DANFORTH – With shrinking dollars putting the squeeze on programs, school officials have to find new ways to get the biggest bang for their bucks.
Maine Applied Technology Region Two, which serves five school districts in Aroostook, Penobscot and Washington counties, has found a way to do that, and increase enrollment at the same time.
About three weeks ago, students in the applied technology program at East Grand School in Danforth became the first in the five-school region to have a direct computer link to a class instructor 35 miles away in Houlton.
“It makes a lot of sense for us, being a smaller school,” said Dana Morrison, technical coordinator at East Grand.
“We don’t have the resources to put all our students in hands-on classes, but we can do it through computer links,” he said.
The applied technology program in Region Two was put in place with funds from a $5 million bond issue, approved by the state’s voters in 1998, for technical schools in Maine.
“We wanted to put the tools of the future here today,” said Paul Crandall, director for Region Two, explaining why his district wanted to include high-tech programs as part of its curriculum. “It reflects the needs of the industry.”
It cost $16,000 to put the program into Danforth, plus the salary for an educational technician, but Crandall said that is a small price, considering the region can multiply the benefits of a certified instructor at a reduced cost.
The applied technology program allows the students to work at their own pace in seven subject areas, including computer maintenance, graphics and animation, robotics, digital photography, basic electricity, and hydraulics.
“Most of it is interactive,” said Mike Howard, the program’s instructor, who is based in Houlton. “It’s self-paced.”
He explained that as students work through the different modules, which run anywhere from 40 class hours to as many as 150 for the computer maintenance unit, they use a unit guide and manipulative materials to learn basic skills and then answer questions and take tests on the computer.
“It’s not meant to replace actual instruction, but if a student has an inkling toward a subject area, it definitely would be a means for finding a career choice,” Howard said.
Each student, whether in the main class at Houlton or the remote site in Danforth, works at a computer station which has a direct link to Howard’s computer.
When a student logs on, an icon on Howard’s monitor lights green, signaling which student is working.
As the students work through tasks using the program, Howard can monitor their progress and answer questions or offer advice by having an online chat with them.
“It’s kind of like Big Brother watching you,” he said with a grin.
An audiovisual computer link also is set up in Danforth, which allows Howard to see and talk to a student and vice-versa.
“I don’t even have to set foot down there,” he said.
Troy Cilley is the educational technician who oversees the classroom in Danforth.
He said the applied technology program has been a big plus for the small school, because the district is now able to offer courses that other schools can’t. That’s important for a school system that competes for students from small towns that don’t have their own schools.
“I think this is going to draw the students in,” he said, adding that already, students who previously had not been involved in Region Two programs, and never considered them, have signed up for the applied technology classes.
Sophomore Ryan Roberson, who is taking the digital photography unit, said he likes being able to walk around the school and meet people as he takes pictures. He then downloads those photos into the computer where he can edit and enhance them to obtain the desired results.
“It comes naturally to me,” he said.
Josh Mailman, another sophomore, said he was attracted to the applied technology program because of the computer animation and robotics units.
“They’re loving these classes,” Cilley said. “These are things that have never been offered and I don’t think they dreamed that they ever would be offered.”
Without the computer link, students who wanted to take applied technology would have to take a 90-minute round-trip bus ride to Houlton. Most wouldn’t.
“The travel kills the day,” said Cilley.
Crandall said money will be put in the 2000-2001 budget to expand the applied technology program to either CSD 9 in Dyer Brook or SAD 25 in Sherman Station.
The long-term goal, he said, is to have computer-linked learning sites in all of the remote school districts in Region Two.