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Digital Connection Helps Kodiak Students

Cross-posted from the Alaska Dispatch News:

For students heading back to school this month in Kodiak, it's anything but "class as usual." Because at Kodiak Island Borough School District, 400 miles from Anchorage and accessible only by airplane and ferry, ConnectED investments in high-speed internet and new technology have transformed the student experience — with remarkable results.

Walking through Kodiak High School offers a glimpse at the transformative role education technology is playing in rural America. In one classroom, students use videoconferencing technology to connect with teachers and students from across the island — expanding their horizons through virtual field trips and never-before-available courses like music and civics. Math offerings, once limited to algebra, now include online and distance-learning courses all the way up through calculus. And before and after school, high-speed connectivity allows teachers to tap into interactive professional development and training to customize student learning based on individual needs.

Keeping our Promise in Kentucky

During my trip to Kentucky, I was truly gratified to see Rural Development’s footprint throughout small towns spread across all regions of the Commonwealth. From water lines, broadband networks, wastewater treatment plants, single and multi-family housing, electric lines, senior centers, hospitals and small businesses, Rural Development helps build communities from the ground up working in partnership with local groups.

Last year, 73 Kentucky counties enduring some of the state’s toughest economic challenges were designated to receive targeted USDA support through USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. Soon thereafter, President Obama designated a region of eight counties in the state’s southeast corner as one of the country’s first five Promise Zones.  Under these designations, USDA works with local partners to leverage federal resources to address the area’s chronic poverty challenges and improve the overall quality of life in the region.

Building Swap Financed by USDA Supports Arts, Education Goals

Sussex County, Delaware’s only charter school, the former Sussex Academy of Arts & Sciences middle school, is being re-named “Sussex Academy” as it expands to include a high school.  But unlike most expansion projects, the academy is swapping its old building for an existing building that meets its needs, and it is doing it with help from USDA.

The swap was highlighted recently at an event attended by USDA Rural Development, school officials, and U.S. Senator Tom Carper.

USDA Rural Development Helps Rural Wisconsin Community Provide Senior Housing, Child Care and Clean Water

Earth Day was earlier this week and one village in Wisconsin has helped secure the future for themselves and their children through environmental upgrades.  Nestled in a valley in western Wisconsin, the Village of Spring Valley has faced its share of challenges throughout its history. Prior to completion of an earthen dam in 1968, flooding was a chronic problem.

Two projects largely funded by USDA Rural Development have improved the quality of life and the environment in Spring Valley.  The first, completed in June 2011, is the new wastewater treatment plant.  Because the Rotating Biological Contactor system’s capacity had been significantly reduced in years prior, the need to upgrade the plant was inevitable.  The Village received $3.5 million in funding through USDA Rural Development’s Water and Environmental program.

“The wastewater treatment plant is more compliant with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  We release back into the Eau Galle River after treatment, so it’s imperative that we meet the standards,” said Marsha Brunkhorst, Spring Valley Village President.

USDA Aids Construction, Refurbishes Apartments for Elderly Wisconsin Residents

For residents of three senior care centers in western Wisconsin, the time has come to say “good-bye” to shared living spaces, shared bathrooms and double corridors; and say “hello” to private rooms, large, private bathrooms, and neighborhood designs.  Through new construction, Baldwin Care Center, Glenhaven, and Colfax Health & Rehabilitation Center are providing more of the comforts of home in a statewide push to modernize senior living.  Funding for all three projects comes from USDA Rural Development’s Community Facilities Program, and AgStar Financial Services.

USDA Helps to Expand Healthcare Services in Kilmichael, Mississippi

Late last month Mississippi USDA Rural Development State Director Trina George attended the Kilmichael Clinic opening ceremony. The event celebrated the clinic’s completion and provided opportunities to tour the new facility. There was a great turnout and everyone was thrilled to see the new building, which has nine examination rooms and a waiting room to accommodate 40 people.

The Kilmichael project received a $1.4 million loan from USDA Rural Development’s Community Facilities Program in 2009. The Community Facility loan was obtained to construct a new clinic to provide health care services for the citizens of the Town of Kilmichael, Montgomery County, and the surrounding rural communities. “Kilmichael Hospital has been serving this community for decades,” said State Director George. “So when the opportunity came to award funding to construct a new healthcare clinic, I knew this would be a great service to this community and to this organization.”

Deputy Under Secretary Tours New York USDA-Funded College Dormitory

“Back to School Week” is often the most thrilling and the hectic time for students (As a student I have experienced this first hand). The campus atmosphere is filled with excitement, expectation and the ringing of laughter. In between purchasing textbooks and memorizing course schedules students are busy reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, getting involved in campus activities and moving into their dorms.  For many students in rural areas, these activities fade at the end of the day as they return home.  However, there is a growing movement amongst rural community colleges to extend the college experience.

Colleges like Fulton-Montgomery Community College (FMCC) are offering dormitory housing to students.  Students living on campus is common place at major colleges and universities however, is seldom seen in rural community colleges.  This is changing.  During a recent tour promoting “Back to School Week”  Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O’Brien discovered first hand just how so.

A Colorado Child Care Center Expands with Support from USDA Rural Development

Riverhouse Children’s Center in Durango, Colorado strives to provide high quality care and early education services to young children from ages six weeks through five years old.  In 2012, the center serves approximately 80 children in its five classrooms.  Realizing their current location needed updating and to be expanded, the entity sought out funding for the construction of a new two-story, 6,400-square foot building.  The entity was awarded a $1.6 million Community Facilities Loan from USDA Rural Development earlier this year.

USDA Committed to Supporting Improvement of Housing Quality in Indian Country

USDA Rural Development and Housing and Urban Development staff celebrated the building dedication of the first Housing Authority in the nation recently.  Started over 50 years ago, the Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing Authority located on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, in South Dakota, hosted officials in honor of the opening of their newly constructed administration building.  Funded through a USDA Rural Development’s Recovery Act Community Facility Direct loan of $3.6 Million, the building stands for the coordinated effort of many agencies.

With USDA’s Help, a University in Pennsylvania is Making Big Changes to Student Housing

Mansfield University may be nestled in a tiny town in northern Pennsylvania, but they are moving ground on Phase II of a very big housing project. USDA Rural Development’s Acting Deputy Under Secretary, Judith Canalas and Pennsylvania Rural Development State Director Thomas Williams joined Mansfield University President Dr. Allan Golden and the Mansfield Auxiliary Corporation recently to break ground for Phase II of new suite style housing at the university that will offer students more space, create jobs in the community and help strengthen the economic vitality of the area.