FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - After facing stiff competition, a $305,833 distance learning grant was formally awarded to Coconino Community College on March 1. The award follows last month's announcement by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack that funding was available to increase education access to rural communities.
Alan Stephens, Arizona State Director for USDA Rural Development and Jonathan Adelstein, National Administrator for USDA Rural Development, Rural Utilities Service made the formal presentation of the grant award to CCC President Leah L. Bornstein and Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Robert Kelty.
The grant will be used to connect and establish distance learning capabilities in some of the most remote communities in northern Arizona, including Williams, Grand Canyon, Fredonia, Page, Tuba City and Supai Village, which is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
The grant, which is part of the USDA's Rural Utility Service Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program, will allow CCC to replace outdated video equipment with high-definition videoconferencing learning equipment, which will help CCC expand educational opportunities to rural communities throughout Coconino County.
Stephens noted that Coconino County was the second largest county in the United States (second only to San Bernardino County in California), remarking, "Today, we're here to celebrate the success of [CCC] ... getting awarded a very competitive grant. It's going to help reach students [throughout] the district."
Adelstein congratulated CCC for their efforts in securing the grant. "[M]any of you here put so much effort into this [showing] that you really do care about the future of the kids in rural parts of this county. This was very fierce competition ... and you would not have gotten this if you hadn't put up that kind of effort ... You convinced us that this is necessary for this area."
Adelstein further remarked about the commitment of Secretary Vilsack to prioritize broadband technology, calling it "one of the pillars of his strategy to revitalize rural America."
He also stressed the potential opportunities that the grant funding would provide, stating, "You know ... how many rural communities lack access to the kind of digital educational opportunities that we need. If we want this country to succeed in the 21st century, we've got to make sure we harness the potential of every young person in this country."
"I think about the competition that we're facing overseas from China ... 1.3 billion people and they take their experts in math and science and ... they make sure they get the education they need. We're up against that," he noted.
Adelstein emphasized, "It's an economic imperative that we have a highly educated, highly trained workforce and it all begins in the schools and ... in the community colleges."
Adelstein and Stephens were scheduled to meet with Havasupai tribal officials at Supai on Wednesday, March 2 to make a presentation about possible future projects for the Supai Tribe and an announcement about another $2.2 million grant to JC Cullen company for the purpose of broadband expansion that will serve the Bar Four and Supai Camp areas of the Grand Canyon, which would give cell phone and internet providers enhanced capabilities in the area .
Adelstein noted the remoteness of Supai Village, stating, "This is one of the most remote areas in the country. To get down there, we're going to have to take a helicopter."
He also quipped, "We would've taken the mule, but I thought the helicopter might be a little quicker."
He again emphasized the importance of reaching this remote community, imploring "They need that broadband down there. Those kids deserve educational opportunities [just as ] much as a kid in Phoenix or Tucson or Flagstaff. It's important to the economy of this region that these students get these opportunities. If you think about it, maybe the next Steve Jobs is down in that canyon."
Kelty touched upon CCC's commitment to rural communities and rural school districts by continuing their work to obtain funding and provide better preparation for students in the future.
"The ... thing that makes my heart smile about this grant is Havasupai deserves all of our attention and the fact that now, we have the county schools' administration, we have CCC and the USDA advocating for the tribe and their educational needs is profound and I hope it's a model for the rest of the country."
Adelstein concluded his statement by acknowledging, "It's important to this whole country that we leverage all the benefits, all the potential of all these kids and it's thanks to the dedication of people like you [that it will] happen."
Coconino Community College provides it's learners with affordable tuition rates and over 60 certificates and degrees. Many classes transfer to four-year universities. Classroom instruction is located on their three campuses (two in Flagstaff and a third in Page), online and through interactive TV (ITV).
For more information, visit www.coconino.edu.