Verizon Awards $1 Million to Virginia Schools, Colleges; Makes Last Installment on $7-Million Pledge

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RICHMOND, Va. -- More than a dozen public schools and colleges across the Old Dominion soon will receive $1 million in grants from Verizon Communications to jump-start or expand their distance learning projects. With these latest awards, Verizon gave $7 million over the past seven years to the educational communities in Virginia to promote distance learning initiatives. As a result, there are over 130 sites equipped for distance learning throughout Virginia including state universities, community colleges and public schools.

"Verizon is proud to have taken a leading role in enhancing the quality of public education in Virginia," said Robert Woltz, president of Verizon Virginia. "Today there are lot's of initiatives around the state with many different supporters looking for ways to use technology to improve education. But when we began in 1994, that was not the case. It's gratifying that our grants have helped many rural, urban and suburban schools find out how to get more for their educational dollar."

The winners of the 2000 Verizon Virginia distance learning grants are:

Chesapeake Public Schools -- $115,000 to purchase equipment to implement an integrated audio, video and data service.

Christopher Newport University -- $65,000 to expand the university's Teachers' Academy and establish an interactive learning partnership among the university, Newport News public schools, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the Mariners Museum.

Commonwealth's Governor's School -- $40,000 to expand the school's distance learning network. It plans to establish three new sites -in Spotsylvania, Stafford and King George counties.

Fairfax County Public Schools -- $26,000 to expand the school system's distance learning capabilities to accommodate homebound and hospitalized students using laptops and videoconferencing applications.

Hopewell Public Schools -- $91,000 to provide distance learning programs for students, teachers and administrators in collaboration with the Science Museum of Virginia. The funds also will be used to establish virtual field trips to Hopewell's sister-city in England.

New Century Communications Network -- $104,000 to establish a new ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) distance learning classroom. ATM technology offers high-speed Internet access, along with videoconferencing. The New Century Communications Network is a consortium of public schools in Allegheny, Botetourt, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and Roanoke counties. Other network members include the cities of Radford, Roanoke and Salem; the Southwest Virginia Governor's School; Ferrum, Roanoke and Hollins colleges; Radford University; Virginia Tech and Dabney Lancaster, New River and Virginia Western community colleges.

Norfolk State University -- $76,000 to implement an interactive multi-media instructional system, with distance learning sites located at Norfolk State, Ruffner Academy and Oakmont Community Center. The Norfolk Public Schools and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority are partners in the project.

Powhatan County Public Schools -- $45,000 to establish interactive distance learning classrooms at the county's two elementary schools.

Radford University -- $185,000 to equip two distance learning classrooms and purchase portable videoconferencing units to expand Radford's program and reach new sites in southwest Virginia.

Shenandoah Public Education Network -- $69,500 to add seven distance learning classrooms at regional high schools and public libraries in the central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Tech Prep Region 2000 Educational Consortium -- $70,000 to provide interactive distance learning between Central Virginia Community College and Appomattox High School.

Tidewater Community College -- $72,000 to build an interactive distance learning classroom to focus on health information.

Virginia Commonwealth University -- $41,500 to purchase videoconferencing units to test the feasibility of using videoconferencing technology over the Internet in existing classrooms.

The grants were awarded by judges representing government, education, the information technology industry and Verizon.

Verizon's distance learning grants were available to kindergarten through twelfth-grade public schools and all state-supported colleges and universities in the Verizon Virginia service area, which covers roughly two-thirds of the public schools in the state. Recipients use the grants to purchase classroom equipment, such as video monitors, cameras and microphones, necessary for interactive distance learning.

The distance learning networks, funded by the Verizon grants, are totally interactive - visually and verbally. Students and faculty are able to see one another and communicate spontaneously over the network. And teachers can call on students who raise their hands, much the same as they would in a natural classroom setting.

Woltz suggested that interactive distance learning has helped bring about a measure of equality in course offerings among the schools.

"When we began seven years ago, we wanted to find out if distance learning could be an effective tool to solve teacher availability problems for urban and rural schools," Woltz said."If we could get an interactive picture of the teacher at one school into the classrooms of other schools, would the remote kids actually learn? What we learned is that it can do that and much more to help the entire spectrum of students from underprivileged to gifted, from geographically challenged to home-bound. We're proud to have been part of this learning process."

Verizon launched its first distance learning project in 1994 in Southwest Virginia by linking two Lee County high schools with Mountain Empire Community College over a 50-mile fiber optic network. The schools today provide all programming on the network.

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