purchase video conferencing devices and hub equipment for distance learning opportunities in 15 of Maine’s island and coastal schools.
Telemedicine also depends on quality broadband connections to provide support to our island communities. For example, Sharon Daley is the nurse for the Maine Seacoast Mission, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life and wellbeing for residents in Maine’s coastal and island communities. Sharon recently organized a videoconference for residents on the Cranberry Isles, hosting Barbara MacPike, an infectious disease specialist from Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor. Barbara shared current information about COVID-19 and residents were able to ask questions about coronavirus, and get answers to their concerns.
This type of connectivity has been made possible in no small part due to USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program. As school districts across the nation re-evaluate how to provide quality education to students, USDA is accepting applications through July 13 to support projects just like what I’ve mentioned above.
Our staff here at USDA Rural Development, our partners like the Island Institute and the Seacoast Mission, and our island communities have worked together to strengthen the ability to communicate, connect, learn, and live. Whether it’s with broadband connectivity through our ReConnect program, or the equipment that relies on it, Maine’s island residents are getting the critical infrastructure in place to connect to each other, and the world.