The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that the Imperial County Office of Education was awarded $1 million under its Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. The USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density, according to an Oct. 7 press release from ICOE.
This USDA funding will allow ICOE to further leverage its BorderLink wireless network infrastructure by providing devices to students living in rural parts of Imperial County.
Twenty-two school sites in seven school districts will receive devices, including Chromebooks and LTE CPE units that will be provided to students in the communities of Calipatria, Heber, Holtville, Imperial, Niland, Seeley, Westmorland, and Winterhaven.
Through this grant, ICOE will improve access to mental health services and education programs that address substance use disorders, enhance CTE STEM learning, and expand workforce training opportunities.
In September 2018, the USDA had already awarded a series of Community Facilities Grants totaling $840,000 to Imperial County. These Community Facilities Grants allowed ICOE to expand the BorderLink infrastructure to six rural communities including Calipatria, Heber, Holtville, Niland, Seeley, and Westmorland.
“We are very pleased that the USDA continues to invest in the rural communities of Imperial County,” Todd Finnell, county superintendent of schools, stated in the press release. “With schools turning to distance learning, we have seen firsthand the importance of our students having reliable internet access at home. This grant will allow us to continue to provide Internet access to students in some of our most underserved communities. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities that this access will bring to students and their families in these extraordinary times and beyond.”
The USDA’s overall investment of $72 million was awarded to 116 different projects in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant program helps health care and education institutions buy the equipment and software necessary to deploy distance-learning and telemedicine services to rural residents.