Distance Learning Grant will help local schools

From staff reports

STEUBENVILLE — The Jefferson County Educational Service Center has received more than $519,000 in federal funds to help local schools give students what they need to thrive.

JCESC gained the U.S. Department of Agriculture Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant administered through the Rural Utilities Service. About 133 projects received grants in 37 states and two U.S. territories and the local funding will be utilized by JCESC and the Help Me Grow program in Jefferson and Harrison counties, as well as the Family Recovery Center, Jefferson County Juvenile Court and many of JCESC’s member school districts. Among the districts included are Steubenville, Harrison Hills, Indian Creek, Buckeye Local, Southern Local and Jefferson County Joint Vocational School. The federal grant totals $519,602 with a local match of $67,780 and will help install technology and implement Project Access so local rural residents — namely students and their families — can take advantage of health and wellness and educational programs via videoconferencing.

Superintendent Chuck Kokiko said the funds would be used to develop two initiatives to address the needs of residents, students and families in Jefferson, Harrison and Columbiana counties who lack sufficient transportation for services. One component would provide telemedicine services through a variety of counseling services, including individual behavioral health therapy, group therapy and other forms of family counseling. An existing mentoring program also will allow for the use of technology so students may meet remotely for guidance counseling and other topics. Another facet would support distance learning for early intervention services, including initial meetings with EI staff, parents and children or students through videoconferencing to discuss the overall need for testing and the introduction of why an individualized education program, or IEP, may benefit their child or student. The technology could also assist with EI team meetings where multidisciplinary care team members could discuss development or IEP implementation.

JCESC is partnering with the Family Recovery Center to offer end-user sites with access to individual and group outpatient therapy services for families in need. In addition, the agency may present its Aiming High prevention program through videoconferencing to ensure all districts have access to the program for students in grades K-6. Help Me Grow also will use the technology to mentor children who may be struggling at school and conduct home visits for parent support, early prenatal and well-baby care and parenting education to promote the comprehensive health and development of children to qualifying parents and mothers. Moreover, the county juvenile court will be a hub site to deliver services to project end user sites.

Kokiko said the costs over everything from laptops and cables to cameras and monitors to help bring services into the 21st century, thereby saving time and improving upon productivity.

“The premise behind this is there was an internal study in the county which found barriers through personal and public transportation. Rural areas have no access and ultimately this equipment will allow us to put the service use by alleviating the transportation issue and schools can link to counselors, the Family Recovery Center and the ESC. This can be adults to adults and adults to students,” he explained.

A similar DLT grant was given to Edison Local Schools last year totaling $498,015 with a $75,000 local match so the district’s three buildings could benefit from related services.

Kokiko said the endeavor is another way for JCESC to enhance services.

“As an ESC, we’re very excited to bring these resources to our member districts and the community. Our goal is to increase the availability of resources as well as the efficiency in which they are delivered,” he concluded. “We’re looking forward to working with all of the grant participants and implementing equipment and programs in the coming months.”

JCESC CEO George Ash echoed those sentiments, saying the educational service center always looks at ways to provide quality assistance to the entities it serves.

“This has been an ongoing process of bringing agencies together and it is a work in progress as we keep adding more,” Ash said. Since 2013, the JCESC has also included the likes of Southern Local Schools, Help Me Grow and the Family and Children First Council.